The No.1 priority for Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason should be to revamp the defensive backfield. If you look at the Eagles unit by unit, there is no doubt that the secondary is the group in need of the most repairs.
A few days ago, I provided some examples of other teams who remodeled their secondary in one offseason and showed tremendous improvement the following year. If you missed it, you can check that right here.
The reason I looked for examples of that is because I wondered how feasible it was to replace the starters in our entire secondary. That still might be a stretch (to replace all four guys), but there have been multiple teams who have replaced two or three out of their four starters.
With that said, there has to be a perfect storm of available free agents and/or drafting of the right players to fit the bill. Below is a look at some of the options I find most interesting should the Eagles, in fact, make the wholesale changes that are needed…
CB Greg Toler, 6′ 192 lbs, Arizona – He’s a physical corner capable of playing press or zone and isn’t afraid to mix it up. He was a fourth round pick in 2009 and worked his way into the starting lineup by his second year.
He tore his ACL in 2011 and missed the entire season. He lost his starter status as he worked his way back in 2012, but still had a good showing with all things considered. Over his four year career (mainly three seasons), he has five INTs, two forced fumbles and 19 passes defensed.
CB Aqib Talib, 6′ 1″ 205 lbs, New England – He’s a good, sizable corner that is still young. In his five year career, he has 201 tackles, 19 INTs and 56 passes defensed.
The biggest question with Talib is his off-field issues. He’s had multiple legal problems stemming from physical altercations and was suspended four games last season for violating the NFL’s rule on PEDs.
However, teammates from both Tampa Bay and New England (plus Bill Belichick) have had nothing but great things to say about Talib as a person and that he has excellent work habits (film study and game preparation).
Talib’s history may scare some teams from spending too much on him, but if he has put the legal issues behind him, he would be an excellent addition to the secondary.
Other options at cornerback I find somewhat interesting are Chris Houston and Sean Smith. However, Houston has always struck me as an underachiever and Smith seems to think he’s much better than he actually is.
Looking at the free agent safety class, the best of the bunch is Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd. If he ends up making it to the market, he will be one of the most sought-after free agents and it would be a no-brainer for the Eagles to jump into the bidding.
Unfortunately, I don’t see Byrd getting out of Buffalo. After him, there is a drop-off in overall talent at this position. You don’t really have a player that does everything well. However, going with the theme of adding some physicality to our secondary, I’d consider one of these two guys…
Dashon Goldson, 6′ 2″ 200 lbs, San Francisco – I wrote about him earlier this offseason as a potential target in free agency and I still think he should be. He was allowed to test the free agent market last offseason and didn’t have any serious takers.
Therefore, he re-signed in San Fran on a one-year deal. That turned out well for Goldson as he made the pro bowl and his team reached the Super Bowl. The talk is that the 49ers want to keep him, but I’m holding out hope he’ll hit the market again.
Goldson likes to hit, and that’s what I like most about him. He posted 69 tackles, three INTs and 11 passes defensed in 2012.
Chris Clemons, 6′ 1″ 214 lbs, Miami – He was a fifth round pick out of Clemson by Miami in 2009. His stats won’t wow you, but he’s proven to be a solid player in a stout Dolphins defense.
In 2012 he posted 72 tackles, two INTs and four passes defensed. However, he’s a physical guy who likes to “bring the boom” (in his own words) and was the 24th ranked safety in 2012 according to Pro Football Focus.
I’d be more excited about Goldson, but Clemons is a decent option.
LaRon Landry is another name that gets thrown out there, and even though he’s not all that good in coverage, he would certainly fit the bill as being an aggressive, hard hitting safety. I actually wanted the Eagles to sign him last offseason and at one point he either visited or was supposed to visit, but wound up choosing New York.
Landry has only played three full seasons out of six, but he has only had one real injury which was his Achilles tendon. That injury ended two consecutive seasons for him, but he was able to play all 16 games last year.
With the Eagles sitting at pick No. 4, there is only one secondary prospect that is ranked high enough to be considered there, and that’s CB Dee Milliner. However, he’s not on the level that Patrick Peterson was coming out and there could be someone more worthy of the fourth pick that the Eagles would take.
Therefore, when it comes to finding secondary help in the draft, I’m thinking second and third-round prospects, barring the Eagles don’t trade back in the first.
CB Xavier Rhodes, 6′ 2″ 217 lbs, Florida State – It’s probably not likely Rhodes will be there when the Eagles’ second round pick comes up (he’s projected as a late first, possibly early second), but if he’s there, the Eagles should jump on him.
From what I’ve read about him, he’s a physical player and seems best suited for a press-man type of scheme. He obviously has tremendous size for a corner and would match up nicely against the big and physical wide receivers we have to face.
Reports are he needs to get better at wrapping up when he tackles, but nobody questions his willingness to get in there an hit.
CB Logan Ryan, 6′ 190 lbs, Rutgers – He will likely be there at the Eagles’ second round slot, but depending on how he runs at the combine, he might not last until their third.
The more I read about Ryan, the more I like him. Again, he fits the bill as the physical type of player I’m looking for. One of the biggest pluses on him is his ability to defend against the run. Last season at Rutgers, he posted 94 tackles, four INTs and 18 passes defensed.
CB David Amerson, 6′ 2″ 194 lbs, North Carolina State – If we wait until the third round in the draft a CB, Amerson will be worth a look here. He was a high school safety and apparently he has brought that physical mentality to the corner position.
He entered the 2012 season as one of the top corners in college after his 13 INT season in 2011 and was viewed as a future first round draft pick. However, he had a down year and his draft stock has slipped and is viewed as a third round prospect at this point.
S Matt Elam, 5′ 10″ 206 lbs, Florida – If the Eagles had a choice between this guy and Xavier Rhodes at their second round slot, that would be an extremely tough decision. Here is an excerpt of one scouting report I read about him at nepatriotsdraft.com:
Matt Elam is a violent, explosive and physical presence as a Safety prospect. He’s a very good athlete with a physical build and is not afraid to throw his body around. With his ability to make big hits and disrupt plays, opposing players will know where he is one the field at all times.
Whether Elam will evolve into this kind of player at the NFL is unknown. What I do know is that description is exactly the kind of player we need on the defense.
S Jonathan Cyprien, 6′ 209 lbs, Florida International – Another physical safety who can bring the wood. He had an excellent showing at the Senior Bowl and really helped his draft stock. NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock has him as his third ranked safety behind only Kenny Vaccaro and Matt Elam.
Cyprien is a physical specimen, but prior to his good showing at the Senior Bowl, he was viewed as more of a third or fourth round kind of guy. I’m not sure I’d take him at the Eagles’ slot in the second, but he appears to be a better prospect than Eric Reid.
S Phillip Thomas, 6′ 1″ 215 lbs, Fresno State – At this point, Thomas is mostly projected as a late second to early third-round prospect. He’s another player that rates highly on the physicality chart.
As a senior, Thomas recorded eight INTs and 12 tackles for a loss. I’ve also read where he was referred to as the “Troy Polamalu” of Fresno State’s new 3-4 defense last year. If a scout mentions Polamalu when talking about a prospect, that must mean you’re doing a whole lot of things right.
This year’s draft has a ton of secondary talent so the Eagles should certainly look at plucking a player or two. Mike Mayock also called it one of the best and deepest classes of safeties he’s seen in years.
Based on initial research and where the Eagles are sitting pick-wise, they seem to be in better position to grab a safety rather than a cornerback. No. 4 seems to be too early for Milliner and their second round pick is probably too late for Rhodes.
However, their second round pick is just right for Matt Elam or any of the top safeties in this class after Kenny Vaccaro.
Much will depend on what shakes out in free agency first.
If I’m the Eagles, I’d look to add a corner via free agency and a safety via the draft. The value of doing it that way just seems better at this time. However, if they want to replace at least three of their four starters, that means they’ll likely have to sign a corner and a safety in free agency.
There are several other options out there besides the ones I’ve mentioned here, I just view these guys as the better options. Regardless of who you think we should or should not sign, the one thing we should agree on is that serious action needs to be taken to fix the secondary.
The only questions are the who and the how.