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Signing Camp: Training Optional
Posted By Christopher Rowe On Aug 4 2011 @ 12:51 pm In Philadelphia Eagles | No Comments
It would appear that between the new CBA legislation and the Eagles’ activity in free agency, the only thing getting a workout at Lehigh is the contract-signing hand of Joe Banner and GM Howie Roseman. It might go faster should they choose to install a drive-thru window to handle the volume but they seem to be humming along nicely. The Eagles’ unrelenting assault on the transaction wire (since the NFL reopened for business last week) has made them both an object of league-wide envy and an easy target for critics. Some choose to see it as a “Super Bowl or Bust” mentality.
Trading Kevin Kolb for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie started a cascade effect resembling suicide shuttle drills. Landing cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (the best free agent on the market) in turn landed Asomugha on the cover of Sports Illustrated – amidst a cacophony regarding who the #1 CB would be (Asante Samuel, Asomugha or “DRC”). The trio is affectionately being called “Bermuda Triangle” – what a fantastic problem to have! Next, Vince Young, was signed to back up Michael Vick, with Jason Babin, Donald Lee, Cullen Jenkins and a dozen undrafted free agents following suit.
New players kept arriving in camp to sign contracts and envious critics (including a certain disgruntled former Eagle with an affinity for Chunky Soup and an overbearing mother) said the Eagles were fielding a “Dream Team” – and told an interviewer on the record that “the Eagles have more problems than people are looking at.” This sour grapes assessment went viral immediately but was attributed to bitterness and resentment from previous experience.
Incumbent (and flambuoyant) receiver DeSean Jackson ironically was a holdout from Training Camp indicating that he and agent Drew Rosenhaus would insist on a contract renegotiation (Jackson’s current contract pays about $500k for the upcoming season) following the end of the Owners’ Lockout. Meanwhile, a cavalcade of NFL free agents were seemingly falling over themselves to answer the phone when the Eagles call. Even Randy Moss got into the act but declined an Eagles offer to entice him out of retirement.
Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door. Open up your checkbook and most NFL players will climb over their own grandmother to sign a contract. From the outside looking in, the league-wide reaction sounds less like status quo football mentality and more like unsatisfied testimony from a bitter divorce proceeding.
Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan called the Eagles the “all-hype team,” as if he would have turned down Asomugha (who the Cowboys had been vehemently pursuing). Donovan McNabb took it all in and told an interviewer on the record that “the Eagles, for all their moves, have more problems than people are looking at.” http://www.prosportsblogging.com/sports/nfl-football/philadelphia-eagles/ 
What the Eagles have done, however, is a lot more than the sum of their showiest transactions. Marquee names have received almost all of the attention (and rightfully so) but some of the quieter moves may actually be the ones that make the final difference this season. In all, the Eagles have completed more than 50 transactions in less than a week. Wednesday was a relative eye of the storm, with just minor additions and subtractions to disturb the calm. Some of the moves in the last week have been wheel-spinning exercises as the front office scurried to fill the 90-man roster. They signed rookie WR Keith Carlos last Friday and waived him on Monday, which means only the Bronx Zoo Yankees exhibited a faster revolving door.
Between the high-profile trades and signings and the transactions to pad the roster for training camp reps, there is the real meat and potatoes (or ham sandwich if Andy Reidprefers) of what the Eagles have done. With far less fanfare, Philadelphia has brought in veterans at some key spots which
desperately needed depth and improvement. These players might have as much to say about this season as anyone else. The four signings that stand out at the moment – under the radar, undervalued and overdue – are OT Ryan Harris, RB Ronnie Brown, OG Evan Mathis and WR/KR Johnnie Lee Higgins. A secondary list would continue with first round draft pick Danny Watkins, veteran safety Jarrad Page, re-signed LB Akeem Jordan (the only unrestricted free agent retained by the Eagles) and possibly Stewart Bradley who is lobbying for a reduced role in this defense. If you wanted to add DT Anthony Hargrove, Derek London or Donald Lee (entering his 10th year in the NFL as a blocking TE) you’d get no argument. Harris, Brown and Mathis could prove the unheralded aortic valve of this roster. http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/07/29/young-and-restless-eagles-flurry-of-moves/ 
Ryan Harris gives the Eagles insurance at both offensive tackle positions and, more to the point, has the ability to take the right side starting job from Winston Justice. Harris is only 26 years old and says he is recovered from the inside and outside, high and low, left ankle injury that sidelined him in Denver last season. Justice remains a question mark as well.
Evan Mathis is with his fourth NFL team since entering the NFL in 2005. He can play on either side of center and gives the Eagles a reliable Plan B if rookie Danny Watkins is slow to develop or if Jamal Jackson has a setback that forces Mike McGlynn back to the center position. Mathis gives them seriously versatile depth at two positions where it had been sorely lacking.
Johnnie Lee Higgins (turns 28 next month) was used as an extra receiver in Oakland, but mainly as a punt returner (115 career returns and an 8.5-yard average). DeSean Jackson was counted on as the main punt returner last season, at least until he declined to catch warm-up punts in Chicago in late November. Jorrick Calvin returned punts toward the end of the season with the exception of the Miracle at the New Meadowlands exhibition. Given Jackson’s current situation (camp holdout, wants more money and if he returns, he doesn’t want to catch punts) landing someone like Higgins was a vital piece that couldn’t be overlooked.
Former Miami Dolphin Ronnie Brown is an intriguing addition because there doesn’t seem to be that much opportunity at RB behind LeSean McCoy. Brown (who shared time with Cadillac Williams at Auburn and with Ricky Williams in the pros) has some interesting skills and provides a huge upgrade over the likes of the other candidates (Buckley, Lewis, etc). Brown says he is willing to do split the load again – even if it’s not with a player named Williams. With the Dolphins, Brown helped implement the Wildcat offense, and it’s not hard to imagine the Eagles’ offensive schemes taking advantage of Brown’s skills as they mesh with those of Michael Vick.
The mistake would be to focus only on the obvious blaze, the stuff that makes the covers of magazines. The Eagles keep making moves that land in the back pages of the sports page, but those could turn out to be the best reads of all. It is the machinery and mechanisms that don’t often see the limelight which allow the marquee players to shine. Guys in the trenches, special teams contributors and those whose sparks make fire possible – those are the foundation of any successful football team!
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