Sean Smith

AP Photo/Hans Deryk

With free agency set to begin next week, Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles should be devising a plan of attack.  If they want a premier player on the market, they can afford to get him as they are an estimated $33,759,419 under the salary cap, as per Eaglescap.com.

And that number would increase if they release Nnamdi Asomugha.

However, the Eagles may tread carefully this year since the debacle of their celebrated 2011 free agency is still fresh in the consciousness of everyone associated with this team.

On the flip side, the team has some holes to fill as they’re not only devoid of talent in some areas, they’re also transitioning schemes and will need players that fit the schemes and Kelly’s philosophies.

And therein lies the problem…we don’t really know what to expect in terms of who and how many they could be targeting.  During the Andy Reid era, though there were some surprises, we had a decent idea about the types of players the Eagles would be looking at.

Not so this year.  We’ll need a year or two to learn how Kelly operates.

The pitfall with free agency is overpaying for average to slightly above-average players.  Then there is the issue of whether or not a player will play with the same intensity once he “gets paid.”

Kelly should want players who are hungry to win and willing to buy in.  This typically means players who are young, haven’t won a championship and aren’t looking to go “wherever the money is” (aka, selfish, money-hungry, me-first guys).

Unfortunately, those traits are difficult to determine during the fast-paced free agency period.  Plus, they have to take everything they hear about a particular player with a grain of salt since there is an abundance of subterfuge going on as teams compete for players.

With that said, here are some basic questions the Eagles should be thinking about when considering players in free agency…

  1. Is the player they’re looking at better than what they already have on the roster?
  2. If they’re coming off of really only one good season, was it because it was a “contract year” and are looking to cash in now?
  3. How much of their performance was scheme-based and how much did they benefit from being surrounded by upper-level players?
  4. How do they project to the Eagles’ scheme?
  5. When addressing a position of need, is the value better for the free agent or spending a high draft on a player with better potential?
  6. Is the player worth the money he’s seeking?
  7. How much “tread is left on the tires”, so-to speak?

I’m sure there are numerous other questions and factors that apply when determining whether or not to pursue — and to how aggressively pursue — a free agent, but that’s a start.

Looking at the available prospects this year, the market is strongest at the CB and OT positions.  At CB the strength is depth while OT has a couple of top-level guys available in Jake Long and Andre Smith.

If I’m being honest, even with all of the holes to fill, I don’t see any “must have” players to lock in as a strong target.  There are good players available, I just can’t see one particular guy that screams “get him!”

The biggest weaknesses on the Eagles last year were the secondary and the offensive line.

The secondary is an area we can say will absolutely be addressed, probably in both free agency and the draft.  But, what player(s) will or should the Eagles target in free agency?

Here’s what the rumors are:

Geoff Mosher recently tweeted that the Eagles have some interest in Arizona safety Rashad Johnson.  However, it’s unclear if they’d be looking at him as depth or as a starter.

Mosher also recently reported that the Eagles will have interest in Miami CB Sean Smith.  If signed, Smith would clearly be a starter and fill one of the team’s biggest needs.

That’s about it as far as rumors concerning secondary players so far.  Of course, there’s been a ton of speculation about other players, but no other “reports.”

Even before those two rumors, I’ve felt that the Eagles will likely bring in at least one corner and one safety during free agency, with one of them being an obvious starter.  If they do what I hope they do — replace the entire secondary — then they need to bring in an obvious starter at both positions.

Smith is an intriguing prospect with excellent size and speed, but he is inconsistent and wants a big payday.  I’d prefer someone like Greg Toler, Aqib Talib or Chris Houston over Smith, but would be complacent with him.

At safety, I don’t think William Moore will be an option and while I was hot on Dashon Goldson earlier this offseason, I’ve cooled on him recently.  I’d still be okay with him, but I’m trending away because he might be a tad overrated, is looking for a big payday and is getting older.

Rather, I’d prefer to look at Kenny Phillips or Chris Clemons if we’re talking about acquiring a starting caliber player.  LaRon Landry is interesting, if only because he looks like the Hulk and is capable of laying the wood (but is a liability in coverage).

As far as the offensive line goes, there will be several good players available.  Jake Long, Andre Smith and Andy Levitre are the headliners, but players like Gosder Cherilus, Sam Baker, Phil Loadholt and now Eric Winston will be out there.

The offensive line is a little trickier to figure out because of the injuries last year.  With all of the starters set to return, does Kelly really only need depth?  Or will he want to acquire a new starting caliber player?

Besides the return of the injured players, the biggest question mark about the OL is at the RG position.  Do they truly think they can turn Danny Watkins around?  Do they want to acquire a tackle and slide Herremans in at RG?

As far as rumors are concerned, Les Bowen just tweeted this morning that he’s “hearing the Eagles definitely have interest in OT Eric Winston.”

The reason for the interest in Winston is because of his experience in a zone blocking scheme while with Houston and Kansas City.  PFF rated him as their ninth-best right tackle in 2012 and had him at 26th overall.

Winston doesn’t quite fit the youth movement we all expect in regards to the offensive line as he’ll turn 30 during next season.  Furthermore, he’s been with two teams now and both have cut him, which generally isn’t a good sign.

Unless there are concerns that Jason Peters or Todd Herremans won’t return to form (or Kelly doesn’t think Herremans is athletic enough at RT), I think the Eagles should look to the draft to address this area rather than spend a lot of money on a top-tier free agent.

As far as players at other positions besides the secondary and OL, here are the rumors I’ve gathered so far…

Zach Berman tweeted that “he was told to watch” Houston TE James Casey.

Ian Rappaport tweetedWatch the Eagles on Ricky Jean-Francois, too. May have some competition”, which was in response to a report from Packers writer Bob McGinn about Green Bay being interested in RJF.

Adam Caplan also thinks RJF will draw some serious interest from five or six teams in free agency, including the Eagles.

RJF has spent the past four seasons mostly as a backup and rotational guy where he filled in  at NT, RE and LE in San Francisco’s 3-4 scheme.  At 6’ 3”, 295 lbs, he’s a guy that offers excellent versatility and would be a nice addition that shouldn’t cost too much.

Geoff Mosher noted a little while back that he learned that Chip Kelly plans to “stockpile” the tight end position.  That tidbit coincides with what Berman mentioned about James Casey.

Casey played in a spread offense in college and was viewed as a good athletic prospect, but as a guy without a true NFL position.  He’s played TE and FB for Houston and played multiple positions while in college.

He could certainly be a good fit in Kelly’s offense as an H-back type of player.

However, when it comes to tight end, I really see Jared Cook as the most dynamic option for Chip Kelly’s offense.  So much so, that I wrote this piece about potential interest even before he was officially not franchise tagged.

Once word became official that he wasn’t tagged, others began to speculate he could be a target as well.  This includes Adam Caplan who went as far to state that Cook is “perhaps the most intriguing free-agent skill position player I’ve seen on tape when it comes to being a fit for (Chip) Kelly’s offense.”

The Eagles have several holes to fill and have the cap space to be very active come next week.  Overall, I’m not sure what to think in regards to how active the Eagles will be in free agency.

Above all else, Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman have preached getting the “right players.”  I hope that is exactly what they do.


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