Eagles Off-Season Off To Tough Start

Already this off-season, the Eagles coaching staff has been hit with defections and the player ranks are likely to take a shot as well once the free agency season arrives. Times could be tough for the Eagles between now and the time they arrive for camp at Lehigh.

The off-season isn't getting off to the best of starts for the Philadelphia Eagles. Linebackers coach Steve Spagnuolo left to become the New York Giants' defensive coordinator, and two other assistants - quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur and secondary coach Sean McDermott, who now will coach the team's linebackers - also could soon be leaving for coordinator jobs.

Shurmur was interviewed by the Arizona Cardinals' new head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, for the offensive coordinator's job on his staff. And McDermott is believed to be a candidate to replace Mike Tomlin as the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator. Vikings head coach Brad Childress is the Eagles' former offensive coordinator.

With McDermott taking over Spagnuolo's linebacker duties, the Eagles' long-time special teams coordinator, John Harbaugh, will be the new secondary coach.

The Eagles also are looking at the very real possibility of losing several key players when the free agency signing period gets underway in March. Several teams are expected to court 36-year-old quarterback Jeff Garcia as a potential starter. The Eagles would like to bring him back to be Donovan McNabb's backup, but aren't going to offer him starter's money. Minnesota and Tampa Bay are potentially strong landing areas for Garcia. The bottom line is that he stands to get more guaranteed playing time and more money elsewhere than the Eagles will be able to offer on either front.

Another player who probably won't be re-signed is wide receiver Donte Stallworth. Stallworth averaged 19.1 yards per catch this season. But the Eagles, who will enter the free agency signing period with just $12.4 million in salary cap room, aren't going to break the bank to re-sign him. They seem to think they can survive with a wide receiving corps of Reggie Brown, Hank Baskett, Greg Lewis, Jason Avant and Jeremy Bloom.

While Brown had another solid season (46 receptions, 8 touchdowns, 17.7 yards per catch) he is viewed by most scouts as a number two receiver. Baskett, Lewis and Avant combined for a total of just 53 catches last season. And Bloom, a fifth-round rookie who hasn't played football in four years, spent the '06 season on injured reserve.

Harbaugh's move from special teams boss to defensive assistant was mostly his idea. While he is regarded as one of the best special teams coaches in the league, the job was becoming a dead end for the 44-year-old assistant, who aspires to be an NFL or college head coach. Both he and Reid agreed that his best chance to eventually become a head coach was to take a step down for now and be a position coach.

"This allows John to get out of that special-teams mode," Reid said. "His eventual goal is to be a head coach. This gives him an opportunity to work toward that, and possibly toward a defensive coordinator position. I think it's the right time to do this."

There's a good possibility that Harbaugh could eventually replace Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson if Johnson decides to retire in the next two or three years. Johnson is 66.

Harbaugh was frustrated that, despite his success as the Eagles' special teams coach, he wasn't considered for any vacant college head coaching jobs over the last few years. He had genuine interest in the Syracuse head coaching job two years ago, but couldn't even get an interview for the opening, which eventually went to former NFL defensive assistant Greg Robinson.

"It's going to change, I think, at some point in time," said Harbaugh of the view of special teams coaches. "But it just hasn't been the fashionable thing."

Harbaugh said he is looking forward to working directly under the respected Johnson. "That may be the biggest part of (wanting to coach the secondary)," he said. "I cannot wait to dig in with that."

The job will be a challenge for Harbaugh. Despite finishing ninth in the league in pass defense last season, the secondary needs to be upgraded. Cornerback Lito Sheppard earned his second Pro Bowl invitation, but the team's other starting corner, Sheldon Brown, was up and down. Nickel corner Rod Hood is an unrestricted free agent who wants a starting opportunity somewhere and probably won't be back.

Free safety Brian Dawkins still is playing at a high level, but is 33. Strong safety Sean Considine, who replaced Mike Lewis seven games into the season, has yet to prove he is good enough to be a long-term NFL starter. Considine has acknowledged that he needs to add weight during the off-season. Listed as 6-0, 212, he played most of the season at around 195 and struggled against the run.

On another front, the days that Dhani Jones and Jerome McDougle will be Eagles appear to be numbered. Both are both expected to be released in the near future since the Eagles believe they have younger and better options for their positions.

This year's crop of free agents isn't the strongest, but that's not likely to hinder the Eagles too much since they are generally not big time players in free agency and won't have a lot of money to throw around anyway. Where it will affect the Eagles most is in the potential loss of players like Garcia and Stallworth, who could be standouts among the lesser free agent targets for other teams.

Notes From The ‘Nest:

  • Middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter acknowledged that he's going to have to lose some weight during the off-season to take some pressure off his knees. Trotter, who is one of the league's bigger MIKE 'backers at about 260 pounds, did not have a good season. He was a liability in pass coverage and his range as a run-stopper shrank dramatically. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said the Eagles will try to limit Trotter's snaps next season to keep him fresh. "Trot can't play too many plays," Johnson said. "He's getting up there in age (he turned 30 this month), and now you've gotta kind of watch that."
  • Brian Westbrook answered any questions about his ability to be a carry-the-load running back this season. The 5-9, 203-pounder racked up more than 1,900 rushing and receiving yards and had a career-high 322 touches. "I think I was able to show some people that I'm able to do some things that a lot of people weren't believing I could do," Westbrook said. "Hopefully, next year I'll be able to do the same thing."

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