Eagles Defense: Who Should Stay, Who Should Go

Cullen Jenkins & Fletcher Cox could have big roles in the Philadelphia Eagles defense in 2013.With the Baltimore Ravens defeating the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in the Super Bowl, that means we are now closing the book on the 2012 NFL season and 2013 is beginning. With the new year starting, roster moves and decisions have to be made. Free Agency officially begins on March 12, so between now and then, the Philadelphia Eagles will have to decide what to do with their current players, and who might be available to fill any needs.

With Chip Kelly installed as the new Head Coach, everyone knows there will be a new style of offense, which most likely means a few new players on that side of the ball. I will cover the offense in my next piece, but here I would like to focus on the defensive side of the ball.

By all accounts, the defense last season left a lot to be desired. Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo was fired mid-season, even though the defense was not performing that badly under his coaching. Castillo seemed to be the “scapegoat” of the early season troubles that the Eagles experienced. After Castillo was let go, things went from bad to worse for the Eagles defense. Todd Bowles was promoted to Defensive Coordinator, but he quickly seemed overmatched.

It’s east to say the coaching issues had a negative impact on the defense, but ultimately the players on the field were responsible for the failures. Time after time, the players could not make plays when they were needed. The Eagles went 9 games without an interception! The thought of that seems impossible, but we all watched it happen. When the team needed a sack on a 3rd down, they never seemed to be able to get any pressure. And when the Eagles did create pressure with the blitz, the secondary decided not to cover the right receiver, time and time again.

With all of that being said, let’s take a look position by position, and see who should stay, and who should go.

Before I go player by player, it is fair to mention that, depending on who the new Defensive Coordinator is, the Eagles might switch to a 3-4 scheme.

Up front, Fletcher Cox showed why he was a first round pick, and he will thrive in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. I think he will actually benefit more in a 3-4 situation, because he can have more opportunities to rush the passer, something he does very well at his size. Trent Cole will be around, but his role will be interesting in a 3-4 scheme. He is a little oversized to play OLB in that system, so he may stay at his DE position, and really learn how to fill a gap against the run. Cullen Jenkins is almost out of gas, and in a 3-4, I do not see him sticking around. The one thing missing currently, if the team switches to a 3-4, is a space eating nose tackle. There are a few good ones available in the draft, so that could be an easy, and cheaper way to fill that need. The future of everyone else up front will depend on the scheme, and the salary cap.

At Linebacker, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are going no where. Ryans showed how valuable he can be in a 4-3 scheme, but if the team switches to a 3-4, at least he does have experience in the system from his time in Houston. The rest of the LBs are expendable. LB will once again be an interesting position to watch, because like many other teams that run the 3-4 defense, one LB spot is usually occupied by a glorified pass rusher, so don’t think about having 4 traditional style LBs if that’s the case.

The secondary needs to be completely rebuilt. Nnamdi Asomugha needs to go. I know the team has to take a $4 million cap hit if they cut him, but that seems like a better option than keeping him at $15 million for the season. He showed nothing last season that would make him worth that money, and putting him on the field became a liability late in the year. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be a free agent, and I would let him walk. He will probably want a large contract, and he did not earn that last season. He is a great athlete, but he does not seem to have a good sense for the ball when it’s in the air, and he does not tackle well, when he even attempts to tackle. I would keep Curtis Marsh and Brandon Boykin around. I don’t know if Boykin will ever be able to play outside, but he did a good job at nickel this year.  At safety, Colt Anderson is the only player I would keep, and I wouldn’t play him at safety. I would only keep him around because he is a Pro Bowl caliber special teams player. And he did show that in a pinch, he can play a little bit of safety. Nate Allen has never lived up to his draft status, let alone stay healthy enough to grow as a player. And Kurt Coleman showed why he was a 7th round pick. He does not understand how to play against play action, and that got him benched eventually.

So if I do some quick math, I would keep 4-5 current starters on the roster. I won’t act like I know who should be kept as far as backups. The scheme will determine everything. As for who may be available  there will be a mountain of free agents looking for a new team. The only names I am going to throw out there right now are Dashon Goldson and Jairus Byrd. They are both safeties, and both All-Pro level safeties. I don’t know if they will both be available, but if they are, the Eagles could not spend their free agent money better than locking up 1 or both of those guys.

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Paul Dorn

Paul Dorn enjoys the good things in life..."It's Always Sunny.., The Inbetweeners, The Office, South Park, etc." He's an Eagles nut, Phillies apologist, and University of Arizona Wildcat. A hockey player all his life he's been playing golf for almost as long. Follow him on Twitter @PDorn10.