While they failed to corral their top free-agent target - Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley, who signed instead with the Cleveland Browns - the Eagles have added five players that should make them a better team in 2006.
They improved their pass rush with the addition of defensive end Darren Howard. They upgraded their linebacker corps with the signing of Shawn Barber. They added a capable - if not star-quality - wide receiver in Jabar Gaffney. They improved their depth and blocking ability at tight end with the signing of veteran Matt Schobel. And, in the event Donovan McNabb gets hurt again, they added a proven veteran quarterback, Jeff Garcia.
They still have needs that likely will be addressed in either next month's draft or the remainder of the free agency period. While Barber will replace Keith Adams at weak-side linebacker, the Eagles still need someone better on the strong side than Dhani Jones.
They also need a big running back to compliment their two quick, but undersized munchkins, Brian Westbrook and Ryan Moats. And the offensive line still has some major question marks, particularly if the Eagles don't re-sign right tackle Jon Runyan, which doesn't look likely.
Their tentative plan is to move right guard Shawn Andrews outside to Runyan's spot. But while the 2004 first-round pick is a bruising run-blocker, he has a big-time weight problem. If he can't control it, it will be tough for him to maintain the quickness needed to play out in space.
The left tackle, Tra Thomas, is coming off major back surgery. And while the Eagles say he should be as good as new for the start of training camp, there is no certainty with back injuries.
Also, the Eagles' pursuit of Bentley was a clear indication that they feel they need to improve the interior of their line. While they likely will use one of their early-round picks next month on an offensive lineman, it's unlikely they'll draft anyone who will be able to make an immediate impact. Which means they'll probably go into next season with Jamaal Jackson as their starting center and second-year man Todd Herremans and either Artis Hicks or Adrien Clarke as their starting guards.
"We have never been an organization that would ever want to make a headline for the sake of making a headline," owner Jeff Lurie said in response to his team's low-key free-agent signings.
"I think you look around the league and you find that the teams that make the right evaluations and make the smart decisions, whether it be the Patriots, Steelers or us, it's a much smarter way to go. It's great if you want to make a splash, but unless you pick the right player at the right price, it's a poor way to build a championship team."
News and Notes:
- Middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter would like to see the Eagles sign ex-Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington. "This is a guy that strikes fear into guys," he said. "He's an exceptional athlete. This is a linebacker that physically can do anything on the field he wants to do."
- Wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, who was signed by the Eagles this week, is the cousin of Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard. The two were teammates at Jacksonville (Fla.) Raines High School. Gaffney and Sheppard both were taken in the 2002 draft. Sheppard was selected by the Eagles with the 26th pick in the first round. Gaffney was taken seven spots later by the Houston Texans with the first pick in the second round. Gaffney will battle with Todd Pinkston, who missed all of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon,
for the number two wideout spot, opposite second-year man Reggie Brown.
Gaffney caught 55 passes last season for the Texans. "He's a terrific receiver," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "He can get in and out (of cuts), can create some separation. He's a smooth guy. He's got great hands. Quite possibly, his best years are in front of him."
- Defensive tackle: While the Eagles plan to move newly-acquired end Darren Howard inside in passing situations, they still need a run-stopping presence inside. They may address this early in the draft next month.
- Strongside linebacker: The Eagles went in to the off-season needing to upgrade both outside linebacker spots. They addressed the weak side with the signing of free agent Shawn Barber. But they still need to find someone better on the strong side than Dhani Jones.
- Running back: Brian Westbrook and Ryan Moats both are talented runners, but they are undersized and are more effective on the perimeter than between the tackles. The Eagles need a big, short-yardage runner to complement them.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LB Keith Adams; S Jack Brewer; LB Justin Ena; RB Lamar Gordon; DE N.D. Kalu; P Sean Landeta; TE Chad Lewis; OT Jon Runyan.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: CB Rod Hood; P Dirk Johnson; RB Reno Mahe; S Quentin Mikell.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: WR Darnerien McCants; DE Juqua Thomas.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: LB Shawn Barber; WR Jabar Gaffney; QB Jeff Garcia; DE Darren Howard; TE Matt Schobel.
PLAYERS LOST: QB Andy Hall; QB Mike McMahon; WR Terrell Owens.