The Philadelphia Eagles entered the 2014 free agency period with many upgrades needed, mainly on the defensive side of the ball. Howie Roseman has also stated he doesn’t want to enter May’s draft with glaring holes to fill.
Build your team through the draft, reward your own players with extensions, and use free agency to round out the roster. That’s the main motto in Philly these days.
Don’t get me wrong, I agree with that philosophy for the most part. The key, though, is being able to draft well and have more hits than misses. While proficient scouting often makes the difference between good and bad drafting, in the end the draft is still a crapshoot.
Therefore, in essence, teams that rely on building through the draft are actually gambling, as if sitting at a roulette table in Vegas. Though Roseman and crew have done well the past two years, draft picks do not come with guarantees.
The same is true for free agents, particularly high-priced ones, but at least you have a body of NFL experience to analyze before signing the player. Nonetheless, that leads me to this year’s free agency.
Last year, with sweeping changes in the coaching staff and scheme changes, the Eagles were very active at the mid-level tier. You know the additions by now and most panned out to have a solid season in 2013.
Winning the division and hosting a playoff game in Kelly’s first year has created a certain level of expectations for 2014. If they take a step back, it will create lots of questions and negativity among the fan base and media.
The Eagles and/or some media members may say or think that they’re “not just one or two players away from competing”, which is why they didn’t go after any high priced free agents.
Well, no, they aren’t just one or two players away, they’re several! Chip Kelly just confirmed that himself in an interview from yesterday (via Zach Berman on Philly.com):
“We still have some holes in terms of being a complete football team,” Kelly said before accepting the pro coach of the year award from the Maxwell Football Club. “You can fill some of them in free agency, but we still have a ways to go.”
Yes, they do have a ways to go and they’ve already missed out on at least a few quality “hole pluggers” at the mid-tier level in free agency this year.
I’m not talking about signing the most expensive guys out there, but certainly more than just signing some special team guys and adding a Safety that may or may not “solve” one of the most glaring holes on the roster.
The defense still needs a ton of work — too much to just rely on the draft if they want to better their chances for competing for a title in 2014.
The biggest needs entering this offseason are/were Safety (at least one, if not two), a pass rushing OLB and depth all across the defensive line. The only thing they’ve done in those areas is sign Malcolm Jenkins…which I have accepted as “okay” to fill one starting spot.
If you’re looking at just the starters, we could say that Jenkins is all that’s needed as far as they’re concerned (if we count on Earl Wolff stepping up). But is he all that is needed to improve the defense overall?
Bryan Braman and Chris Maragos were signed as an Outside Linebacker and Safety respectively, but make no mistake in that those signings were specifically for special teams purposes.
Nolan Carroll was also added and may compete for a starting job, but he’s mainly expected to be nothing more than the 4th Cornerback (or third “outside” CB).
Before you start to get the impression that this is a rant and that I wanted the Eagles to go sign every top guy out there, that’s not what this is about. What I’m saying is that they haven’t really improved the overall defense yet.
The additions of Jenkins and Nolan Carroll will help, but their impact may be minimized if they don’t do much else. The biggest thing I’m disappointed about in free agency is the lack of acquiring any DL depth.
There were solid players to be had that could have collectively had a significant impact to the defense as a whole. Players like Paul Soliai, Linval Joseph, Tyson Jackson or Arthur Jones could have played a significant rotational role.
They weren’t superstars and weren’t super expensive. Soliai received 5 years with $14 million guaranteed, Joseph was 5 years with $12.5 million guaranteed, Jackson was 5 years with $8 million guaranteed and Jones was 5 years with $10 million guaranteed.
Chip Kelly also said yesterday that their strategy for free agency has been about scheme fit, not price tag (from Les Bown at Philly.com):
“I don’t think price tag has ever been an issue, especially with Mr. Lurie [owner Jeffrey Lurie]. That’s not how we talk about things,” Kelly said. “It’s who fits in terms of what we do on either side of the ball and where do they fit special teams-wise. It’s just kind of how we looked at them.”
You mean to tell me that at least Soliai, Jackson, and Jones weren’t scheme fits? All had experience as a 3-4 NT and/or DE. Plus, what happened to Kelly’s mantra about “adaptability” in that you devise your scheme around the players you have?
Furthermore, we certainly could have afforded at least one of those guys (and Jenkins) and still be able to do everything they’ll want to do next offseason. And if they had no designs on any of them, why not do a little more in the Safety area?
Not being able to address the OLB position is understandable because the market is bare. And because of that, through no fault of the Eagles, that won’t help them take the “best player available” at every pick in the draft either.
And that’s my main point to this story. With no chance to add an impact OLB, passing on quality DL depth and still needing a true impact Safety — the same things they needed at the start of free agency — how can they possibly sit back and take the BPA every time they’re on the clock?
What if every time it’s an offensive player? Or, now armed with only six draft picks, what if three of the six the BPA is an offensive guy or at another position that isn’t a dire need?
If you want to build using the draft as your main source of impact players for your team and you truly use the BPA method, you could theoretically go years without finding a good Outside Linebacker, Safety or whatever position it is they need to upgrade.
What if, when the Eagles are on the clock at pick 22, Mike Evans is sitting there and he’s, say, their 10th rated player on their board and the best OLB available is one they have ranked somewhere between 25 and 40?
Clearly the Eagles need an OLB far more than a WR. Do they still take Evans? Well, if they’re true to the BPA approach, yes they would.
And then we’ll be heading into the 2015 offseason still needing an impact pass rusher.
And where in the draft do they find solid rotational defensive linemen? Bennie Logan, Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton can’t do it all. And if we’re looking at them honestly, they’re a solid group, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Thornton or Logan couldn’t be upgraded with a more dynamic player.
But, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and saying we only need depth/rotational guys. So where do they come in? The seventh round? Undrafted rookie free agents? They would be no better than the current depth of Vinny Curry, Joe Kruger, Brandon Bair and Damion Square (though I like Curry).
After the likes of Jackson, Soliai, Jones and Joseph were snapped up, now B.J. Raji and Cam Thomas are gone too. There are still a few players left that could “help”, such as Corey Wootton, but we’re quickly getting to the point where there aren’t even any upgrades to Bair, Kruger or Square out there.
Maybe I’m overreacting on the DL depth front, but after watching DeMarco Murray physically abuse the defense in the “NFC East Championship Game” and then get run over by Mark freakin’ Ingram in the playoffs, I think we need to get more stout up front.
Furthermore, I haven’t even mentioned needing a Cornerback for the future and probably an Inside Linebacker to take over for DeMeco Ryans in the not too distant future.
Oh, and we still need a Safety.
By not being at least a little more aggressive in free agency so far, the Eagles are not setting themselves up for a true “take the best player available” approach to the draft. They need to fill these holes if they want to compete in 2014 and beyond.
So either this BPA approach is just a bunch of crap, or they will run the risk of not adequately addressing the biggest needs on this team.
The Eagles have done well in resigning/extending their own players and they’ve added some solid players in Jenkins and Darren Sproles. Braman, Maragos and Carroll are solid in their own regard, but will be role players rather than having a real impact to the overall function of the defense.