April 22, 2007

USA Today: Eagles Inside Slant

Inside Slant

Posted 4/21/2007 7:46 AM ET


DRAFT STRATEGY — The Eagles' main focus in this draft will be improving a defense that slipped to 15th in both points and yards allowed last season.

Their first-round pick, the 26th overall, almost certainly will be a defensive player, probably a safety or a cornerback.

Their Pro Bowl free safety, Brian Dawkins, will be 34 in October and, at this point, can't really be counted on beyond the 2007 season. And the jury still is out on strong safety Sean Considine.
Considine, a 2005 fourth-round pick out of Iowa, replaced Michael Lewis six games into the 2006 season after Lewis's coverage limitations began to become a liability. While Considine did a better job against the pass than Lewis, he's really not big enough to be an in-the-box strong safety, and probably will end up eventually replacing Dawkins at free safety.

Backup safety Quentin Mikell probably is the team's best special teams player. But he is not viewed as a down-the-road starter.

The Eagles like Miami safety Brandon Meriweather, who is considered the best cover safety in the draft. But he's had some off-the-field issues that, in light of the NFL's stricter personal conduct policy, may make teams, including the Eagles, reluctant to take him in the first round.

Cornerback also is a position that will get serious consideration early in the draft. Both of their starters, Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, are undersized, with neither standing taller than 5-10. That's caused matchup problems against taller receivers, particularly in the NFC East.

Ex-Giant William James will replace departed Rod Hood as the nickel corner and could push Brown, who has been inconsistent the last two seasons. But the only other experienced corner on the roster after that is Joselio Hanson, who was playing in NFL Europe this time a year ago.

If the Eagles can find another capable cover corner, it's possible that they might eventually consider moving Brown, who plays in the slot on passing downs, to safety after Dawkins leaves.

Linebacker is another first-day possibility, though the recent acquisition of Takeo Spikes makes it unlikely they'll go in that direction in the first round. Middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter is playing on degenerative knees that have pretty much turned him into a first-down run-stopper. And things are unsettled at strong-side linebacker, where Dhani Jones needs to be replaced if this defense is going to improve against the run.

The Eagles also need to add depth at running back. They've got Brian Westbrook, who finally proved last season, that he can be a carry-the-load guy, and Correll Buckhalter. But Buckhalter's knees are unpredictable and it's imperative that they bring in a third back, preferably a bigger, short-yardage type.


—The Eagles made a major accounting boo-boo last year, overpaying running back Brian Westbrook by $3 million. As part of the contract extension he signed in November of '05, Westbrook was supposed to receive a $3 million roster bonus the next year. To create some extra cap room, the Eagles eventually changed the roster bonus into a signing bonus. But their finance department ended up sending Westbrook both a $3 million roster bonus and a $3 million signing bonus. Apparently, neither Westbrook nor the Eagles realized the mistake until after the '06 season. While Westbrook intends to repay the money, the team filed a grievance with the league so that they wouldn't be accused of pulling a fast one to gain a salary cap advantage. According to Westbrook's agent, Fletcher Smith, the situation "hasn't been adversarial at all."

—The Eagles added another kicker to their roster this week, signing E.J. Cochrane to a three-year contract. Cochrane played in three preseason games for the Eagles last summer before being released in late August. He was claimed off waivers by Green Bay, but was eventually released by them before the season. Cochrane, 26, essentially will be an extra training camp leg so that David Akers won't get overworked.

—The Eagles announced that they will open their '07 training camp at Lehigh University on July 27. Rookies and selected veterans will report on the 27th. The rest of the squad will report on the 30th. The team won't be at Lehigh very long. They are scheduled to break camp on August 12, the day before their first preseason game against Baltimore. They'll continue two-a-day workouts after that at their training facility in South Philadelphia.


MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.




—QB Koy Detmer was signed right before the playoffs strictly to hold for kicker David Akers. He isn't expected to be back.

—RB Reno Mahe is a versatile do-it-all-guy that Andy Reid likes having on the roster. He'll likely be re-signed.




—RB Correll Buckhalter: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.

—CB William James: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

—S Quintin Mikell: Potential UFA; 4 yrs, terms unknown.

—DE Juqua Thomas: UFA; $12.5M/5 yrs, SB unknown.


—WR Kevin Curtis: UFA Rams; $30M/6 yrs, $2.5M SB/$5M RB '07; $1.5M RB '08.

—QB Kelly Holcomb (trade Bills).

—WR Bethel Johnson: UFA Vikings; 1 yr, terms unknown.

—DT Montae Reagor: FA Colts; $8.3M/3 yrs, $2M guaranteed.

—LB Takeo Spikes (trade Bills).


—LB Shawn Barber: UFA Texans; $5.5M/3 yrs, $2/2M guaranteed.

—QB Jeff Garcia: UFA Buccaneers; $7M/2 yrs, SB unknown.

—CB Rod Hood: UFA Cardinals; $15M/5 yrs, $2.5M guaranteed.

—S Michael Lewis: UFA 49ers; $30M/6 yrs, $9.8M guaranteed.

—WR Donte' Stallworth: UFA Patriots; $33M/6 yrs, $1M SB.

—DT Darwin Walker (traded Bills).

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