The Eagles seemed to have landed the players they wanted during the NFL’s free agency period, and they’ll probably sign a few more players to fill minor roles before training camp begins. The Eagles filled some needs – and some of them were created when general manager Howie Roseman dumped highly-paid and under-achieving players like Byron Maxwell, DeMarco Murray and Kiko Alonso.
Those were all big-name free agents last year and now they’re gone. And we won’t know about this year’s free agent class – including cornerback Leodis McKelvin, linebacker Nigel Bradham and guard Brandon Brooks — until this year is over.
Like all NFL teams, the Eagles have had their shares of hits and misses in the free agent market. So here, in descending order of importance, are the Eagles’ five best signings and five worst signings since free agency was instituted in the NFL in the early 1990s.
5. Defensive end William Fuller, 1994. He only played for the Eagles for three seasons, but he went to the Pro Bowl each time and he was also part of an Eagles team that went to two playoffs. Fuller – who started his pro career with the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL – had established himself as a Pro Bowl player with the Houston Oilers when he signed with the Eagles in Rich Kotite’s final season as coach. Fuller kept on truckin’ for new coach Ray Rhodes and in his three seasons with the Eagles Fuller had 35.5 sacks.
4. Running back Ricky Watters, 1995. Like Fuller, Watters’ time with the Eagles was brief, just three seasons. But Watters averaged 1265 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns per season, and the Eagles went to the playoffs in two of those years. More importantly, Watters gave the Eagles credibility when he signed with them, because they were coming off a losing season with a new coach and Philadelphia seemed like Death Valley to most players. That all changed when Watters – who was just coming off a Super Bowl season with San Francisco and was the No.1 free agent on the market — joined the Eagles, and even though he only played three seasons he’s seventh on their all-time rushing list.
3. Cornerback Troy Vincent, 1996: He was a rising star with the Miami Dolphins when he was lured to Philadelphia by coach Ray Rhodes, and for the next eight seasons Vincent gave the Eagles leadership on the field and in the locker room. Vincent also played in five Pro Bowls with the Eagles and 10 playoff games and teamed with Bobby Taylor to give Philadelphia one of the best one-two punches at cornerback in the league. Vincent now works for the NFL front office and continues to have an impact on the game.
2. Kicker David Akers, 2000. Akers had already been cut by the Washington Redskins, and it seemed like was just another journeyman kicker in camp when he joined the Eagles’ roster in Andy Reid’s second season as coach. But Akers grabbed the job and held it for the next decade as he established himself as one of the best kickers in the game. Akers was selected to five Pro Bowls with the Eagles and when he left after the 2010 season he owned virtually every Eagles kicking record, including most games played (188), most points scored (1,323), most field goals attempted (357) and made (294) and most PATs in a season (441).
1. Tackle Jon Runyan, 2000. This was the first free agent ever signed by Eagles coach an, 2000 Andy Reid and it remains his best. The Eagles already had one top-caliber tackle in Tra Thomas, who would play in three Pro Bowls over the course of his career. But the other tackle spot was manned by journeymen like Richard Cooper, Barrett Brooks and Lonnie Palelei. Reid knew he needed someone to complement Thomas and he set his signs on Runyan, a physical road-paver with the Tennessee Titans. The Eagles signed him right away and Runyan –who later served in Congress as a representative from New Jersey — was everything they hoped for, and more, as he and Thomas anchored the offensive line for the next decade. Runyan started every game of every season he was with the Eagles and he and Thomas were instrumental in the Eagles’ five NFC Championship Game appearances and their berth in Super Bowl XXXIX.
Also considered: LB Carlos Emmons; WR Irving Fryar, 1996; QB Michael Vick, 2009; QB Jeff Garcia, 2006.
5. Quarterback Mike McMahon, 2005. The Eagles were set at starting quarterback when coach Andy Reid signed McMahon, a former, to a free agent contract. Donovan McNabb was just entering his prime and the previous season he led the Eagles to the Super Bowl. The Eagles got off to a slow start the following season – that was the year the Terrell Owens soap opera really took off – but the Eagles still had a shot a redemption before McNabb was injured in Week 9 and McMahon took over for the rest of the season, which went downhill quickly. The Eagles finished 2-6 and McMahon was awful, completing just 45.4 percent of his passes with five TD passes and eight interceptions and a passer rating of just 55.2. Reid learned his lesson and the next year signed Jeff Garcia to be McNabb’s backup and that move was golden, as McNabb got hurt again and Garcia led the team to a 5-1 record down the stretch and a playoff victory over the Giants.
4. Cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher/Cary Williams, 2013. When Chip Kelly replaced Andy Reid the Eagles also replaced their starting cornerback tandem and signed Fletcher from the Ravens and Williams. It looked like a big improvement on paper, but on the field it was a disaster as the Eagles’ defense was smoked by just about every receiver in the league and a couple of receivers owe their Pro Bowl berths to the Eagles secondary that allowed them to pad their statistics. These guys lasted two years and were gone.
3. Cornerback Nmamdi Asomugha, 2011. He wasn’t awful in his two seasons with the Eagles, but he sure looked disinterested and out of place. Asomugha was the prime free agent in 2011 and it appeared to be quite a coup as the Eagles signed him as the marquee acquisition of the so-called “Dream Team.” Asomugha flourished in Oakland’s man-to-man, pressure defense and he struggled in the Eagles’ read-and-react zone defense. But that doesn’t excuse his poor tackling and general lack of effort and/or emotion for his new team, although we’re pretty sure he hustled to the bank when cashed the big paycheck the Eagles gave him.
2. Cornerback Byron Maxwell, 2015. Speaking of lack of effort except on pay day… Maxwell was a Super Bowl champion who was supposed to be the shut-down cornerback the Eagles have lacked for years. But a hint of what was to come happened when he signed a six-year, $63 million contract with the Eagles and was asked why he signed with Philadelphia instead of another team. Was it the coaches? The potential? The rabid fans? Well, no. Maxwell, very matter-of-factly, said that he was going to sign with the team that gave him the most money, and that happened to be the Eagles. Then he went out and played like he was determined to stay healthy to enjoy all that money. Like Asomugha, his problems in coverage didn’t bother the fans as much as his lack of effort and interest.
1. Safety Blaine Bishop, 2002. He had been a Pro Bowl player for the Houston Oilers and Eagles coach Andy Reid figured he’d be the perfect complement to his own Pro Bowl safety, Brian Dawkins on a team that had just gone to the NFC Championship Game in Reid’s third season. The only problem was that Dawkins was in his prime and the 32-year-old Bishop was well past his, and that ended up having dire consequences for the Eagles. Bishop struggled with nagging injuries and played in only 12 games and finished with 28 tackles and no interceptions. And he became a despised player in Philadelphia as the Eagles returned to the NFC Championship Game again and were heavy favorites against Tampa Bay. One play, more than any other, turned the tide in the Bucs’ favor, and to this day you can go up to any Eagles fans and whisper the name “Joe Jurevicious” and they’ll choke on their cheese steak. Jurevicious caught a short crossing route with Bishop in pursuit and the Eagles safety looked like an old man as Jurevicious – certainly not the fastest WR in NFL history – ran away from him for a 71-yard gain that set up the go-ahead TD in the Bucs 27-10 victory.
Also considered: OT Stacy Andrews, 2009; DE Jason Babin, 2011; LB Ernie Sims, 2010; S Patrick Chung, 2013; WR Jeff Graham, 1998; DE Greg Townsend, 1994; WR Michael Timpson, 1997; CB Charles Dimry, 1997.