Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Let's face it. The offseason Lombardi Trophy has to come out of the NFC East. The division may have let a Super Bowl appearance slip through its fingers last season, but the NFC Beast has a stranglehold on the months of March and April.
And of all the blockbuster moves -- Terrell Owens' release, the signing of Albert Haynesworth, Plaxico Burress' final act -- the Eagles may have come out on top. Of course, they started free agency with a whimper by signing a lesser-known Andrews brother (Stacy) and a Browns castoff (Sean Jones). Things were going so slowly that Donovan McNabb reportedly told management he needed to see more before considering a contract extension with the club.
But all at once, things started to change. Armed with two first-round draft picks, the Eagles used one to rescue one of the top left tackles in the league, Jason Peters, from football Siberia (the Buffalo/Toronto franchise). With that one move, some of the sting from Brian Dawkins' departure seemed to go away. Tra Thomas had done an admirable job protecting McNabb's blindside for years, but he was a mediocre run-blocker who was in his mid-30s. Peters, a former tight end at Arkansas, is a 27-year-old mauler from Queen City, Texas. He was disgruntled in Buffalo because of his contract situation, so the Eagles gave up their late first-round pick and sent over the Brinks truck.
They followed that up by trading up two spots to steal Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who had fallen out of the top 10, in part, because Al Davis remains the owner of the Raiders. It was a coup for the Eagles, and they scored again by selecting Pittsburgh running back LeSean McCoy in the second round. Though you hate to say it in polite company, Brian Westbrook isn't durable enough to be an every-down back. Never has been, although the Eagles have tried. Draft busts such as Ryan Moats and Tony Hunt put the Eagles in the spot of desperately needing to hit on a suitable backup for Westbrook. In McCoy, the Eagles have an instinctive player who should flourish behind the club's zone-blocking scheme.
Eagles coach Andy Reid is a prideful man who rarely covets another man's players. In fact, he described a scenario during the recent NFL owners' meeting where the Eagles could simply move guards Shawn Andrews and Todd Herremans around and stay with the status quo. And he didn't really see the need for more firepower at receiver, which sort of threw a wet blanket on our breathless pursuit of the Anquan Boldin/Braylon Edwards story line.
But in the end, the Eagles actually looked in the mirror and saw an accurate reflection. They may have been one of the hottest teams in the league in December and January, but there were still deficiencies. Namely, the Eagles' offense has a tendency to freak out in short-yardage situations -- especially in the red zone. The additions of Peters, McCoy and the elder Andrews brother should help significantly in that regard.
Reid would provide a more scientific explanation, but the bottom line is the Eagles couldn't move anyone off the line in those short-yardage situations. That led to Reid and his trusty assistant, Marty Mornhinweg, coming up with curious plays around the goal line instead of banging the ball in the end zone with quarterback sneaks.
Regarding the Maclin pick, some have worried that he's too similar to second-year wideout DeSean Jackson. Maclin is at least two inches taller than Jackson -- and a little thicker. And the most important similarity they have is speed. I caught up with Maclin via phone Thursday just before he ducked into a receivers meeting and asked what made him different from Jackson.
"We're completely different," he said, with a hint of indignation. "I'm bigger. I'm considered a big receiver at 6-feet. But we both know how to stretch the field."
Neither guy is a possession-type receiver, but that's why you have players such as Jason Avant around. Maclin and Jackson are both home run receivers -- and that makes life tough on a defensive coordinator. If you try to take Jackson out, you're leaving Maclin in one-on-one coverage. If you try to keep everything in front of you by playing coverage, then Westbrook and McCoy can hurt you.
If there's a negative about Maclin, it's that he played in a spread offense in college. I think that's a crock, but you'll hear a lot of scouts bring it up. Players out of Big 12 schools such as Texas Tech and Missouri were not asked to run pro-style routes. But all this talk about not knowing the full "route tree" sounds like a lot of NFL savants who are intoxicated with their own coachspeak. To paraphrase something Texas Tech's Mike Leach once said about quarterbacks, a good coach should be able to teach a 4.4 receiver with excellent hands how to get in and out of a "pro-style" route. It's not as if Missouri was letting Maclin and quarterback Chase Daniel draw up plays in the dirt. Well, at least not on first down.
"We ran a lot of no-huddle [at Missouri]," Maclin said. "There were a lot of 10-yard and 12-yard routes. And we had options on those routes. I would say that we used a lot more concepts than plays in college. It's obviously more complex here, but fortunately I pick things up pretty quickly."
Growing up in the St. Louis area, Maclin fell in love with wide receiver Torry Holt and the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf." Even at a young age, he studied the way Holt ran his routes and attempted to apply it to his game. And at Missouri, Maclin said he watched film of the Colts to get a feel for what the NFL would be like.
Maclin hasn't decided whether he'll join McNabb in Arizona this summer for some side work, although it doesn't seem like a bad idea.
"I haven't figured that out yet," Maclin said. "I've got to speak with Donovan."
That sounds like a conversation he shouldn't put off for long.