THE GOOD: Linebacker
The acquisition of Takeo Spikes is huge. Big, athletic, and aggressive, Spikes brings a spark that the Eagles defense has been lacking. This is especially true of last year’s Birds D, which (obviously, through no fault of their own) was missing one of its two best players in Jevon Kearse.
But beyond providing a defensive playmaker, this move does two important things. First, it relegates Dhani Jones to a much smaller role. Anything that accomplishes that (trade, free agency, freak hot air balloon accident) is welcome. Second, it reflects an intriguing change of approach. The Eagles have for a few years been a team focused on quarterbacks, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, and defensive backs, leaving often gaping holes at wide receiver, linebacker, and (ignoring one notable exception, who until last year was better utilized as a receiver) running back. A big pick-up like this sends a message that the Eagles have made the linebacker spot a priority, and this will pay benefits all season against the run and the pass.
THE BAD: Wide Receiver
Kevin Curtis appears perfectly capable of being an excellent #2 receiver—which is to say the Eagles, what? Third #2 receiver? Great. Yeah, you can never have enough of those.
Part of the beauty of last season was that the team finished the way it did in spite of devastating losses. And while the crucial figure in the turnaround was no doubt Jeff Garcia, he wouldn’t have had half the impact he had without a serious deep threat, which opened things up not only for the throwing game but also for the much improved running game. And that deep threat came from Donte Stallworth. I’ve already heard from a number of fellow fans that Curtis has as much to offer as Stallworth had to offer when the Birds picked him up. Well, excuse me for getting all realistic on your faces, but I don’t see it.
Stallworth offered better size (6’0", 196 to Curtis’s 5’11", 186), a more impressive best season (70 catches, 945 yards, and 7 touchdowns to Curtis’s 60 catches, 801 yards, and 6 touchdowns), and better career numbers (233 catches, 3516 yards, and 28 touchdowns to Curtis’s 136 catches, 1714 yards, and 12 touchdowns) over a nearly identical number of seasons (6 to Curtis’s 5).
Oh wait, why am I worried? The Eagles also picked up Bethel Johnson. Yet another mediocre receiver. Whew!
I know I’m strengthening the stereotype of cynical Birds fans, but I have to call it like I see it: This is a definite and disappointing downgrade.
(Please God say you bring something more intimidating than that haircut.)
THE INEVITABLE: Quarterback
After the end of last season, like a lot of people I was cheering for the Eagles to find a way to keep Jeff Garcia on. I mean, how many times do we have to see Donnie M. injured before we’re allowed to cheer for a first-class back-up? That said, it was as clear to me as it was to anyone (anyone, that is, except for those crazy people who were hoping to see McNabb replaced by Garcia permanently) that Jeff had earned his day to play. It would have been unrealistic to expect him to stick around.
So in the big moves so far, the Birds have one big win, one big loss, and one unfortunate departure they couldn’t have stopped if they wanted to. Sounds something like a draw, right? And yet, in a way, we’ve gained ground. After all, our NFC East rivals keep on fighting tooth and nail to give us all new reasons to remain optimistic.
*The Giants have given up on key leaders like Luke Petitgout and Carlos Emmons and replaced potential (if not probable) hall-of-famer Tiki Barber with Reuben Droughns.
*The Cowboys have swapped legend Bill Parcells for journeyman Wade Philips.
*And the Redskins…ah, nevermind. Let’s stay focused on what’s relevant.