Phil Sheridan: Lurie needs to take another look at Eagles

Posted: January 24, 2012

When Jeffrey Lurie delivered his Eagles state-of-disarray address, most of the focus was on his decision to give coach Andy Reid another season despite his "unacceptable" 2011 campaign. And rightly so.

With the team's decision-makers mostly gathered in Mobile, Ala., for Senior Bowl workouts, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on another of Lurie's comments: his reply to a question about the team's recent drafts, especially on defense.

"I think the analysis is complicated," Lurie said. "You know, we've had a pretty good defense and we've had a lot of veteran players we've brought in that have been very successful that probably overplayed the draft choices. . . . [In] today's NFL, it's a combination of draft, free agency - whatever - every aspect has to be analyzed by everyone internally, and it's putting the pieces together."

This brought to mind a hilarious and tasteless skit from one of the earliest episodes of Saturday Night Live. The cast gathered around Ray Charles to present the legendary soul man with a painting by Monet. Upon its unveiling, the audience saw a plain white canvas with block letters reading, "Please Don't Tell Him."

Is this what Reid, president Joe Banner, and general manager Howie Roseman do - sell Lurie a pretty picture and hope no one tells him it's junk?

The Eagles have not had a "pretty good defense" in the time period we're talking about. Indeed, the Eagles defense gave up a franchise-record number of touchdown passes, was horrible in the all-important red zone, and led to the firing of one defensive coordinator and the nearly universal ridiculing of his replacement.

But proof that Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Babin were worth their millions is that they kept Trevard Lindley and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim off the field? This explanation is backward and illogical.

The Eagles have long preached the importance of building through the draft and using free agency to fill the occasional hole or add a budding superstar. The idea that you build a team with veterans and let your draft picks try to crack the lineup is just absurd.

The truth is, the Eagles have been forced to add so many veterans the last few years because their drafts have been terrible. Going back to their last truly excellent team - the 2004 squad that went to the Super Bowl - the Eagles have done a terrible job of drafting replacements as defensive stars aged out.

The last impact defensive player they drafted was two months after that Super Bowl loss: Trent Cole, who was taken in the fifth round of the 2005 draft. Mike Patterson also was taken that day, but so were Matt McCoy (second-round linebacker) and Sean Considine (fourth-round safety).

In '06, the Eagles drafted Brodrick Bunkley in the first round, Chris Gocong in the third, and Omar Gaither in the fifth. In 2007, they passed on Anthony Spencer, Eric Weddle, and LaMarr Woodley - opting instead to trade out of the first round and draft Kevin Kolb. They also used a second-round pick on Victor Abiamiri and a third on Stewart Bradley.

In '08, they again traded out of the first round, then took Trevor Laws in the second round, Bryan Smith in the third, and Quintin Demps in the fourth. The next year, with Brian Dawkins gone, they took Macho Harris in the fifth round and Moise Fokou in the seventh.

These are more than just names. They are the real reason the Eagles had to flail around, looking to plug gaping holes on defense. Takeo Spikes, Darren Howard, Will Witherspoon, Ernie Sims, Sean Jones, Marlin Jackson, Ellis Hobbs, Jarrad Page - they all were brought in because McCoy, Considine, Gocong, Abiamiri, Demps, and Smith were not difference makers, or because the team passed on players who were.

With Roseman taking over from Tom Heckert as GM in 2010, the Eagles focused on defense. They traded up to take Brandon Graham in the first round, now infamously having bypassed Jason Pierre-Paul. They took Nate Allen in the second round and Te'o-Nesheim in the third (when Penn State LB NaVorro Bowman was sitting there). The late rounds produced Jamar Chaney and Kurt Coleman. The next year, they took defensive backs Jaiquawn Jarrett in the second round and Curtis Marsh in the third. Casey Matthews and Brian Rolle came later.

Thanks to their last five drafts, the Eagles spent a fortune on Asomugha, Babin, and Cullen Jenkins. They had gaping holes at all three linebacker spots and at both safeties.

To Lurie, the defense was so good, the draft picks couldn't make the team. The truth is, the defense was so poorly constructed, the team was forced to juggle rookies, late-round picks, and journeymen at linebacker and safety. The result was a disaster.

Reid is back. Roseman remains at GM. It appears that Juan Castillo will return at defensive coordinator. Those decisions are made.

The thing is, you'd feel much better if the guy who made them didn't believe he was looking at a masterpiece.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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