Their pass rush, which saw a worn-down Trent Cole and Juqua Parker disappear into witness protection in the second half of last season when the Eagles managed just 15 sacks in their last eight games, now looks like a quarterback's worst nightmare with the arrivals of Pro Bowl edge-rusher Jason Babin and interior penetrator Cullen Jenkins.
Yesterday, the All In Gang turned their attention to the offense, signing two more free agents - offensive tackle Ryan Harris and running back Ronnie Brown.
Harris, 26, who signed a 1-year deal, could end up being as important to the Eagles' Super Bowl hopes as any other free agent they've signed in the last week. While the Eagles say Harris has been promised nothing other than the chance to compete for the starting right tackle job, it will be a major shock if he isn't the starter when the Eagles open the season in St. Louis on Sept. 11.
Even after all of the blockbuster signings of the last week, right tackle remained the loose thread that could have caused the Birds' expensive Super Bowl sweater to unravel if they didn't do something about it.
A third-round pick of the Denver Broncos in 2007, Harris was their starting right tackle for the better part of the last 3 years, although a foot injury sidelined him for five games last year and eight more in '09.
Assuming he can stay healthy, the 6-5, 300-pounder appears to be a perfect fit for Howard Mudd's zone-blocking offensive line army. He's quick and agile with excellent lateral quickness and uses his hands well. In '08, he started 16 games for a Broncos line that gave up just 12 sacks.
It's no secret the Eagles' offensive line struggled last season. With center Jamaal Jackson missing 15 games with an arm injury, with Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles both stinking it up at right guard, and with Winston Justice doing pretty much the same at right tackle, the Eagles gave up a disturbing 49 sacks. If not for Michael Vick's Houdini-like ability to dodge unblocked rushers, that number might have been twice that many. The right side of the line was a sieve.
The Eagles addressed the right guard problem in the April draft when they used their first-round pick on Danny Watkins, who they are hopeful will be able to step in and play right away.
But until they signed Harris, the right tackle issue continued to be worrisome. Their two in-house options were Justice and fourth-year backup King Dunlap, who's got all of five career starts.
Justice, who still is rehabbing from offseason knee surgery and hasn't been cleared to practice yet, has been in the league for 5 years. What you see is pretty much what you're going to get - a guy who isn't quite fast enough to stay in front of the league's faster quick-twitch edge-rushers, and a guy who isn't quite strong enough to cope with the power of the bull-rushing big boys. As for the 6-9, 330-pound Dunlap, he remains a work in progress.
Before yesterday, the popular sentiment was that if the Eagles got to late August or early September and it became painfully obvious that neither Justice nor Dunlap could cut it at right tackle, Mudd would move veteran left guard Todd Herremans over there and plug in someone else - Mike McGlynn or Evan Mathis, the free agent they signed last week - at left guard.
I don't have any doubt Herremans could do a solid job over there. On occasion during his 6 years in the league, he has filled in at left tackle when injuries have made it necessary and done well. But the guy has developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber left guard. He and left tackle Jason Peters work well together on that side. You don't really want to uproot him and move him over to right tackle.
While the Eagles contend that they still think Justice is a solid right tackle when healthy, they clearly are hedging their bet with the signing of Harris.
Harris was the best of the still-available free agent tackles. Early yesterday, though, it looked like he was going to re-sign with the Broncos. He was scheduled to go there Tuesday for a "visit" with new head coach John Fox and was expected to take a physical and probably re-sign. But the Eagles sweet-talked yet another free agent into coming to Philadelphia.
Under Fox, Denver is going to be a run-first-offense, which doesn't really play to Harris' strengths. Harris also was looking at an uphill battle there with respect to regaining his starting right tackle job. The Broncos drafted a run-blocking masher, Orlando Franklin, in the second round of the April draft, who is more suited for Fox's style of play than Harris.
Harris' signing would seem to make it more likely that cornerback Asante Samuel will be staying put, since the possibility of trading him for a right tackle no longer is necessary.
That would have been easier said than done anyway. Not because there isn't any interest in the four-time Pro Bowler, whose 36 interceptions over the last 5 years are the most in the NFL. There is.
But there aren't a lot of teams willing to trade away starters this late in the game. According to one source in the organization, most of the clubs that have expressed interest in Samuel would prefer to give up draft picks for him rather than a veteran starter.
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