The Eagles' defense struggled badly last season, and most of their problems stemmed from an ineffective pass rush that registered just 29 sacks, which were the fewest by the team in nearly a quarter century.
They dearly hope Howard and Bunkley will change that. Howard was an exceptional pass-rusher with the New Orleans Saints, notching 11 sacks two seasons ago. He will start at right end, but will also be moved inside by Johnson on passing downs.
The Eagles are hoping Howard's presence will take some of the pressure off of left end Jevon Kearse, who was constantly double-teamed last season. Kearse, a big-money free agent signing two years ago, has had 7 1/2 sacks in each of his first two seasons with the Eagles. They think he is capable of much more than that, and hope Howard will take some of the focus off of him.
Another big problem with the Eagles' pass rush last season was the lack of any inside push from the defensive tackle position. Veteran Darwin Walker had a second straight disappointing season, and their only real interior pass-rushing threat was rookie Mike Patterson, the team's '05 No. 1 pick.
Bunkley has a unique combination of size, strength and quickness that allows him to shoot through gaps as well as push blockers back into the pocket. Assuming he signs early, he likely will be part of a four-man tackle rotation that also is expected to include Patterson, Sam Rayburn and Walker if he picks up his play.
With Eagles fans still mourning the departure of the immensely talented, but malignant Terrell Owens, the offseason signing of Gaffney was met with little fanfare.
But he could be a valuable addition to an offense that plans to return to its spread-the-ball-around roots. The former University of Florida wideout caught a very respectable 55 passes for a bad Houston Texans offense last season. While he doesn't have elite speed, Gaffney is a precise route-runner with stick-um hands.
"In this offense, those things go a long way," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "We're going to use him a lot as the inside receiver in three-receiver situations."
With Reggie Brown coming off an impressive 43-catch rookie season and vertical threat Todd Pinkston back after missing all of last season with an Achilles injury, Reid feels the additions of Gaffney and second tight end Matt Schobel will bolster the Eagles' passing game.
NOTES FROM THE NEST:
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL FRANCHISE PLAYER: None. TRANSITION PLAYER: None. UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): LB Justin Ena; RB Lamar Gordon; P Sean Landeta; TE Chad Lewis. RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None. EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None. DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED: LB Omar Gaither (4th); DT LeJuan Ramsey (6th). PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: CB Roderick Hood; P Dirk Johnson; RB Reno Mahe; WR Darnerien McCants; S Quentin Mikell; OT Jon Runyan; DE Juqua Thomas. PLAYERS ACQUIRED: LB Shawn Barber; WR Jabar Gaffney; QB Jeff Garcia; DE Darren Howard; DT Ed Jasper; TE Matt Schobel. PLAYERS LOST: LB Keith Adams; S Jack Brewer; DT Paul Grasmanis; QB Andy Hall; OG Artis Hicks; DE N.D. Kalu; QB Mike McMahon; WR Billy McMullen; WR Terrell Owens; DT Hollis Thomas.