With the NFL free agent signing period set to begin tomorrow at 4:00pm EST, it’s time to take a stab at who the Philadelphia Eagles could be targeting and what may happen between now and the draft.

Predicting what moves the Eagles will make in free agency is just about as tricky as trying to figure out who their first-round pick in the draft pick will be.  They make some of the moves that many people expect, even if it’s not for a particular player most people would think, and they also make surprise moves that nobody saw coming.

With that said, here are my best guesses as to who the Eagles will be interested in and who among them they may actually sign.

G Evan Mathis

Evan Mathis

Photo: insidetheiggles.com

We have to start with the obvious (well, obvious to me anyway).  The Eagles need to re-sign Evan Mathis, plain and simple.  After a slow start last season, the offensive line really came together in the last half of the season and Mathis was a big part of that.

Prior to signing with the Eagles last year, Mathis was basically what you call an NFL “journeyman.”  He was drafted by Carolina in 2005 and spent three years with the Panthers before moving on to Miami, Cincinnati and Philadelphia.

Before last season, he had only logged 22 career starts.  Playing in Howard Mudd’s scheme has done wonders for Mathis as he is now looked upon as a top free agent and the second-best guard available behind Carl Nicks.  However, it would behoove Mathis to return to Philly so he can build upon his success.

The Eagles need Mathis and Mathis needs the Eagles.  The only problem that could derail the Eagles re-signing him is money.  This will be the best and perhaps only chance of Mathis’ career to cash-in.

If money is what motivates Mathis the most, he could get offered a bigger contract elsewhere and therefore leave.  Although, he does have some leverage with the Eagles in that they don’t have many options in which to replace him.

Jamaal Jackson will likely be released and Julian Vandervelde doesn’t appear ready to take on a starting role.  Moving Todd Herremans back to guard is an option but having Winston Justice or King Dunlap (if re-signed) fill in a right tackle are not attractive options.

Cohesion along the offensive line is extremely important and why mess with one of the most important factors in keeping your franchise quarterback healthy.  Let’s just hope that the two sides realize they need each other and work out a decent compromise and get a deal done.

Prediction: Mathis stays in Philly.

Running back

With Ronnie Brown all but certain to leave Philly and the diminutive Dion Lewis still raw, the Eagles will be in the market for a veteran backup running back.  With the Eagles having a pass-happy offense along with a young stud running back in LeSean McCoy, they’ll be looking for a guy who will have no problem with a reduced role and willing to sign a relatively modest contract.

Therefore, you can forget about someone like Peyton Hillis who will be looking for a more featured role and a fatter contract.  However, there should be a few running backs out there who would be a nice fit for the Eagles.

Ryan Grant, LaDainian Tomlinson, Joseph Addai, Tashard Choice, Thomas Jones and Mike Tolbert are all players I think the Eagles would have interest in.  The most appealing player out of that group is Mike Tolbert.

Tolbert, at 5′ 9″ and 243 lbs, would fit the bill as the Eagles’ “big back” and a guy that can get the tough yard when needed.  He’s still young, has a career average of 4.1 yards per carry and has scored 19 rushing TDs over the past two seasons.

Furthermore, Tolbert is a good receiver, which is something the Eagles covet in running backs.  He has 109 receptions (79 in last two years) in his four-year career for 1,012 yards and six TDs.

It’s tough to say what the market might be for a guy like Tolbert.  I don’t think teams will view him as a featured running back, but he will garner some interest around the league and will likely want to go to the place where he’ll get the best opportunity for playing time.

However, if the Eagles could lure Ronnie Brown last year, they could lure in a player like Tolbert just as well.  Unfortunately though, I think Tolbert will sign elsewhere.

Out of the rest of the aforementioned running backs, Addai is probably the best fit as far as what the Eagles look for in a running back.  However, he is somewhat of the same type of player as McCoy (though nowhere near as good).  The Eagles will look for someone to offset McCoy’s skill-sets in the way they thought Ronnie Brown would.

This is why I think Ryan Grant will be the main target here, assuming he doesn’t re-sign with Green Bay.  Grant isn’t the best pass-catcher out of the backfield, but he wouldn’t be asked to do that too much.

Ryan Grant

Photo: theheismanwinners.com

He’s the perfect type of player to come in and spell McCoy from time-to-time and he is also a “big back” at 6′ 1″, 222 lbs.  He has experience, can still run the ball well, and will be a full season removed from the injury that ended his 2010 season.

Prediction: Eagles sign Ryan Grant to a two-year deal

Defensive line

Andy Reid and the Eagles love defensive lineman.  They rank pass rushers right behind quarterback on their team position value chart.  Howie Roseman admitted that the foundation for success in the NFL is strong quarterbacking and having a fierce pass rush.

The Eagles’ actions over the course of the Andy Reid era directly reflect that strategy.  Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick have provided the strong quarterbacking but they’ve been constantly searching for that fierce pass rush.

Reid has spent high draft picks on players like Jerome McDougle, Brodrick Bunkley, Trevor Laws, Victor Abiamiri, Derrick Burgess, Bryan Smith, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Corey Simon, Mike Patterson and Brandon Graham in order to create a defensive line that can relentlessly rush the passer.

Reid has also brought in players like Jevon Kearse, Cullen Jenkins and Darryl Tapp.  Needless to say, they have invested more resources on the defensive line than any other position on the team.

With Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins set to be back in 2012, will the Eagles be looking to invest more into the defensive line this offseason?  My answer is yes, they will!

Derek Landri

Photo: mcall.com

Juqua Parker, Trevor Laws and Derek Landri are set to be free agents.  Antonio Dixon is a restricted free agent that has not been tendered as of this writing and is coming off of a season-ending injury.

Brandon Graham will be a year removed from a major knee injury but he is still an unknown.  Phillip Hunt showed some promise but is a fringe player at this point.  Darryl Tapp’s future is a little murky as well and could be a candidate to be released unless he restructures his contract.

Basically, the Eagles have no depth along the line right now.  They have always preferred to be able to “platoon” their defensive linemen and rotate them in and out of the games to keep them fresh.

With that said, the Eagles could ultimately round out their depth with a few high draft picks (taken within the first three rounds).  However, there are two free agents I believe the Eagles will be interested in: DE Mario Williams and DT Jason Jones.

If you’ve read a few of my recent articles, you know that I think Mario Williams could be the Eagles’ surprise free agent signing.  Again, it’s a long shot and ultimately the Eagles may not be able to afford a player like Williams.

However, I do think the Eagles will be interested.  The question really is, how interested will they be?

That question could be answered by how much money the Eagles have to play with and whether or not they can free up some salary cap space.  Plus, since they have arguably more pressing concerns elsewhere, how much importance would they place on landing a player like Williams?

If they didn’t just sign Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins last offseason, this would be a no-brainer.  But because they did, they may be forced to pass on Williams and not want to invest that much money in the defensive line.

Jason Jones is a player the Eagles could have interest in, mainly because of DL coach Jim Washburn.  Jones played well under Washburn as a DT in Tennessee and if Washburn thinks highly of him, he could have enough pull to sway the Eagles into signing him, according he’s not too expensive.

If the Eagles are really interested in Mario Williams but decide they cannot land him, they could view Jones as a fall-back option.  But other than these two players, I don’t see the Eagles having too much interest in anyone of note in free agency.

Prediction: Re-sign Derek Landry and they shock the world by signing Mario Williams

 

Mario Williams

Photo: seattlesportscentral.com -- Come on Eagles, bring in this Beast, you know you want him!

Linebacker

Finally, what will the Eagles do to fill their most pressing need?  Stephen Tulloch, Curtis Lofton, or David Hawthorne?  I would gladly take away my prediction for signing Mario Williams if instead the Eagles used that money to sign one of these guys.

This is where I want the Eagles to spend their money and get a quality middle linebacker.  It’s what they need the most and everyone outside of the NovaCare Complex knows it.  However, although the people inside the NovaCare realize this as well, they most likely don’t see it in the same way as the rest of the world.

In basing my predictions here, I’m mostly going by what I see as the biggest needs combined with the Eagles’ tendencies and past history.

History shows that the Eagles, under Andy Reid, do not invest a lot of money in the linebacker position.  The most they’ve ever paid for a free agent linebacker was a five-year, $13.5 million given to Dhani Jones back in 2004.  The signing bonus was minimal.

No matter how much the fans crave a good linebacker, the Eagles just do not value the position enough to make a major financial investment.

Just as I predicted the Eagles would “shock the world” by signing Mario Williams, if they instead paid big money for Tulloch, Lofton, or Hawthorne, that would “shock the world” of Eagles fans who realize how much that would be out of character for this organization.

So yes, if they signed one of those three guys, I would absolutely love it.  Do I think it’ll happen?  Based on past history, not a snowball’s chance in hell.

However, the Eagles will address the position in the way in which is typical for them…by signing a cheaper veteran or trading for a mid-tier kind of player.  If their target is someone via trade, we’ll have to wait to see who that is…and how good of a player he might be.

As far as who’s available on the free agent market, there are few intriguing cheaper choices the Eagles could be looking to fill their middle linebacker position as well as at the strong side spot.  These players include E.J. Henderson, Erin Henderson, Manny Lawson, Dan Connor and London Fletcher.

Out of those players, I think the Eagles would be most interested in Erin Henderson.  He is young at 25 years old, big at 6′ 3″ 244 lbs, and is coming off his only season where he was a starter.

He played on the weak-side for the Vikings in 2011 and recorded 70 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles.  However, he’s considered versatile and could play any of the three linebacker positions.  The Eagles would view him as a middle or strong-side player.

Both he and his brother E.J. are free agents and it’s kind of hard seeing Minnesota letting both of them walk away.  If they want to bring one of them back, it’ll likely be Erin.  However, if he starts listening to other offers, the Eagles could try to lure him away.

London Fletcher would be a great choice as a one-year stopgap and I think the Eagles will be interested, but in the end, I think he stays with Washington.  If the Eagles can’t land Fletcher or Erin Henderson, they’ll turn their attention to E.J. Henderson and Dan Connor.

Prediction: Eagles sign the under-the-radar Erin Henderson to a cap-managable deal.

 

Erin Henderson

Photo: thevikingage.com

Other possibilities:

The Eagles may have some level of interest in Plaxico Burress and if other things don’t work out as planned, you could see them bring him in.  Otherwise, I see the Eagles adding a WR who can primarily be a return man while also contributing some as a fourth or fifth receiver.  This will likely be a draft pick.

The Eagles could have some interest in bringing in a safety to either compete for a starting position or at least provide some insurance.  Despite his heath concerns, the most intriguing name out there is LaRon Landry.

He isn’t the best cover safety you’ll ever see, but he is a great “in the box” player and defends the run extremely well.  He also hits like a ton of bricks, which is something this defense sorely lacks.

If the Eagles bring in a starting-caliber safety, it will be for the strong safety position which is why Landry fits the bill here moreso than other available safeties.  Plus, he’d likely come in on a one-year deal due to his injury concerns.

The Eagles will trade Asante Samuel for a third-round draft pick.  They almost traded him last year as he was available for trade then.  The Eagles want to go with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as their outside corners, leaving Samuel expendable.

Jamaal Jackson will be released and Winston Justice will either be released or have his contract restructured.  If the Eagles acquire Mario Williams, I’d expect Darryl Tapp to be released as well.

The Samuel trade and releases/restructuring of Jackson, Justice, and Tapp would need to be done in order for the Eagles to gain the cap space needed to make the moves I just predicted.

Therefore, git-r-done people!

If free agency goes like I just predicted, I’d be a pretty happy camper.  We’d retain Evan Mathis and Derek Landri as well as add a promising linebacker, stud defensive end, and a much more reliable backup running back.

Just book your Super Bowl tickets now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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