Prematurely dubbed the “Dream Team,” the Philadelphia Eagles failed mightily in fulfilling that lofty moniker in 2011.
In free agency, the Eagles landed arguably the most coveted free agent in Nnamdi Asomugha, in addition to netting Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Ronnie Brown, Vince Young and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (via Kevin Kolb trade). They already featured an offense stacked with playmakers. Now they had fortified the secondary and defensive line.
Oh, how that potential went ever so unrealized.
Despite winning the last four games of the season to finish 8-8 after a dismal 1-4 start, this was a season rife with questionable coaching, defensive breakdowns, contract disputes and a glaring lack of cohesion.
And to think, the NFC East was so ripe for the taking as the Giants won the division at just 9-7, one game ahead in the standings.
As it currently stands, the Eagles have seemed to ameliorate their burdensome situation with an immensely successful draft and by locking up key players.
More to the point, they have put themselves in position to win the NFC East in a football savvy and fiscally responsible manner (i.e. an intelligent draft strategy).
They alleviated their greatest deficiency at middle linebacker by selecting Mychal Kendricks in the second round of the NFL Draft. Incumbent Jamar Chaney was awful and ranked near the bottom of all MLBs according to ProFootballFocus (and any observer with a working pair of eyes for that matter).
Kendricks is an exceptionally underrated athlete who excels against both the run and pass. He brings max effort, sure tackling, and disciplined play to Philadelphia’s linebacker corps that was often deficient in those qualities last season.
Selecting Fletcher Cox, the top-rated defensive tackle coming out of the NCAA ranks, and Marshall’s Vinny Curry fortifies an already stout, NFL sack-leading defensive line featuring Babin, Trent Cole and Cullen Jenkins.
Fourth-round pick Brandon Boykin provides them with a fantastic slot cornerback and dynamic weapon in the return game. Marvin McNutt (Round 6) provides playmaking ability and insurance for the oft-injured Jeremy Maclin at the wide receiver position, while Brandon Washington was a huge steal near the end of draft as an addition to the offensive line.
Equally, if not more significant, was rewarding the veterans on the team with renewed contracts. They took care of LeSean McCoy (RB), Evan Mathis (G), Trent Cole, DeSean Jackson (WR) and Todd Herremans (T) with long-term deals. Unlike last year where the newcomers received all the love—at least in the eyes of some of the returning players—important longstanding teammates now feel that they have the support of the organization as well.
The readily apparent resentment and lack of chemistry in 2011 due to contractual issues should no longer resurface in 2012.
Now that the team itself has improved in most of all necessary areas, how does it stack up against divisional foes?
The Redskins, despite drafting a franchise QB in RGIII and surrounding him with quality wideouts, will still finish last in the division. Their defense is nothing to scoff at (see: Ryan Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo and London Fletcher), but will experience too many growing pains on offense in an incredibly challenging and competitive division.
The defending Super Bowl champion Giants should be just as formidable in 2012. They replaced the departed Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham with Virginia Tech’s David Wilson and LSU’s Rueben Randle in the draft. Re-signing Terrell Thomas will improve the secondary behind New York’s ferocious D-line. While strong in many areas, the G-Men will experience a SB hangover with the help of a much stronger and now unified Philadelphia squad.
Finally, the greatest challenge presents itself in the form of the Dallas Cowboys. They assuaged their most notable deficiency by signing/drafting lock-down corners in former Chief Brandon Carr and LSU’s Morris Claiborne to team up with Mike Jenkins. Boise State’s Tyrone Crawford brings a presence to the 3-4 DE position in front of All-World DeMarcus Ware and the up-and-coming Sean Lee. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan seems to have the personnel to run his complex schemes. The offense should also continue to thrive behind Tony Romo, Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray, a more developed Dez Bryant and healthy Felix Jones.
However, barring injury, the Michael Vick-led Eagles will once again soar to the top of the division (corny pun intended). The Cowboys aren’t quite there on defense and Romo still does not deserve our full trust that he can lead his team to the postseason. New York will not repeat their magical late-season run, while the Redskins will occupy the fourth slot in the division behind a rookie, albeit awesome, rookie quarterback.
The Eagles have made all the requisite additions and will capitalize on a normal offseason and continuity with the coaching staff to capture the NFC East . The defense made great strides under coordinator Juan Castillo late in the season, allowing just 11.5 points per game during a four game winning streak to close things out. Their draft selections will only help advance that defensive success heading into 2012.
And with all due respect to you, Mr. Young, but the 2012 version of your old squad might actually be more of the “Dream Team.”
Just don’t expect your former teammates to say that out loud.