Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Eagles Plan to Stay the Course: But is that the Right Move?

by John Huffstetler

The Philadelphia Eagles endured a tumultuous 2011 season because of several questionable personnel and coaching decisions over the shortened off-season. In order to replace legendary defensive coordinator Jim Johnson following his tragic passing last season, Andy Reid made two bold moves: 1) He brought in former Tenn DC Jim Washburn to implement the questionable "Wide-Nine" technique, and 2) In an unprecedented move, he promoted an Offensive Line coach in Juan Castillo to become Defensive Coordinator. Even with these coaching and scheme changes, many pundits had the Eagles pegged as a potential Super Bowl champion this season because of their high-profile offseason acquisitions in Cullen Jenkins, Nnamdi Asomugha, Steve Smith, Vince Young, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Jason Babin. In actuality, their roster failed to gel and their new defensive coaching staff struggled early in the season to implement their vastly new scheme leading to a disappointing 8-8 finish. The team only started to realize their preseason potential when their playoff hopes were virtually exhausted. One could argue that change this offseason is an absolute necessity.

Since the season ended, however, two key decisions within the coaching staff indicate the organization's desire to maintain the status quo. First, owner Jeffrey Lurie gave Andy Reid a tentative vote of confidence to return as Head Coach for at least next season. There is speculation within the media that Andy Reid might have lost the locker room because of the length of his tenure, but the organization decided to give him another opportunity. Second, Reid decided to retain Juan Castillo as Defensive Coordinator, despite the high-profile problems with the defense early in the season. GM Howie Roseman has also spoken of continuity and the strong talent prevalent on their roster: "You obviously look back and think that there are things you could have done a different way - draft picks you'd like to have back and some signings you'd like to have back. But when you step back and look at the core of the team, the blend of youth and experience and talent, we have an opportunity to be competitive and be competitive for a long time."

Is staying the course the best strategy for the Eagles though? In a recent article found here, I examined the rosters of both Super Bowl teams and found that they acquired a combined 63% of their key contributors (starters and key reserves) via the draft and spent little of their resources on high-salaried free agents (especially the Pats). They also managed to draft several key contributors in the late rounds and secure others from the undrafted free agent pool. Similarly breaking down the Eagles roster produced markedly different findings. Here is the breakdown:

QB- Michael Vick- FA from Prison
Vince Young- FA from Tenn

RB- LeSean McCoy- Draft- 2nd rd 2009
Owen Schmitt- FA from Sea
Ronnie Brown- FA from Mia

WR/TE- DeSean Jackson- Draft- 2nd rd 2008
Jeremy Maclin- Draft- 1st rd 2009
Steve Smith- FA from NYG
Jason Avant- Draft- 4th rd 2006
Riley Cooper- Draft- 5th rd 2010
Brent Celek- Draft- 5th rd 2007

OL- Jason Peters- Trade from Buff for 1st, 4th, and 6th round picks
Evan Mathis- FA from Cincy
Jason Kelce- Draft- 6th rd 2011
Danny Watkins- Draft- 1st rd 2011
Todd Herremans- Draft- 4th rd 2005

DL- Trent Cole- Draft- 5th rd 2005
Jason Babin- FA from Tenn- Signed 5 yr $28 million deal
Cullen Jenkins- FA from GB- Signed 5 yr $25 million deal
Darryl Tapp- Trade from Sea for Chris Clemons and a 4th rd pick
Derek Landri- FA from Car
Trevor Laws- Draft- 2nd rd 2008
Mike Patterson- Draft- 1st rd 2005

LB- Brian Rolle- Draft- 6th rd 2011
Jamar Chaney- Draft- 7th rd 2010
Casey Matthews- Draft- 4th rd 2011
Akeem Jordan- Undrafted FA 2007
Keenan Clayton- Draft- 4th rd 2010

DB- Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie- Traded from Ariz with 2nd rd pick for Kevin Kolb
Nnamdi Asomugha- FA from Oak- Signed 5 yr $60 million deal
Asante Samuel- FA from NE- Signed 6 yr $56 million deal
Joselio Hanson- FA from SF
Nate Allen- Draft- 2nd rd 2010
Kurt Coleman- Draft- 7th rd 2010
Jarrad Page- FA from NE (Released late in the year and signed with Minn)

Drafted Players/Undrafted Free Agents- 19/35 (54%)
Free Agents- 13/35- (37%)
Trades- 3/35 (9%)

As shown above, the Philly roster is constructed using less successful draft picks and more high-salaried free agents than the two Super Bowl teams. If you disregard their linebacking corps, which most critics believe to be below average anyways, only 14 of 30 roster contributors developed from the draft. This occurs largely because the Eagles have hit on only 8/24 (33%) of their high draft picks (1st-3rd rd) so far between 2003 and 2010 by my estimation. By comparison, the Pats hit at 42% and the Giants at 64% over that same time period, securing 12 and 14 quality players respectively. The Giants and the Pats also used most of their high picks on the offensive line and the defense, where as half of the Eagles hits were at the skill positions (Maclin, D. Jackson, McCoy, and Kolb*), meaning that the Eagles were forced to overpay in free agency to fill roster needs.

Perhaps staying the course isn't the correct strategy for this Eagles squad. They need to become better at evaluating talent in the draft in order to build a better core roster. When teams are forced to fill their needs through high-priced free agents, they can't spend as much money on depth and reserves; consequently, they can't endure the long season and the inevitable injuries expected in the NFL. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie should change course and look to bring in better front office personnel and coaches that are capable of evaluating talent.

* Kolb is considered a successful pick from the Eagles perspective even though he hasn't proven himself on the field because they were able to receive value (Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2nd rd pick) in the trade for him.

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Feel free to email me at jhuffmm@yahoo.com


  1. Very well written article, but I think the Eagles made the right moves. I think the lockout hurt this team more than any other team in the league because of all the new faces, meaning that priority number one for them now is to keep as much continuity as possible. I know Castillo is the joke of the league in the media right now, but I think that in coaching circles he's regarded as one of the best motivators in the league, and the Eagles defense finished 8th in total defense despite the poor start. And while I agree that building through the draft is unquestionably better than through FA, do you really have a problem with any of the signings? VY won a game against the Giants, Nnamdi was Nnamdi, Cullen Jenkins and Babin were beasts, Mathis was excellent....only bust was Steve Smith

    1. The problem with building through high-priced free agents is the lack of depth it causes at multiple positions. I would also argue that Asomugha, Smith, Vince Young all failed to live up to expectations. Jenkins played to his salary and Babin obviously played well.

      As for Castillo, I put virtually no stock in total defense stats and think he must be questioned because of the season he had and his background as an Offensive Line coach.

    2. i don't put the eagles lack of success this season on the defense. quarterback play was the ultimate downfall, so that 100 mill they gave vick should be whats ultimately questioned. and, i guess, the vince young signing should also be questioned. they made some great moves trading away kevin kolb for a pro bowl corner and a draft pick, and i think they're defense is actually very good, as long as they address the need for linebacker in the draft

    3. Thanks CMH. I was saying this all season. As Vick gets older, I think it is becoming more and more obvious that he has hardly any understanding of what it takes to read a defense. The Eagles OL is by no means dominant, so it couldn't be too hard to game plan for a player like Vick. It seems like he relies exclusively on his scrambling to buy time, and even though he seemed to focus more on the traditional pocket passing role at the start of the season, as time went on, he fell back into his old habits more and more. Then, of course, he started bitching about how Refs let him get hit more than anyone else in the league.

      Now, on the other hand, I think Andy Reid's time has come. Especially considering their play against Arizona. They hadn't changed their audibles, and Kolb was able to call them out to his defense. That is absurd, and no coach should allow his signals to remain the same for that long.

    4. Good points. I had forgotten about the audible debacle against Arizona. That's coaching 101 right there. I think he needs to go immediately and if he has another sub-par year, Reid is done.

  2. "michael vick-FA from prison"...got a pretty good laugh out of that