Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Top Players to Target in Free Agency and the Draft

Cody SwartzSenior Writer IJanuary 29, 2012

Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Top Players to Target in Free Agency and the Draft

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    The Philadelphia Eagles’ four-game winning streak to close out the season left fans with a glimmer of hope that the team can be in contention in 2012. After all, just one more win in 2011 would have put the Eagles in the playoffs over the Super Bowl-bound New York Giants

    The Eagles have 12 players hitting free agency this offseason, most notably star wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Certain units on the team were significant weaknesses throughout the year—linebacker, safety, and the kick returner—and if the coaching staff spends their money wisely, the Eagles could easily be the class of the NFC East.

DeSean Jackson

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    Much has been discussed about DeSean Jackson and his contract situation. The Philadelphia Eagles’ two-time Pro Bowler is a free agent, and the team may try to franchise him while trying to work out a long-term deal.

    Jackson has character issues and he underachieved in 2011 (58 rec, 961 yards, 4 TD), failing to make as many big plays as he usually did. However, he is also irreplaceable in terms of his deep-play ability. Jackson runs a 4.29 40-yard dash and his mere presence causes safeties to play over 15 yards deep in the secondary. That leaves the middle of the field open for his teammates to make plays.

    The Eagles are a different team without Jackson than they are with him, as evidenced in the loss to  Arizona earlier this past season. In that game, Jackson was benched for missing a mandatory team meeting, and the Eagles scored just 17 points on offense. The Eagles could sign a free-agent receiver like Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston or Vincent Jackson, but those players just don’t provide the same impact to the offense as Jackson does.

London Fletcher

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    The Philadelphia Eagles were so shortchanged at middle linebacker in 2011 that Casey Matthews had to start the first several games.

    Matthews looked lost on an NFL field and appeared slow and unable to wrap up ball carriers. Jamar Chaney disappointed after a strong end to 2010, struggling particularly against the run.

    Andy Reid has struggled in his multiple attempts to draft a linebacker: Quinton Caver, Matt McCoy, Bryan Smith and Matthews. Signing a proven veteran may be the team’s best move, especially since Reid may just have the 2012 season to win it all before he gets fired.

    London Fletcher will be 37 years old in several months, but he is still a player. Fletcher recently played in his third consecutive Pro Bowl. He recorded nearly 100 tackles this season and even played very well against the pass, holding opposing quarterbacks to a 69.2 passer rating.

LaRon Landry

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    LaRon Landry’s future with the Washington Redskins is in doubt, as he has chosen to forego surgery on his left Achilles tendon. Landry—who finished the season on injured reserve— will be attempting to recover with alternative medical procedures.

    Landry will be an unrestricted free agent in a little over a month, and whether the Redskins sign him will depend on how much money he wants. Landry played at an elite level last season when he was healthy, but he missed the final seven games of the season.

    The Philadelphia Eagles went with Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman as their safeties in 2011. Allen struggled to regain his form after tearing his patellar tendon in his rookie season, and he has been extremely inconsistent in both pass coverage and run defense. Coleman is a great rotational player but he’s an adequate starter at best.

    Landry is still just 27 years old and he could provide many more years to the Eagles defense. He is a hard hitter and a good run stopper. If the Eagles can get Landry, they better go for it.

Mark Barron

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    If the Philadelphia Eagles can’t get LaRon Landry, Mark Barron of Alabama would be a terrific player to target in the upcoming NFL draft.

    Barron was a top-notch safety on the national champion Crimson Tide team. He is projected to be a late first-round pick, and can provide an immediate upgrade as a hard-hitting, run-stuffing defender to an Eagles unit that lacked toughness in 2011.

Bradie James

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    With the emergence of Sean Lee as a playmaking linebacker, the Dallas Cowboys may free themselves from Bradie James.

    James had a strong season in 2010 before dropping off in 2011. He saw his numbers in pass coverage fall, but he may still warrant a big contract because of his skills as an inside linebacker.

    The Philadelphia Eagles could definitely use a player of James’ caliber. Even though he has played in a 3-4, James should be able to translate his skills to the Eagles’ 4-3 and would provide a huge upgrade over Jamar Chaney.