Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2015 Free Agency Preview

2015 will be the most pivotal off-season for the Philadelphia Eagles in recent memory. Chip Kelly's early success has heightened expectations throughout the city. This is a very talented football team, but it's also a squad with many holes. The 2014 draft class offered little hope of internal improvement on defense, and with inevitable cuts on the horizon, significant additions are coming.

Free agency will be the first chance to address weaknesses heading into the draft. The philosophy since 2012 seems to be targeting mid-level players to eliminate gaping holes heading into the draft to limit reaches. Let's take a quick look at the state of each position and some potential upgrades that may be found in the free agent market.


Nick Foles will be returning in 2015 at a team-friendly cap number. Sanchez will likely pursue other options across the league, and third-year quarterback Matt Barkley will have to fight to stay on the roster.

Jake Locker (6-3, 231lbs, 26 years old)

Locker makes a lot of sense. At the combine, he displayed very good athleticism, running a 4.59 second 40-yard dash. His stint with Tennessee can politely be described as brutal, but there's real talent there. There's also no denying the fact that Locker didn't have many resources around him with the Titans, whether that be coaching or talent.

Locker hasn't worked with any offensive mind quite like Chip, and he offers a legitimate threat in the read-option game. At worst, Howie Roseman would be spending $2-3 million on an average backup.


The Eagles are set at running back. Despite an enormous cap number, I fully expect LeSean McCoy back with Philadelphia. Polk is a restricted free agent, but his increased workload in recent weeks and success in the red zone should make him a priority for the front office.

Expect a Shady, Sproles, and Polk three-headed monster in 2015.


Just kidding.


This offense needs Jeremy Maclin. After a career year (85 rec, 1,318 yds, 10 TD), Maclin is likely to be the top priority for Philadelphia between now and March. He's an ideal teammate who fits Chip Kelly's culture and performs on the field every week. Look for the front office to make a strong push to keep Maclin off the market.

To the dismay of the fan base, Riley Cooper will also be an Eagle in 2015. It doesn't make financial sense to part ways with the inconsistent receiver until next off-season. Jordan Matthews had an encouraging rookie year and will remain in the slot moving forward. Josh Huff is an intriguing talent. Despite crucial mistakes and obvious confusion, he's electric with the ball in his hands. If he can improve between the ears, Huff can play a significant role next season.

This offense needs another deep threat on the outside. Huff can be that guy, but it's irrational to assume he will be in 2015. I don't see Philadelphia making a play on any free agent receivers unless something falls through with the Maclin negotiations. Piling on another significant contract is allocating too many resources to one position.


Zach Ertz had another solid year and his role should evolve next season. Celek is due $4.8 million, and although none of that money is guaranteed, it would be a surprise if he were a cap casualty. He's a tremendous blocker and Chip Kelly has a total man-crush on him. The same cannot be said for James Casey. Not one dime of his $4 million salary is guaranteed, he's gone. Trey Burton will assume his role at a much more modest price.


In a perfect world, Peters, Mathis, Kelce, Herremans, and Johnson could all return and still be a top 10 offensive line, even a year older in 2015. But 2014 proved that Philadelphia must get younger across the line, especially on the interior. Herremans is a potential cap casualty in 2015, however I expect him to return. It's unlikely the team will target a starting guard via free agency, but bolstering depth should be a priority.

Clint Boling (6-5, 308lbs, 25 years old)

If Herremans is let go, Boling is a name to keep an eye on. He graded out at +5.8 in 16 starts, per Pro Football Focus, while Herremans, Gardner and Tobin combined for a -27.1 grade in 2014. There's upgrade potential there, but look for the Eagles to supplement their current offensive line through the draft and internal development in 2015.


The front three for the 2014 Eagles was a major bright spot. Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan are emerging players. Cedric Thorton is a restricted free agent, and while he may not make splash plays, he's dynamic against the run, ranking #8 among all 3-4 DEs vs. the run, via PFF.

With Brandon Bair, Beau Allen, Vinny Curry and Taylor Hart also in the mix, the defensive line is in fine shape.


Trent Cole has offered to take a pay cut to remain in Philadelphia. While that sounds great, there's still a chance he ends his career elsewhere. Among 3-4 OLBs, Trent Cole ranked 19th overall, behind free agents Pernell McPhee, Jason Worilds, and Jabaal Sheard. Unless he takes a massive chunk out of the $11.6 million he's due, Cole won't be back.

Brandon Graham is unlikely to return to Philadelphia. While Roseman tried to initiate negotiations in recent weeks, Graham seems content to test the market, and a 4-3 defense is surely to offer Graham more money and more snaps.

Marcus Smith cannot be counted on at all, Billy Davis doesn't even know what position to project him at. Connor Barwin is a good starting OLB, but the other spot is loaded with question marks. Here's some free agent options:

Jason Worilds (6-2, 262lbs, 26 years old)

Worilds is underwhelming, but effective. He's accumulated 15.5 sacks in 27 starts over the past two seasons. He also shows good athleticism, earning a positive coverage grade from PFF, compared to Cole and Graham's combined -4.2 coverage grade. This athleticism allows for more flexibility in Billy Davis' scheme.

Sam Acho (6-3, 257lbs, 26 years old)

Acho hasn't produced much in recent years. But he's an experienced 3-4 OLB who flashed promise in his early years, notching seven sacks in 10 starts as a rookie. While he's struggled lately, he could be an affordable depth option if Trent Cole returns but Brandon Graham's reserve role is vacant.

Brooks Reed (6-3, 254lbs, 27 years old)

As a former Houston Texan, Reed would already have one foot in the door at the NovaCare Complex. He flashed great athleticism at the combine, recording a 4.65 second 40-yard dash and 1.54 second 10-yard split. That 10-yard split time, by the way, was faster than Rams DE Robert Quinn, Broncos OLB Von Miller, Bengals WR AJ Green and Packers WR Randal Cobb. That impressive explosion allows Reed to be a versatile player, racking up a very consistent +2.0 PFF grade for Houston with solid scores across the board.


DeMeco Ryans is a tremendous leader and quarterback of the defense. However, he's basically a run-stuffer with limitations in space, and his $6.9M salary is too much for a declining ILB coming off a torn Achilles. Leadership and character do carry value though, and if he's willing to take a pay cut, I expect him back in some capacity. Najee Goode flashed while replacing Mychal Kendricks for a short time in 2013, and he was set to play a significant role on the 2014 defense before a season-ending pectoral injury. Mychal Kendricks is a rising star in this league, and Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho offer bottom-dollar safety nets.

If DeMeco and the front office cannot come to terms on a re-structure, there are two names I'm watching in free agency.

Craig Robertson (6-1, 234lbs, 26 years old)

Robertson is a very promising young player, producing 99 tackles and 2 INTs in 11 starts this season. He's very competent in coverage, +3.3 coverage grade via PFF compared to a -6.7 coverage grade for Matthews, Acho and Ryans combined. It's unlikely Cleveland will let him walk, but he's an intriguing option if he somehow hits the market.

Akeem Ayers (6-3, 255lbs, 25 years old)

Ayers was basically given away by Tennessee, who also happens to possess the NFL's worst roster. Despite how embarrassing that sounds, Ayers made an impact on one the NFL's best rosters, totaling 20 tackles, four sacks and an interception in four starts for New England. He's young, talented, and very versatile, showing the ability to play multiple positions throughout his career. He's shown the ability to play in space, play downhill versus the run and get after the passer. Ayers had a positive overall grade from PFF, highlighted by a +3.4 grade against the run.


The moment we've all been waiting for. Bradley Fletcher is gone. Have a safe flight out, Bradley. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the team is likely to part ways with Cary Williams, which makes sense since he's the one player who voiced complaints about Chip's beloved program. The Eagles are in the market for two new starting outside corners.

Tramon Williams (5-11, 191lbs, 31 years old)

Williams has started all but one game since 2010, totaling 18 interceptions. While he doesn't have the desired age of a Chip Kelly free-agent addition, he's a very good stop-gap option. Chip has made numerous comments about wanting to win now. It's tough to count on a rookie to come in and be productive on day one, and I doubt Chip wants to head into the draft with a gaping hole at a premier position. Williams is a good short-term option while the young guys develop, and he's not likely in store for a huge payday.

Byron Maxwell (6-1, 207lbs, 26 years old)

Maxwell has all the traits Philadelphia is looking for. He's played in a similar scheme in Seattle, has great size, has experience inside and outside, and he's only 26-years-old. Maxwell has six interceptions and 24 passes defensed in 17 starts over the past two seasons. There are reservations with Maxwell however. Is he a product of Seattle's elite pass rush and secondary talent? Is he worth #1 corner money? He will command serious dough this March, and depending how high the bidding gets, Philadelphia should be players for his services.

Chris Culliver (6-0, 199lbs, 26 years old)

Culliver has off-field question marks, he was arrested for a hit-and-run this past off-season. However, that could be a one-time mistake versus consistent poor behavior. Jason Peters was arrested for drag racing during the 2013 off-season, then signed an extension last year. If Culliver buys into Chip Kelly and is all-in on the program, he's a potential option. In 14 starts, he had four interceptions and 15 passes defensed. Pro Football Focus graded him at +7.7 in coverage in 2014, compared to Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher's combined -13.3 coverage grade.

Kareem Jackson (5-10, 188lbs, 26 years old)

I'm not sure if Jackson's 5-10 height or 30-inch arms are sufficient for Chip Kelly's corner requirements. However, Jackson is a rock solid player. He graded out +9.6 in coverage from PFF, good enough for 7th in the NFL, above players like Joe Haden, Patrick Peterson and Aqib Talib. He will command serious money in free agency, but Howie Roseman will have significant resources at his disposal.


Malcolm Jenkins started the year well, but really struggled in the second half of the season. Having said that, he'll be manning one starting safety spot in 2015. Nate Allen is a capable backup, but a player who will be exploited with increased snaps. He would be a very good depth option, but the other starting position needs to be upgraded.

Devin McCourty (5-10, 195lbs, 27 years old)

McCourty is an ideal fit for a Philadelphia Eagles safety. He's a converted corner, who can seamlessly cover the slot in base. Chip is looking for two interchangeable safeties who can cover slot receivers. With McCourty, Billy Davis would have two former cornerbacks protecting the top of the Eagles defense. He graded out as PFF's 7th rated safety in the NFL, performing well in coverage and against the run. McCourty will command huge money, but there's a real chance Chip Kelly is ready for a calculated splash in free agency, McCourty fits the bill.

Rahim Moore (6-1, 195lbs, 24 years old)

Denver has serious cap obligations in 2015, so there's a very good chance Moore will hit the market. He's an inconsistent safety, but he's an upgrade. Moore has earned a positive PFF coverage grade for three straight seasons in Denver. He has good range to cover center-field if Jenkins were to be occupying the slot. There are man coverage limitations with Moore, and he's an inconsistent tackler, but he may be a solid mid-level option if the bidding for other players gets too rich for Howie's blood.

Kurt Coleman (5-11, 200lbs, 26 years old)

Just another bad joke.

Jeron Johnson (5-10, 212lbs, 26 years old)

Johnson is my top low-risk, high-reward safety. He's in an overly-crowded secondary in Seattle and will likely reach free agency. Johnson only made one start in 2014, but graded out at +1.3 in coverage. He's comfortable in man coverage and was touted for intangibles heading into the draft. While he's only 5-10, he has over 31-inch arms and has great speed, cruising to a 4.53 second 40-yard dash at the combine. There's a lot to be intrigued about with Jeron Johnson.

This is the first glimpse at free agency. There will be many additions and subtractions to this list before March.

Follow me on Twitter @EaglesScoutBlog, I'll get ya back.

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