This was originally slated to be about five free agents, but in all honesty, the Philadelphia Eagles don’t need to sign free agents like that. Not this year. Not after last year.
Free agency is fun to talk about and the rumors provide a lot of entertaining conversation, but it is just not the way to truly build a strong football team. Free agency should supplement a roster, not define it.
The Eagles defined their roster through free agency in 2011 and everyone knows how that turned out. As bad as things looked last year, the Eagles are a talented football team. They don’t have much in the way of holes.
On the offensive side of the ball, all they really need to do is sign Evan Mathis and decide DeSean Jackson’s fate once and for all. Defensively, they have established players all across the defensive line and they are probably too deep at cornerback.
The only things that need fixing are the linebacker corps and the safety position. As far as safety goes, the Eagles have spent second round picks in consecutive drafts on Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett. They will probably look to add a veteran to the mix, but probably not a big-name player.
LaRon Landry and Thomas DeCoud are probably the best options available and neither guy is really anything to get too excited about. Landry’s physicality would play well in Philadelphia but he has been injury riddled and he isn’t what you would classify as a “must-have” free agent.
After looking at all that, you are left with the linebacker position. The Eagles aren’t likely to undergo a complete overhaul, so middle linebacker is where the biggest need lies.
If middle linebacker is what they need, then the one free agent they must sign is Stephen Tulloch, who played in Detroit last year and in Tennessee the previous five seasons. Tulloch is not the only quality player at the position in free agency and he may not even be the best.
Curtis Lofton is a popular name and for good reason. He is bigger than any linebacker currently on the Eagles roster, he is a good athlete with good speed sideline-to-sideline and he is a sure tackler against the run.
London Fletcher is another player being talked about and he makes sense too. He is older, but he is still playing at an elite level and he could provide a significant upgrade in the defensive leadership department.
But as good as either of those two players would be, Tulloch should be the main target. He isn’t the biggest linebacker out there, but at 5’11” and 240 pounds, he is a sturdy player. He is tough against the run and does a lot of damage between the tackles.
He isn’t known for his ability in pass coverage, but Fletcher and Lofton aren’t exactly Derrick Brooks either. He did manage to pick off two passes last year and recover three fumbles. In the Lions’ playoff loss in New Orleans, Tulloch registered 15 tackles, a forced fumble and two passes defended.
What makes Tulloch more appealing than the other free agent linebackers is the fact that he has played his entire career behind a wide-nine defense. He knows how to play behind the alignment and is more aware than any other middle linebacker of how to succeed in that position.
Curtis Lofton may be a more attractive long-term option. London Fletcher may be more proven and provide more leadership. Stephen Tulloch may only be the third best middle linebacker in free agency, but he is the best fit for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012.