The Philadelphia Eagles were the worst team in the NFC East last season, which is certainly sad considering the amount of talent they had compiled in recent years. But as a result of those struggles, this is an exciting time for the Eagles, who have a new coaching staff, a top-five draft pick and plenty of money to spend in free agency.
With that process getting underway officially on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, here's an in-depth look at what the Eagles will be thinking on the open market.
Estimates vary and things are fluid, but OvertheCap.com reports that the Eagles currently have about $32.5 million in cap space. If they cut Nnamdi Asomugha as expected, that would leave them with about $43.5 million entering free agency.
For a team that has been widely criticized for its reckless spending less than two years ago, that's amazing.
What makes it even more amazing is that the Eagles don't have to spend much of that cash on in-house free agents. They only have nine players who are, or will soon be, unrestricted free agents. Two of those players (Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson) were released, and of the seven remaining, only Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was a regular starter in 2012.
The other six would come cheap and would barely put a dent into the team's cap surplus. DRC is the only major question mark. If they cut Asomugha, they might try to re-sign one of the top corners on the market anyway, and Rodgers-Cromartie will be in the top tier.
Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested in a column Wednesday that the Eagles should indeed consider reinvesting in DRC, simply because he's just as good if not better than any other option they'll have.
Of course, the same rule could arguably be applied to Asomugha if the 31-year-old is willing to take a substantial pay cut, but there have also been indications the Eagles want to move away from that failed spending spree of 2011, and DRC and Asomugha both played starring roles that summer.
Even if they do bring back both corners, they'll still have somewhere in the range of $30 million to spend, if they choose to spend it.
To Spend or Not to Spend
And that's the big question: Will the Eagles make some big moves this summer in an effort to revamp that ragged defense? Or will they shy away because of what happened in 2011?
PhillyMag.com's Sheil Kapadia believes the Eagles will remain aggressive on the free-agent market because of all the needs they have, and the fact that they've reportedly already shown interest in free-agent right tackle Eric Winston indicates that's probably the case.
But as Kapadia states, the Eagles also seem to believe, again, in the notion that the draft should be the focus when trying to build a roster. History favors that theory, but when you have that much money and that many holes, you need to utilize both methods of adding talent.
That said, don't expect the Eagles to spend to the limit. They can carry over the money they don't use, and in 2014, Jeremy Maclin's contract expires while Brandon Graham and Kelce will be entering the final years their respective rookie deals.
What They Need
Well, almost an entirely new defense...
Maybe even two of them. Brandon Boykin looks like he'll be a decent nickel guy, but there's nothing beyond that if they cut Asomugha and let DRC walk.
Maybe even two of them. Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman were both awful in 2012 and would be better suited for backup roles. They're sticking around because they're cheap, not because the Eagles believe in them.
Antonio Dixon is the only option right now, but he's not a very good one. The Eagles need a big body to occupy some space at the top of what is expected to be a 3-4-oriented defense in 2013.
Fletcher Cox is probably set to be the three-technique end on one side of the line, but the other two spots are up for grabs.
This is a broad need. They could use someone to push Mychal Kendricks and maybe even a long-term replacement for Trent Cole on the outside. However, Graham, Vinny Curry and DeMeco Ryans could be locked in for years to come.
Guard or tackle
They can either replace the disappointing Danny Watkins by moving Todd Herremans inside and finding a tackle, or by simply finding a new right guard.
What They Can Afford
Pretty much anybody, but not all together. Here are some players at each position of need that would make some sense in Philly...
The corner market has about a dozen good, not great options. Shutdown corners don't hit the open market, but plenty of starters can be found here. For Philly's sake, I leaned toward younger options who can cover. That's always good when you're a corner, right? Especially when your D has given up 60 touchdown passes the last two seasons.
Also, don't rule out a trade for Darrelle Revis here.
Jairus Byrd is off the market after being tagged in Buffalo, but any of these guys would be great additions. Goldson will likely be overpaid to a large degree and Landry is less reliable. Phillips and Moore both get injured a little too often, but they're the kind of playmakers this defense desperately needs.
Kemoeatu, who brings 345 lbs of space eating, might not have the talent to be a long-term option, but he'd be able to start from the get-go. The inconsistent Knighton has the talent, but lacks consistency and might not be big enough. Cody served as Houston's nose tackle the last two years but is also small. Branch comes from a 4-3 under in Seattle, but he didn't play the nose.
Defensive ends: Mike Devito (Jets), Roy Miller (Buccaneers)
Devito can do all the dirty work and is stout enough against the run to be the five-technique end opposite Cox. He'd be an absolute perfect fit. Miller is intriguing but doesn't have a background as a 3-4 end. Branch would also work in this role.
Jones is young and exactly what the Eagles need. I think he'd beat Kendricks in a starting battle. Maiava is solid in coverage and has the body to play inside in a 3-4.
Levitre would be a huge coup, but all three would be upgrades over Watkins. I don't think they should bother with old men like Brandon Moore and Ryan Lilja.
These are the big five tackles on the market. Smith is the only real risk, and that's for off-field reasons. Each would give the Eagles the ability to move Herremans back inside.
What They Can Wait For
The need for defensive backs is great enough that it has to be addressed in both free agency and the draft. I also think they need at least two bodies to contribute to the defensive line right away. Beyond that, I wouldn't fault the Eagles for staying out of offensive line sweepstakes and adding linebackers in the draft.
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