The Philadelphia Eagles should have two players at the top of their free agent shopping list come March: safeties Jairus Byrd and/or T.J. Ward. If one (or both) of these guys are available, it’s truly a no-brainer that the Eagles should be bidding for their services.
I’ll call them priority 1 and priority 1a.
Priority 1: Safety Jairus Byrd. He’s been one of the best safeties in football for the past three seasons and is slated to be the best available player at a position the Eagles need to upgrade the most.
The Bills franchise-tagged him last year and the two sides could not reach a long term deal. There were rumors about him being a trade candidate prior to the trade deadline this past season.
About two weeks ago, Bills GM Doug Whaley was quoted as saying:
“We’ve had a conversation — myself and Russ (Bills’ CEO) — sat and talked to Jairus, and we’re gonna make an offer to the guy and we’re gonna try to keep him,” Whaley said, via WGR550.com. “We’re gonna try to the best of abilities because we’re in the business of collecting good players and he’s a good player.”
I’m sure the Bills would love to keep him and of course they’re going to say they’re going to “try.” What’s questionable is whether or not the two sides can reach an agreement since the negotiations last year were reported as “tumultuous.”
In the end, the Bills can still slap him with the tag again, albeit at a higher dollar value than last year’s tag number. But, since they don’t have any other big pending free agents, Byrd could very well be taken off the market yet again.
However, if by some chance he does hit the market, he should be the Eagles’ top target and could be their lone marquee signing.
Will it be expensive? Yes. Can the Eagles afford it? Yes (but it could impact their ability to do other things). Is it worth it? Yes.
Priority 1a: Safety T. J. Ward
If Byrd doesn’t make it to the open market, perhaps Ward will. Again, if that’s the case, this is another no-brainer.
Like Byrd, Ward has been one of the top safeties in the league for the past few seasons. He’s not quite the playmaker that Byrd is, but that’s because Ward is primarily a strong safety whereas Byrd is a free safety.
I believe the Eagles need more of a free safety, but Earl Wolff could fill that role if Ward came on board (plus Bill Davs doesn’t necessarily use his safeties as strictly free and strong).
There hasn’t been any reports of how likely it is that Ward will re-sign in Cleveland. In a season-ending interview, he gave the typical answer to the question of whether he wants to be back next year:
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “If I can be back here and everything works out for me to be back here that would be great. I’ve just got to do what’s right for me and my family. That’s the most important thing.”
However, when players say they have to do what’s right for his family, that means they’ll be looking to go where the money is. The question is, will the Browns franchise tag him?
It’s possible, but unlike Buffalo the Browns have another pro bowl impending free agent in center Alex Mack. If I were Cleveland, my priority would be Mack if I had to choose.
Therefore, it’s a higher possibility that Ward reaches the free agent market rather than Byrd.
If I had my druthers, I would prefer Byrd. As I stated above, he’s been more of the playmaker with 22 career interceptions and 11 forced fumbles versus just five and five (INTs, FFs) for Ward.
Byrd is the better coverage guy and Ward is the better in-the-box guy.
Both players are the same age (27), same size (5′ 10″ ~200 lbs) and are former Ducks.
However, all of this may not matter if Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly aren’t willing to pay a high dollar amount for one player. Roseman was recently quoted by Tim McManus of Birds 24/7 where he discussed having a “batting average” and that “one player is not going to make the difference” in regards to the Eagles’ free agency approach…
“If you can sign a bunch of guys that maybe aren’t the high-price guys, you have a chance to kind of have a batting average,” said Howie Roseman. “As opposed to, if you sign one or two big-price guys and one or two don’t work out, it kind of puts you in a bind. If you sign a bunch of good players or solid players, you want them all to work out but you don’t necessarily count on them and it doesn’t really hurt your team going forward if one or two don’t work out.”
Furthermore, Roseman went on with this in response to the free agency approach that brough us the Dream Team debacle…
“I think we have to learn from that moment. We’re going to try and continue to build this team the right way. There are no quick fixes in the National Football League. It’s such a team sport that one player is not going to make the difference,” said Roseman. “We have to build this, and hopefully we’re competing for a long time.
I think you’ll see a markedly different approach from the last time both in free agency and the draft…Regardless of where we are right now or what we finish with [record-wise], we’ve got to keep the process right and build onto a young team and hopefully have a good core of young players that we can build with, and do things the right way.”
All of that sounds like we can expect another free agency similar to last year…a bunch of mid-level guys as well as re-signing some current players (or our own impending free agents).
However, just last week Roseman was also quoted by Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly saying how he should have never let Brian Dawkins go…
“I’d be lying to sit here and say Brian Dawkins shouldn’t have retired as an Eagle,” said the Eagles’ general manager, who at the time was vice president of football administration and served under president Joe Banner and head coach Andy Reid.
“And every time I see him, and I have had a chance to visit with him a bunch, I call him and ask him questions about safety play. To me, it’s a great resource for the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s an unbelievable guy, but he was a Hall of Fame [caliber] player.
“When you look around the league, it’s hard to find safeties who can cover, who can blitz, who can play the run. I mean, he was an unbelievable player and I think the more we get away from him, and we knew what a great player he was when he was here, but the more you get away from him you find out how special he really was. He’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime kind of player.”
Obviously, Dawkins was a completely different scenario. However, the admitted remorse and his comment about it being hard to find safeties who can cover, blitz and defend the run, lends itself to the notion that he realizes the importance of having such a player.
I’m not saying Byrd or Ward are in any way the same caliber of player that Dawkins was, but it’s been painfully obvious the Eagle have struggled to find simply a competent player to fill either safety position.
Byrd and Ward may not be Dawkins-like, but nobody can argue that either of them would be a significant upgrade to what the Eagles currently have on the roster.
There will be a few other safeties on the market that will cost considerably less than either of these guys, but none will come with the same level of excitement and may not be much of an upgrade over just re-signing Nate Allen (except maybe Donte Whitner).
Given the problems the Eagles have had trying to find a good safety in the draft, it would behoove them to be serious players for Byrd or Ward should either be there for the taking.