So many positions to improve, so many players from which to choose, so much money to spend … the NFL begins its free agency period on Tuesday and the Eagles should make a splash or two as they rebuild/retool under new coach Chip Kelly.
Eagles fans know their team has plenty of holes to fill. Some of those holes were there before Kelly was hired and some of them were dug by Kelly himself, as he got rid of players like defensive tackles Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins (who has since signed with the New York football Giants) and will probably get rid of players like cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha (who is still under contract to the Eagles) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (who will be a free agent). Plus there are the changes that will occur simply because of the changes that a new coach and a new system naturally bring to a team.
And the Eagles are fortunate, because they have plenty of money to spend – they are reportedly about $34 million under the salary cap, a number that could rise to around $42 million if/when they get rid of Asomugha.
There could be one problem, however – Philadelphia is no longer an attractive place for top free agents. In the past, players would take a little less to play for the Eagles because they were perceived as a stable, winning franchise. Well, last year’s 4-12 record and the firing of coach Andy Reid took care of that.
Now, it could take a little more cash to lure prime-time free agents to South Philly. Money talks and the Eagles need to make a loud statement. And even though Kelly – like Reid before him – has said the draft is the best way to build a team, the Eagles simply have too many holes to fill. So, the two-pronged attack of free agency and the draft is the only way to go unless Kelly wants to spend years making the Eagles a contender again.
The biggest holes are at cornerback and safety. And the Eagles are lucky that free agency and the draft are well stocked at those positions. The Eagles also need an offensive lineman (preferably a tackle), an outside linebacker (to play in the new 3-4 defense) and a physical wide receiver (to complement their speedy-but-soft receivers).
As to whose those players will be, well, we have no idea, simply because we have no idea what Kelly and Eagles president Howie Roseman are thinking. But here are some suggestions, which, of course, are easy to make, but difficult to do.
Start at cornerback, since it appears the Eagles won’t keep either of last year’s starters. The suggestion here is to go after one of the premier free agents available, like Sean Smith of Miami, and make him an offer he can’t refuse. Then use their first-round draft No. 4 overall, on cornerback Dee Milliner of Alabama, who had a great college career and also dazzled NFL people at the NFL combine last month. That would give the Eagles experience and youth in Smith, who is only 25, and a potential star in Milliner and this critical position would be set for years.
The safety position isn’t that deep in the draft, but there are some very good ones available in free agency, starting with Dashon Goldson of the 49ers and William Moore of the Falcons. Both are just hitting their most productive years – Goldson is 28 and Moore is 27 – and they would give the Eagles solid play at that position for the first time since Brian Dawkins in his prime.
As for the draft, NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock raves about the depth of the rookie class of safeties, so this is another place where the Eagles should sign a veteran and draft a rookie and be in good shape for several years.
The Eagles will also need a nose tackle if they switch to a 3-4 and there are some good-but-not-great ones available in free agency, including Desmond Bryant of the Raiders and Alan Branch of Seattle. They also need outside linebackers, but there are no superstars available in free agency. Paul Kruger of the Ravens is one possibility, but he’s not a difference-maker.
And, as always, the Eagles need help on their offensive line, although they should benefit from the return from injuries of three starters – All-Pro tackle Jason Peters, guard-tackle Todd Herremans and center Jason Kelce. If the Eagles can land a solid tackle in free agency and/or the draft they could move Herremans back to right guard and, just like that, the Eagles would improve two positions. Available tackles include Sebastian Vollmer of New England, Andre Smith of Cincinnati and Jake Long of Miami.
Of course, the odds are heavy against the Eagles signing all of those players and there’s a good chance they won’t sign any of them since the best players demand the most money and the Eagles aren’t as attractive as they once were. So, they should target one of two big-time free agents and throw a lot of money at them quickly, and then prepare for the draft.
There is a lot of work to be done and not much time in which to do it, and the clock starts to tick on Tuesday.
Contact Kevin Noonan at email@example.com.