The decision to trade franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb to the division rival Washington Redskins on Easter Sunday has given the Eagles 10 draft picks -- seven in the first four rounds, most in the league.
It will be up to head coach Andy Reid and his first-year, 34-year-old general manager Howie Roseman to take those picks and put an exclamation point on an offseason makeover that has seen 12 players from the 2009 roster leave town -- more than any other NFL team.
No matter what the Eagles accomplish in the 75th anniversary NFL draft beginning Thursday night, the prime-time audience will be focused on one storyline: What did Philly get for getting rid of No. 5?
In the actual deal with the Redskins in exchange for McNabb, the Eagles will receive a second-round pick (37th overall) in this draft and either a third- or fourth-round pick next year.
"This is a lot of pressure to put on a 34-year-old general manager who has never pulled the trigger in an NFL draft before," said Rob Ellis, who hosts a popular football call-in show on WIP sports talk radio in Philadelphia. "You’re going to need a lot of rookies from this draft to fill a lot of holes on this team, especially on defense."
Roseman is not rattled, but he knows what is at stake. "With  picks," said Roseman, "we want to get more than just a starter or two out of this draft. We’re going to look at taking the best players."
As you can tell, Roseman -- who piloted the McNabb trade from the beginning even when Reid resisted -- does not sound like a man who was feeling the pressure to justify perhaps the gutsiest offseason move of any team in the league. But the boldness of what Roseman did cannot be overstated.
Kevin Kolb takes over at quarterback as the Eagles continue to remake the roster.
He traded an 11-year veteran quarterback coming off a Pro Bowl season and replaced him with Kevin Kolb, who has only two NFL starts, fewest of any prospective starting quarterback in the league. That’s something his predecessor, Tom Heckert, who was allowed to leave for the Cleveland Browns without any compensation in return, could have not have pulled off.
On Monday, the Eagles also landed former Lions linebacker Ernie Sims in a three-way trade with Detroit and Denver. Philadelphia traded a fifth-round pick (No. 137) in this week's draft to the Broncos, according to the club. The Broncos traded tight end Tony Scheffler and a seventh-round pick to the Detroit Lions. With Monday's three-way deal, the Eagles have now made five trades this off-season -- more than any other team.
"I think I’m a little more aggressive than Tom, just in terms of style," Roseman said, referring to his overall approach. "Tom is a very calm, very composed guy. And I want to do something now. That’s my personality."
Roseman learned that aggressiveness from his mentor, Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who shocked last year’s NFL draft by trading up in the first round to select USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. Since Tannenbaum became general manager in 2006, the Jets have acquired eight different players who have represented the team in the Pro Bowl -- more than any other team in the league, according to Elias Sports Bureau. And last year, the Jets earned a trip to the AFC Championship game.
Roseman is trying to duplicate Tannenbaum’s career path. Both went to law school. Both mastered the arcane NFL salary cap. Both learned to scout players from two of the best -- Tannenbaum from Bill Parcells, Roseman from Reid.
Now, Roseman has a chance to grab the spotlight. With 10 picks, including two in the second round, two in the third and two in the fourth, the Eagles can do what they want in the first round, where they currently pick 24th.
And, according to a number of league sources, Roseman has been snooping around to see what it would take to move up in the first round, perhaps into the top 10, to add a blue-chip defensive prospect, perhaps Tennessee safety Eric Berry, who was the only top-10 player in this draft to visit the Eagles at their Novacare practice facility.
In other words, he would be doing something "aggressive" -- to justify trading McNabb and help fix the Eagles' defense.
But to get Berry, the Eagles might have to mortgage the mother lode of what Roseman has collected this offseason. It may be too much for the rest of the organization, specifically Reid, to stomach.
However, the Eagles desperately need an impact player on defense, especially on the back end. Last season, under first-year defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, Philadelphia surrendered 15 touchdown passes off the blitz -- most in the league. Under McDermott’s late predecessor, Jim Johnson, the Eagles never gave up more than seven TD passes off the blitz in a single season.
The Eagles finished 19th in the league in points allowed in 2009 -- the worst ranking of the Reid era in Philly. But McDermott was not necessarily the problem -- he blitzed on 41 percent of the called pass plays in 2009. In 2008, under Johnson, that number was 42 percent.
The secondary simply could not carry out the plan. Right cornerback Sheldon Brown, hampered by injuries, was often ineffective in coverage. He was traded to Cleveland. And Pro Bowl free safety Brian Dawkins, now with the Denver Broncos, was never adequately replaced.
This year, free agent Marlin Jackson -- allowed to walk by the Indianapolis Colts because he’s battling back from two knee surgeries – might not be the answer at free safety, either.
That leaves a big hole on a defense that is predicated on the blitz in a league that is driven by the passing game. With more and more teams spreading the formation, a big-time free safety is no longer a luxury -- even if it’s a rookie.
According to multiple league sources, here is what the Eagles are thinking:
Option No. 1: Go for broke by trying to trade into the top 10 and select Berry. Possible trade partner: the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 5. Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli is said to be interested in moving down. But to move from No. 24 to No. 5 will take multiple picks, including the 2010 selection the Eagles acquired from the Redskins in the McNabb deal, No. 37.
And Roseman might not want to make that deal.
"I like the idea of having the fifth pick in the draft on Day 2," he said. Indeed, after the close of business on Thursday night, the Eagles can put a "for sale" sign on that 37th pick and fetch a hefty price from a team desperate to move up in the second round on Friday.
"There is no way I would give up that 37th pick -- it will be like gold on Friday," said one AFC front office executive. "They could set themselves up nicely -- take a terrific player in a deep draft, recoup picks, or trade it for a first rounder in 2011. It’s a great position to be in. Unless they can get Berry, they should not trade that pick."
Option No. 2: Trade with the Miami Dolphins at No. 12, where Berry is most likely already gone. That might be more doable. There, the Eagles could select free safety Earl Thomas of Texas -- a nice consolation prize to Berry. But would he be enough to justify what it would take to get him?
Option No. 3: Move up just a few spots and take a top cornerback who could compete with veteran Ellis Hobbs (coming back from neck surgery) at the open right corner spot.
Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson, who is represented by Joel Segal, Michael Vick’s agent, was targeted early by the Eagles coaching staff. With McDermott in attendance, the Eagles conducted Wilson’s pro day workout on campus.
Newly hired defensive backs coach Dick Jauron was at the pro day for cornerback Devin McCourty at Rutgers University. McCourty is considered the second cornerback prospect behind Joe Haden of Florida, and the Eagles like players from New Brunswick, N.J.
But will sitting back be enough to satisfy the expectations created by trading McNabb?
"This is the second-most important draft Andy Reid has had since he took McNabb back in ’99, his first year," said Ellis. "This team is under a lot of pressure to get this right."
Sal Paolantonio, who covers the NFL for ESPN, is the author of “How Football Explains America” (Triumph Books: Chicago).