The Philadelphia Eagles are further from the team that finished 6-10 in 2005 than the team that was crowned as 2004 NFC Champions. While the entire debacle that was this past season can be partially blamed on the Terrell Owens meltdown, a much larger factor was the rash of injuries suffered to the veterans on the team. Combine these two issues to form the major factor in moving the Philadelphia Eagles further up the draft board in 2005. This offseason is a cross-roads for Andy Reid, the front office, and the organization as a whole. While many of the changes that need to be made will be accomplished by veterans returning to the starting lineup next season, here is a shopping list for Tom Heckert, Andy Reid and company to take into the off-season. 1. Sign a marquee wide receiver. While Reggie Brown showed flashes during his rookie season, he still needs to prove that he can step up and become a star wide receiver in this league. Like many have suggested, the most logical choice would be to pursue Reggie Wayne no matter the cost, but in the grand scheme of things, this might not be most financially responsible avenue to address the wide receiver situation. If I were the Eagles, I would target Eric Moulds, Nate Burleson, Rod Gardner and Antaawan Randle El. If Philadelphia can come out with one of these receivers, it will be the first step towards fixing an offense that floundered down the stretch this season.
2. Trade for TJ Duckett. The Falcons have recently made it known that they are exploring options to trade their bruising running back during the off-season. If anything is made clear by these playoffs it is that a running game is crucial to be successful in this league. For two years the Eagles have searched for a “big back” to complement Brian Westbrook, and Duckett fits the bill. While taking over on short yardage situations for Warrick Dunn, Duckett compiled 380 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
3. Re-Sign Ike Reese. Atlanta has also whispered that Ike Reese might become available before training camp and the Eagles must rectify the biggest mistake from last season, and re-sign Reese. No. 58 was a strong leader in the locker room. They need to re-sign him more than ever. Reese also provided a spark to a special teams unit which struggled after his departure. This could be a mirror image of the Eagles bringing Hugh Douglas back to the nest prior to the 2004 season, but the difference is that Reese still has plenty left in the tank.
4. Re-Sign John Runyan. Plain and simple, re-sign one of the true leaders of this team to a two or three-year contract so he can retire an Eagle and continue to protect Donovan McNabb’s blind side en route to an eventual trip to Canton, Ohio.
5. Sign Will Witherspoon. It was agonizing to watch Keith Adams attempt to cover running backs out of the backfield. It was even worse watching him try and run down a tight end from behind after he was beaten. Witherspoon would sure up a line backing core that was much maligned this season and would allow Dhani Jones to return to his natural position at strong side linebacker. For years the Eagles haven’t valued linebackers, but if Levon Kirkland, Barry Gardner, Mark Simoneau, and Keith Adams accomplished anything, it was highlighting this as a need position for the defense.
6. Sign Steve Hutchinson. If Andy Reid has shown anything throughout his coaching/general manager career, it is that he values offensive linemen. His first big splash in free agency was the signing of Runyan, and he has used a first round pick on Shawn Andrews and annual drafts for the future at this position. Hutchinson just may be the best offensive lineman to become available in free agency since Runyan was signed in 2000. With Artis Hicks showing that he is at best an average left guard, it only makes sense to sign Hutchinson and sure up the offensive line once and for all.
7. Sign John Abraham. Abraham appears to be the type of player that warrants a “bank breaker” type contract. Abraham would provide a speed rusher to rotate with Trent Cole to compliment Jevon Kearse at the other defensive end spot. This season has proven that for the Eagles defense to be successful, a pass rush is crucial. There is a reason that the secondary struggled and that is due to the fact that quarterbacks had an extra two-to-three seconds each play to find receivers down the field because of a lack of pass rush. Abraham would be the first step towards restoring the blitzkrieg persona of the defense.
8. Draft a defensive tackle, Tight End, and a backup quarterback on the first day of the draft. These positions could all use some depth and there is some talent at these positions to be had. It should be a priority to this team to draft a solid, young backup quarterback in the event that Donovan McNabb ever again suffers a season ending injury.
During most offseasons players of the caliber listed above would likely be sprinkled throughout the league, but that may not be the case this season. Because of several teams being at least $10 million over the salary cap and the possible work stoppage following the 2007 season, the Eagles look to be one of the few teams financially equipped and willing to be major players during free agency. While it is obvious that many of these additions will be costly, it is time for this organization to shed its “Gold standard” mentality and finally spend the money necessary to take the next step, and that is to win a Super Bowl championship.