The Eagles chose to reward their own players this offseason rather than shopping wholesale in the free agent market. In sharp contrast to its 2011 spending spree, the franchise added only a few new players through free agency, trades and the draft.
The most impactful addition in the short run looks to be middle linebacker Demeco Ryans, who was acquired in a trade with the Houston Texans. A six-year veteran who just turned 28, Ryans and his 250 pounds gives the Eagles a stout, run-stopping presence at the position that they have not had since Jeremiah Trotter retired.
The Eagles' Wide Nine system is very effective in putting pressure on the opposing quarterback. It also requires linebackers to be strong against the run; lacking this ability hurt the team last year.
Ryans should fill that void. He played all 16 games last year, working his way back from an Achilles tendon injury that limited him to six games in 2009. Prior to that injury, Ryans had a perfect attendance record every game day in his first four seasons, during which he averaged 130 tackles per year. If he can match that production, he is exactly what the Eagles need.
Another aspect Ryans brings to the Eagles defense is leadership. Texans GM Rick Smith said Ryans' leadership abilities cannot be over-exaggerated and called him "a class act." His former Texans teammates were unanimous in their praise of Ryans. They noted he was the most respected guy on the defense by far; the guy to whom everyone turned in the clutch.
The Eagles have been in need of a defensive leader the past couple of seasons. If Ryans can continue to play at a high level, he can fill that important role as well.
Mel Kiper’s hair and obnoxious personality draw a lot of laughs, but his draft analysis is pretty strong, and he graded the Eagles' 2012 draft an "A."
They moved up to get Fletcher Cox, an immediate starter. Mychal Kendricks is a perfect fit, and at No. 46, a really good value. The Eagles look a lot better up the middle after this weekend. If Vinny Curry came off the board really early in the second round, nobody would have been surprised, so to get him at No. 59 is a steal. Nick Foles has the upside of an NFL starter, and Andy Reid could turn him into something. Brandon Boykin is my No. 9-ranked corner, so I love the value as a fourth-rounder. I thought they might get a tackle earlier, but it’s hard to quibble given the value they got with every pick early on. I love this draft, and Bryce Brown will be an interesting story if he sticks. Keep an eye on Brandon Washington, a sixth-rounder with the upside of a starter at guard.
Cox, an All-America selection from Mississippi State, should start at Defensive Tackle in Jim Washburn’s line rotation. Kendricks was the 2011 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year at the University of California.
Eagles fans are excited by the ability of both prospects to contribute, but even more excited by the change in philosophy that Kendricks' selection indicates. The Eagles have long undervalued the linebacker position. In using a high draft pick on a linebacker, it appears the Eagles now recognize its importance.
The third pick was spent on Curry, an undersized defensive end from Marshall who was the 2012 Conference USA Player of the Year. The Eagles are stacked at the position, so his selection appears to be a hedge against the possibility that they may have made a mistake with Brandon Graham.
Foles is a very intriguing pick. It appears Mike Kafka is a career backup, and Michael Vick is past 30, so taking a young quarterback was a prudent move. As a middle-round pick, however, his prospects of becoming a starter in the NFL are questionable.
Yet Andy Reid’s prowess with quarterbacks should at least give him a chance. Foles earned good grades from draft experts and he has prototypical size and arm strength for the position. Whatever the outcome, drafting Foles at 88th overall was worth the gamble. After that the Eagles selected a number of players who were considered value picks.
Boykin, a cornerback from Georgia and the winner of the 2012 Paul Hornung Award, has a good chance of adding depth to the Eagles three-CB rotation.
McNutt, aside from having a great name, was an All-Big Ten selection as a WR at Iowa. Now that Riley Cooper is out until at least the beginning of the season, McNutt seems a lock to make the team. The Eagles are loaded at WR, so any immediate production from him seems unlikely. Injuries are always a concern in the NFL, so it is good to have quality backups and willing special teams players, of which McNutt is one.
The Eagles addressed depth needs with the rest of their draft picks and the usual myriad of undrafted rookies, some of whom may prove to be diamonds in the rough. With these new faces in the nest, the roster is establishing itself as the season fast approaches.
Even now, the troops are braving the unrelenting heat of training camp at Lehigh. The air is filling with the sounds of pads hitting, teammate on teammate. As fans, we desire more each day to see them start hitting someone in an opposite-colored jersey. These are the untarnished dreams that accompany the start of the season.
There is no better time of year.