PHILADELPHIA - NOVEMBER 08: Trent Cole #58 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates after he sacked Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys in the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on November 8, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
There are a number of ways to judge the "most valuable" player on an NFL team. I prefer to think of it as "the player a team can least afford to lose."
By that measurement, crowning an MVP is less about individual performance than the gap between a player's performance and that of their backups.
In 2009, for example, Stewart Bradley's injury proved how much better he was in the middle of the field than his various replacements. Meanwhile, Kevin Kolb's great games against New Orleans and Kansas City showed that the dropoff to him from Donovan McNabb was not as steep as some people thought.
Here's my (completely subjective) list of the Eagles' five most valuable players going into 2010:
5. Quintin Mikell: As I said yesterday, Mikell is not an outstanding player. At his best, he is a solid, marginally pro-bowl safety. But if he gets hurt, God help the secondary. Starting rookie 2nd round pick Nate Allen at free safety is risky enough. If Sean McDermott had to pair him with the underwhelming Quintin Demps or another rookie such as Kurt Coleman, the position would be a disaster.
4. Stewart Bradley: Part of the problem last year was that Bradley's back-up, Omar Gaither, also went down with a season-ending injury. But while Gaither is back, another injury to the defense's leader would immediately start another round of linebacker musical chairs. Bradley's value is clear every time he steps on the field at training camp, where the presence of a big, every-down MIKE makes the whole defense better.
3. Trent Cole: Last year I would have put Cole at the top of this list. His pass rushing skills alone placed him among the league's elite and the only other starting-caliber defensive end was Juqua Parker, a marginal starter at best. While Cole is still tremendous, the supporting cast around him has improved. Halfway his first training camp, 1st round pick Brandon Graham may already be better than Parker. Losing Trent would be terrible for the defense, but it wouldn't be as bad as in past years.
2. Jason Peters: Most of the arguments for Peters could be made for Winston Justice, who was actually the more consistent tackle last year. When the back-up for both is some combination of King Dunlap, Todd Herremans, and undrafted free agent Austin Howard, the Eagles can't afford to lose either guy. I rank Peters higher only because the rushers he faces week in and week out are scary -- guys like Justin Tuck, DeMarcus Ware, and Brian Orakpo. Plus, having Peters go down make it more likely my number one MVP will be hurt next...
1. Kevin Kolb: While I want to see Michael Vick start a game, his ability to command the offense is highly questionable. Kolb's play will determine how far the Eagles go this year. He has the skills and potential to lead the team at least as well as Donovan McNabb, if not better. Other injuries would severely cramp the Eagles' style, but having Kolb go down for any extended period of time would essentially end the season.
Honorable mention: DeSean Jackson (deep WR group), Asante Samuel (his replacement might tackle), Winston Justice (see above), Jamaal Jackson (alreadly injured) and David Akers.