With the NFL free agent signing period set to begin on March 13th, what players might be of interest to Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles? Reid stated during his last press conference that they plan to be “aggressive” in free agency (again) and in the 2012 NFL draft.
After a historical free agent spending spree last offseason, how likely is it that the Eagles will once again be similarly aggressive? Looking at their salary cap situation, it doesn’t seem likely that they can afford to be that aggressive.
According to eaglescap.com, the Eagles currently have just over $14 million in cap room. However, if they do the following moves that many expect, they would possibly gain an additional $15.5 million (roughly).
The Eagles are expected to trade Asante Samuel ($9.5 million), release Jamaal Jackson ($1.875 million), and most likely either restructure or release Winston Justice ($4.256 million).
Those moves, plus other lower level moves, would put them in the neighborhood of $30 million in cap space. That’s a pretty good amount to start shopping come mid-March, but we still need to temper expectations and be reasonable, i.e., don’t expect another free agent frenzy like last year.
Another thing to consider is that the Eagles will have to decide what to do with DeSean Jackson and whether or not they want to extend LeSean McCoy this year.
Whatever they decide to do with those two players will significantly impact their salary cap. For the record, they should extend McCoy for sure. As far as Jackson, I would like to see him stay but I just don’t think he will.
Paul Domowitch just reported recently that “league sources said Jackson’s opinion of his worth continues to be night-and-day different from the Eagles’.”
This has been the problem all along and it seems unlikely they will come to an agreement. It’s possible that the Eagles place the franchise tag on him, but if they do, expect them to entertain trade offers.
The last thing I want to see is Jackson playing on another one-year deal. Either re-sign him long term or get rid of him and move forward.
With all that said, for now I will base my plan for free agency as if Jackson will be leaving Philadelphia.
We’re going to start off with linebackers, as that is the biggest position of need for the Eagles. Also, unlike every other year in the Andy Reid era, I honestly think this is the year they actually focus on upgrading the position.
The only question is, whether they will do it via free agency or via the draft. And when I say the draft, I mean specifically their No. 1 pick…not some 4th round Casey Matthews type.
Their first shot is free agency, and I definitely expect the Eagles will be looking for a linebacker there. But who? Is there anyone available that would be a significant upgrade to what we already have?
The key word in that question is “significant.” There should be a few players who can provide an upgrade, but how much of an upgrade could be debatable. Nonetheless, any amount of upgrade would be good and draft picks are always a crap-shoot.
The free agent market for linebackers isn’t exactly exciting this year, and that’s even if all of the players who are scheduled to hit the market don’t re-sign with their current team. However, there are a few players the Eagles may be interested in and the best choice would be:
MLB Stephen Tulloch, Detroit Lions:
Tulloch just turned 27 years-old on January 1st so his age shouldn’t be an issue. He’s 5′ 11″, 240 lbs and has six years experience. He was available last offseason and many people, including myself, thought the Eagles might take a run at him.
He ended up signing a one-year deal with Detroit and could be looking for another home come March. Perhaps the best thing about Tulloch is the fact he has played his entire career with a wide-nine defensive front.
Therefore, he has great experience and should undoubtedly benefit the younger linebackers on the team when it comes to the scheme the Eagles use.
I wasn’t initially enamored with going after Tulloch this year. I had a chance to see him play a little bit this past season with Detroit, albeit only about two games though. But, I didn’t come away impressed as I saw on one particular play, he was beaten badly for a touchdown at the goal line.
However, Pro Football Focus has Tulloch as their highest rated inside linebacker who is also scheduled to become a free agent. As a matter of fact, they have him rated as the 7th best overall inside linebacker in the NFL in 2011.
Just as a quick point of reference for Pro Football Focus’s rankings, they have NaVorro Bowman, Brian Cushing, and Patrick Willis as their top three inside linebackers and I think we could all pretty much agree on that, right?
Anyway, if you’re not familiar with Pro Football Focus, they’re a highly regarded site where their soul purpose in life is to track every single play, of every single game, by every single player and formulate some unique stats.
They use pretty complex rating systems to reach their conclusions, but the gist is that they calculate numerous things, such as how many receptions a receiver caught against a defender in relation to how many times that defender was in coverage.
There are several things they track when it comes to defenders against the run and against the pass. It’s very interesting stuff and it gives a pretty good reflection of a player’s overall value.
To be honest, I was a little surprised to see Tulloch ranked that high.
His key stats are that he played a whopping 1,120 total snaps (every down player), had 111 tackles, three sacks, two INTs, only eight missed tackles, was beaten for only one TD in coverage (must have been the one I saw), and most impressively, he had 59 “stops”…which PFF defines as “solo stops that constitute an offensive failure” (aka, tackles for a loss or no gain).
So, when you combine his age, experience, fit with scheme, and success within this scheme, Tulloch becomes the most logical target as a free agent middle linebacker. If he leaves Detroit, he should be at the top of the Eagles’ wish list.
Should Tulloch re-sign with Detroit, the Eagles could shift their attention to a few other middle linebackers. Based on age, productivity, cost, and the likelihood of the Eagles being interested, here are a few other free agent middle linebackers the Eagles may consider (and in this order):
Curtis Lofton, Atlanta: 6′, 238 lbs, 25 years old. 139 tackles, 60 stops, PFF ranking = 15
David Hawthorne, Seattle: 6′, 246 lbs, 26 years old. 109 tackles, 49 stops, PFF ranking = 18
Many people think the Eagles should go after the ancient London Fletcher. I’d be okay with that but he’s certainly not a long-term solution. If the Eagles’ plan is to draft a linebacker with their first or second pick, I could see them signing Fletcher as a mentor for one year.
Outside linebacker is another position the Eagles should upgrade as well, specifically on the strong side (SAM). This is where the Eagles may surprise some people and go after:
OLB Manny Lawson, Cincinnati:
Lawson is 6′ 5″, 240 lbs and is 27 years old. He played defensive end in college before switching to OLB in San Francisco’s 3-4 defense. He signed a one-year deal with the Bengals last offseason and played the SAM position in their 4-3 defense.
Lawson’s snaps were limited to the base defense in Cincinnati but he contributed 53 tackles, including 20 of PFF’s “stops” (tackles for a loss and/or no gain). PFF also has him as the top rated 4-3 OLB who is scheduled to be a free agent.
Lawson could be the second-coming of former Eagles SLB Carlos Emmons and would be a nice upgrade from Moises Fokou. One thing is for sure, he would give the linebacker corps some much needed size.
Another area that could use an upgrade, but is not quite as important as linebacker, is at the strong safety position.
Nate Allen played well enough down the stretch that he has secured his spot at free safety next season. Kurt Coleman, on the other hand, not so much.
I like Coleman and for a 7th round draft pick, he has played okay. However, he has not played well enough to cement himself into a starting role in 2012. And 2011 second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett didn’t show enough promise in his limited playing time to help ease concerns either.
Unfortunately, there may not be much to choose from in free agency as far as safety help. However, if he does make it to the free agent market as scheduled, the Eagles should seriously consider going after:
S LaRon Landry, Washington:
Landry is 6′ 220 lbs, 27 years old, and built like a brick <poo poo> house! Some people think he’s overrated and a liability in coverage. While that may be somewhat true, he’s certainly better than Coleman in both coverage and run support.
Per PFF, Landry only gave up one passing touchdown in 2011 where he was the primary person in coverage. He only missed five tackles and had 20 stops. The Redskins’ defense was noticeably better with him on the field.
Plus, he has the size and ability to lay the wood, which is something sorely needed in the secondary.
Landry has been dealing with what seems to be a chronic Achilles problem that has landed him on IR the past two seasons. The Redskins want him to get surgery to fix the problem, but he has decided to forgo surgery and opt for rest.
This is the situation that may ultimately lead to Landry actually hitting the free agent market. If he heals up and checks out physically, he would be a great addition to the defense.
Some folks may prefer Tennessee’s Michael Griffin over Landry. However, Griffin is a free safety and is a center-fielder-type player. The Eagles already have that in Nate Allen, whom they aren’t ready to give up on yet.
They need a strong safety who can help in the run game and punish players coming over the middle on the short-intermediate routes…and that’s Landry.
Lastly, if DeSean Jackson leaves, the Eagles will need to replace him. Since 2012 is basically a Super Bowl-or-bust year, they can’t rely on a rookie replacement.
This year’s free agent crop of wide receivers could be the best ever as there are several big names slated to be available. However, we will likely see most of them re-signed or tagged by their respective teams.
For now, though, I think there is a decent possibility that this wide receiver will hit the open market. And if so, the Eagles should consider making a serious run at:
WR Vincent Jackson, San Diego:
Jackson is 6′ 5″, 230 lbs and just turned 29 last month. In 2011, he posted 60 catches for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s a good receiver that would give the Eagles’ offense a dimension it hasn’t had since Terrell Owens was in town.
His 18.4 yards per catch show that he is a good deep threat. He also has the size to be a great red zone weapon. The only real knock on him has been his health, as he’s been a player that has dealt with nagging injuries throughout his career.
Jackson has had contract problems with San Diego for the past two seasons. In 2010, he was one of the players who was screwed by the expiring CBA and unexpectedly became a restricted free agent (instead of unrestricted).
He held out through most of the season before finally returning. In 2011, again unable to reach a long term agreement, he was franchise-tagged and played under that designation.
So, that’s two straight years the two sides were unable to reach an agreement. This could finally be the year where they just part ways. And if so, it would behoove the Eagles to replace the smaller Jackson with a bigger one.
A secondary target of interest would be New Orleans’ Robert Meachem. He has good size at 6′ 2″, 214 lbs and is 27 years old. With Marques Colston and Drew Brees scheduled to be free agents as well, the Saints will have their hands full trying to reach deals with those guys.
Therefore, Meachem, who could be seen as a luxury in the potent Saints’ offense, could easily become a free agent and be looking for an expanded role on a new team. If the Eagles can’t get Vincent Jackson, Meachem would be the next best thing.
So, there you have it. Stephen Tulloch, Manny Lawson, LaRon Landry, and Vincent Jackson would be our free agent class. I don’t feel that this is unreasonable given our salary cap situation either.
Vincent Jackson would be the most expensive signing, followed by Landry who would probably only sign a one or two year deal (because of his injury risk). Tulloch and Lawson would likely sign three to five year-deals that wouldn’t break the bank.
Therefore, you could look at this as one “blue chip” signing and three mid-level signings.
The rest of the focus for the Eagles would have to be on re-signing their own players such as Derek Landri, Evan Mathis and King Dunlap. Then, of course, working out a long-term deal with LeSean McCoy.
The best thing about free agency is that if you can find a few good players to fill needs, it frees up the draft strategy so that you can take the best player available approach. Or, at the least, focus on just a few positions rather than several.
With the aforementioned moves in free agency combined with a solid draft, the Eagles should be ready to compete in 2012…despite Andy Reid and Juan Castillo!