There will undoubtedly be less roster turnover this time around, which means less free agents. However, the approach will be similar.
Howie Roseman was on ESPN's NFL Insiders yesterday and said something important. He stated that the Eagles will look to free agency to fill needs, which allows the team to draft the best player available.
This approach seems sound in nature. Drafting the best player available is universally viewed as the key to building a dominant team. However, it would've been tough not to reach a little bit in the 2013 NFL Draft if Brandon Boykin and Curtis Marsh were the starting cornerbacks. So Howie and company signed Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams to solidify the position.
Solidifying the weak areas of the team makes taking the top player on the board comfortable.
While making a big splash is a sexy move, the front office chose to make many low-key signings; nagging Patrick Chung, Isaac Sopoaga, and Bradley Fletcher early in the new league year. Then signing players like Connor Barwin, Cary Williams, and Kenny Phillips a little later on. While some were very beneficial, others were clearly not.
These signings accomplished two things:
1. It allowed the Eagles to address many areas without overpaying for one player; i.e. S Dashon Goldson or TE Jared Cook.
2. While it didn't make the team necessarily great at any position, it made them stable.
I could see the team doing something very similar in 2014. Just like every year, Howie will show interest in a couple top guys, but if the price is too high, he'll quickly move on without regret.
Now let's take a look at a few positions where the Eagles may be looking to add some talent. This is only the initial look at free agency. Things will change dramatically between now and March 11th, when the new league year begins.
Top Guy: Eric Decker
Doesn't make sense for Philadelphia. Too much money.
Wishful Thinking: Dexter McCluster
Andy Reid loved McCluster going into the 2010 Draft. However, IF he manages to hit the open market, and IF the Eagles only sign one of their free agent receivers, McCluster makes a lot of sense.
He's a versatile player who can move around the field. He's a guy defensive coordinators must account for. McCluster is only 26 years old, and should demand a reasonable contract.
The more weapons on the field for Chip Kelly, the more dangerous his offense will be.
Guy(s) Who Makes Sense: Trindon Holliday/Jacoby Ford
Maclin and/or Cooper will be back in green. This takes the word "need" out of play for the wide receiver position.
Holliday and Ford both provide something valuable to the team though: explosive return game.
Damaris Johnson will not make the team, but this was the position he made a failing run at this season. I favor Holliday here, just because he's had more recent success as a returner.
Top Guy: Jon Asomoah
Guard isn't a pressing need. They won't be spending big money here, just looking for young depth. So no.
Wishful Thinking: Danny Watkins
Guy Who Makes Sense: Joe Reitz
Reitz makes sense because he's fairly young at 28, and he's very athletic. Reitz was a tight end in college, so obviously he will have good movement skills for an offensive lineman. Plus, he has tremendous size at 6-7 323lbs.
Reitz started 3 games for Indianapolis in 2013. He would add some young, athletic depth behind Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans.
Top Guy: Henry Melton
Melton is the best talent among interior pass-rushers. He is coming off a major injury, and he's only played as a 4-3 defensive tackle.
However, Melton is only 27 years old and he had 13 sacks between 2012-13. He's a disruptive force.
The injury could bring his value down, but Chicago needs Melton. It would be a major shock if he ends up in Philadelphia.
Wishful Thinking: Jason Hatcher
Hatcher will likely be out of the Eagles price range, but he fits their needs. Fletcher Cox is the every down 3-4 DE, but Cedric Thorton really thrives against the run.
Hatcher's age, 31, will limit his contractual possibilities. He had 11 sacks last year, and using him on passing downs would really prolong his career.
The price will be too high, but adding a disruptive force to cave in the pocket on opposing quarterbacks is vital. Philadelphia must improve its four-man rush.
Guy Who Makes Sense: Kevin Williams
Kevin Williams is a big name. However, at 33, he's in the latter part of his career and will come fairly cheap. Pro Football Focus gave him a +7.3 rating for 2013.
I'd be surprised to see Philadelphia add a defensive end prior to the draft. But, Williams does make some sense.
He's long been known to disrupt the pocket. He'd be here on a one-year deal. With the Eagles certainly labeled as contenders for 2014, a Williams/Thorton tandem could be productive. Limited snaps would also keep the aging pass-rusher fresh.
Top Guy: Brian Orakpo
If Orakpo hits the market, Howie Roseman will be interested. Now Roseman could quickly cool his interest if the asking price is outrageous. But let's face it, Orakpo makes the Eagles a much better football team.
Orakpo is experienced as an OLB, he's 28 years old, and he has great size at 6-4. He and Barwin could make a versatile, big tandem.
Orakpo had one injury-plagued season in 2013, but otherwise he's averaged over nine sacks a year in the NFL. He also achieved an outstanding +24.9 rating by Pro Football Focus. He's a top-end, complete outside linebacker.
I mentioned in my previous article that Trent Cole and Brandon Graham will be tough to part ways with. But there will be interest there if things fall into place.
Wishful Thinking: Jason Worilds
The 26 year-old was very productive in Pittsburgh last season. He's a solid pass-rusher off the edge, and Worilds has good speed and burst.
The problem is that Pittsburgh would be crazy to let him walk. Worilds was a solid piece to an uncharacteristic Steelers defense in '13.
Guy Who Makes Sense: O'Brien Schofield
Schofield is my guy. He makes a ton of sense for the Eagles. Philly is likely strapped to Trent Cole and Brandon Graham for one more year. Signing a guy like Schofield and drafting a guy in the early rounds infuses this position with talent at a low cost.
There's no way to tell for sure the type of money Schofield will demand in the market, but it's likely Seattle won't be bringing him back.
Schofield is 6-3 242lbs and possesses long arms. He's a relentless rusher off the edge, and was ultra-productive in college. He was a team captain at Wisconsin, and has all the intangibles a team looks for. He hasn't gotten much playing time, but makes the most of his opportunities, obtaining a positive Pro Football Focus rating.
Top Guy: Brent Grimes
Grimes had a tremendous year in Miami. However, his age and market value will keep the Eagles away.
Wishful Thinking: Brandon Browner
I would be shocked if the Eagles sign Brandon Browner. The cornerback position will be addressed with youthful depth, unless they part ways with Cary Williams and his big contract.
If Williams is surprisingly gone, Browner fits Kelly's size wishes. He's 6-4 222 lbs, and he can move. He won't run step-for-step with speedy NFL receivers, but his jam can suffocate them early. His 10 INTs over the last three season is impressive because he only played in 38 games.
The PED suspensions will lower his market value. Browner could be surprisingly affordable this offseason. But it's a big stretch.
Guy Who Makes Sense: Chris Cook
At 6-2 212lbs, Cook has tremendous size. He also possesses great ball skills, piling up 14 INTs in only 29 career starts. He's young, but injury-prone.
Cook is a low-risk, high-reward guy. Roc Carmichael just isn't good enough to be the first outside corner up if there were an injury.
Top Guy: Jarius Byrd
When healthy, Byrd is one of the best in the biz. Byrd's 22 career INTs in five years display his great ball-skills. He has also forced 11 fumbles, and made multiple Pro-Bowls.
Buffalo will try to keep him, maybe designating the franchise tag to Byrd for the second straight year. If he hits the market, Philly will have serious competition, which will likely lead to a huge contract for the safety.
Wishful Thinking: Antoine Bethea
Bethea is rock solid. He's also very dependable, hasn't missed a single game since '08. Bethea isn't going to collect 5+ INTs every year, but he would add serious stability to a position that's been in flux since the Dawkins departure.
Despite his mileage, the safety is only 29 years old. He would allow a rookie to develop for a couple years while improving the team in the meantime.
Guy Who Makes Sense: Chris Clemons
Not THAT Chris Clemons. This Chris Clemons has been a solid member of the Miami Dolphins' tough defense over the past few years.
He's not a guy who will light up the stat sheet, but the 28 year-old veteran does provide solid production. In his three seasons as a starter, he's recorded 17 passes defensed and four interceptions. Pro Football Focus has Clemons as the fifth-rated free agent safety, ahead of players like Nate Allen, Bethea, and Malcolm Jenkins.
He should be affordable, and provide improved play.
*One note when scouting safeties: Nate Allen had an interesting quote prior to the 2013 season. He said before Billy Davis, safeties were very involved in the run game. But under Davis, it's pass first, pass second, and run third. That's why I've been looking at cover safeties, rather than guys like TJ Ward, who's a fine player. Patrick Chung was a more box-type safety, and look how that worked out.
|Clemons is a good cover safety and|
would immediately improve the secondary.
Like I said, this is just the early look at free agency. Much will change, but there are players out there who could make the Eagles a better football team heading into the draft.
And like I said earlier, providing stability will lead to drafting the best players, which will in turn lead to a better overall team.