Making a to-do list for 2012

The Eagles' DeSean Jackson (left) may return for a year. Michael Vick (right) needs a backup.
The Eagles' DeSean Jackson (left) may return for a year. Michael Vick (right) needs a backup. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 23, 2011

Odds are the Eagles' season will be over by the time a certain plump, red-faced man is flying through the skies on Christmas Eve.

The Birds need a New York Jets victory over the crosstown rival Giants before they tee it up at Dallas on Saturday. And then they have to beat the Cowboys if they are to head into the final weekend with their postseason hopes still flickering.

It's not out of the realm of possibility, nor is a miracle finish next week in which the Eagles beat the Redskins and the Giants bounce back to top Dallas. But it's long shot, and at some point decisions for next season are going to have to start to be formulated - if they haven't already.

Andy Reid is likely riding this sleigh for another season, so the bulk of roster roulette will again fall to the (not-so) jolly, old coach. But team president Joe Banner and general manager Howie Roseman are making lists, deciding who's naughty and nice, and some familiar faces are bound to receive the equivalent of a stocking full of a coal.

So here's the rundown on the major decisions facing Reid and the Eagles' merry little elves:

Defense

Cornerback: Reid started to grease the skids for Asante Samuel's departure when he mentioned Thursday how Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie - expected to fill in for the injured Samuel on Saturday - is more comfortable playing outside than in the slot. That is obviously true, but Reid is hardly ever so forthcoming. Samuel and his hefty contract will be dealt elsewhere - although the Eagles won't get anything near what they would have had they traded him during training camp - and Rodgers-Cromartie will start opposite Nnamdi Asomugha next season. Schematically, if the Eagles are intent on not blitzing as much, it makes more sense to have the two press corners.

Linebacker: The Eagles finally have to  expend a first-round draft pick on a linebacker, right? They have to see that Jamar Chaney, Brian Rolle, and Casey Matthews - serviceable, at best - aren't the answer if Jim Washburn's wide-nine defensive line scheme is to return, right? Reid keeps talking about how young his linebacker cast is, so there is doubt that he would add another novice, especially one drafted high enough to start. But maybe there will be a subtle acknowledgment of past mistakes, as there once was at wide receiver, and a linebacker will be chosen early in the draft. Whether they pick the right one is another matter.

Safety: When you've used (wasted?) two second-round picks over the last two drafts at the safety position, there isn't much wiggle room. Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett were supposed to be the duo that would hold down safety for years to come - and they still might be - but each has fleas. Allen, who had knee surgery a year ago, has had an up and down season - more downs than ups, though. And Jarrett, while a rookie and hurt by the lockout, is an enigma at this point. With Kurt Coleman playing better than both, the Eagles' talent evaluators should be held accountable.

Defensive line: The starting front four - ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole and tackles Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson - will probably remain as is. Juqua Parker and Trevor Laws, your time is up. Darryl Tapp probably has another season left here. Derek Landri, picked up off the scrap heap, deserves a contract. Brandon Graham is the wild card. The former top pick will get another shot to show that he has rebounded from knee surgery. But his future is tenuous, and the Eagles are probably going to need to get another end high in the draft with Babin and Cole aging.

Offense

Wide receiver: DeSean Jackson heads the list of offseason question marks. Do the Eagles franchise him and bring him back at around $10 million a pop? Do they trade him and risk not getting equal value in return? Or do they simply let him walk? The guess here is that they'll sign him for one more season since they're bringing back most of the crew for 2012's do-over. Jackson may not like not having long-term security, but $10 million buys a lot of Gucci. Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, and Riley Cooper are all under contract and will return. Steve Smith, it was not nice knowing you.

Running back: After the Eagles unload some of their deadweight contracts in March, expect them to announce a pricey contract extension for LeSean McCoy. The third-year tailback took all the right steps this season, said all the right things, and is on his way to becoming a star. He has one year left on the four-year contract he signed as a second-round pick - one similar to Jackson's. But the Eagles will handle this situation the right way. With Ronnie Brown a bust, they still need that big, bruising back they've lacked.

Offensive line: Jason Peters and Todd Herremans have been as good a tackle combo as there is in the league. Herremans' stranglehold on right tackle means that Winston Justice has probably played his last downs here. The Eagles do need to get and groom a few young future replacements at tackle. Left guard Evan Mathis, like Landri, deserves a contract. Rookies Danny Watkins and Jason Kelce have earned their starting right guard and center spots, but the Eagles will need interior depth with Jamaal Jackson's days here surely over.

Quarterback: The question under center won't revolve around the starter. Michael Vick will be back. But with Vince Young a one-year mistake and Mike Kafka not good enough to supplant even Young, the Eagles need a competent backup. They also need to start thinking about the future. With Vick guaranteed really only one more season in Philly, it may be time to find his heir.


Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745,

jmclane@phillynews.com, or @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.

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