I’ve listed five obtainable steps to begin the path towards repairing the defense.
1. Coaching Changes: I never saw it coming, but the good news is that step one is now complete. While all of the blame shouldn’t have fallen on his shoulders, it was reasonable to suggest it was time for Sean McDermott to go. Did the Eagles defense suffer from injuries? Sure. Was McDermott hamstrung by a constant crop of undersized players? Perhaps. But having the worst red zone defense in recent NFL history is unacceptable.
The same goes for Rory Seagrest, the defensive line coach who brilliantly allowed the likes of Pro Bowl caliber ends in Jason Babin and Chris Clemons to walk without recognizing their potential. Have Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, and Daniel Teo-Neshiem suffered too? Yes. Despite the uncertainty of the coming replacement decisions, the Eagles are likely in a position to correct their defensive problems from the top down.
2. Sign Nnamdi Asomugha: Last year, the Eagles had the opportunity to get a big, defensive playmaker named Julius Peppers. Had they signed him, it’s quite possible that we would all be preparing for an NFC Championship game here at Lincoln Financial Field, not Soldier. The Eagles can’t make the same mistake with this year’s top defensive free agency talent.
3. Gamble on the Line: In swapping Broderick Bunkley for Antonio Dixon, the Eagles have found a younger, more impressive improvement at DT. The answer is simple, and you can see it the minute Dixon lines up. Size. However, I’d propose another name as an improvement to Mike Patterson that few fans and experts are talking about. Is he a character gamble? Sure. But in considering the ever-closing window of the Michael Vick era… it’s one we might want to consider. Albert Haynesworth.
Haynesworth may be cut by Washington this off-season. We know he won’t play for a 3-4 defense anymore, so it rules out his chances of signing with half of the other teams in the NFL. His recent baggage (and recent big-money payday) could serve to soften the financial blow short term, as the Eagles could grab him for a temporary deal at a fair price. If Haynesworth’s career and reputation could be revived through motivation, something Andy Reid has much experience with in a guy named Michael Vick, then his presence on the line could mean an unstoppable pass-rushing force.
4. Two Options at Linebacker: Both Jamar Chaney and Stewart Bradley belong on the field together. But who’s the third guy?
First Option: Sign Paul Posluszny. If he doesn’t chose to return to Buffalo, Puz is a dominant linebacker when healthy and the type of leader that the Eagles haven’t seen since Jeremiah Trotter. He’d likely play the middle, while Chaney was moved to weak and Bradley to strong.
Second Option: If free agency fails, draft Casey Matthews of the Oregon Ducks. The brother of Clay Matthews (who?), the younger and slightly smaller Casey (6’2, 235 lbs) has a similar drive with excellent potential as a weak-side or eventual MLB. He has speed, great tackling ability, and a nasty attitude that the Eagles could use. This option would come cheap, as Matthews isn’t a first round talent. Matthews’ height and speed could give the Eagles multiple options in pairing him with Chaney and Bradley.
5. Immediate Round One Impact: Adrian Clayborn is a 6’4, 285 lb DE, and the undisputed leader of the Iowa Hawkeyes defense. His sack stats won’t wow you (in his senior year he only recorded 4, well below his 11 in 2010), but see him on the field and you’ll instantly know that Clayborn is a man among boys. His size, leadership qualities, nasty streak, and tremendous upside are the types of qualities that could make him a nice anchor on the other side of the line from Trent Cole. He’d also make Bradley, Chaney, and whoever else plays behind him better.
Since Clayborn is a top 10 draft talent, the Eagles would likely have to trade multiple picks to move up and get him (perhaps including Kevin Kolb to a team such as Arizona, Cleveland, San Francisco, or Tennessee).