Philadelphia Eagles' Blueprint for a Successful Free Agency
Taking over a 4-12 team is no easy task. Chip Kelly inherits a Philadelphia Eagles squad that lost eight consecutive games and 11 of 12 down the stretch. He has the NFL draft and the free agency period to improve the roster, but it’s probably more of a two- or three-year plan.
The Eagles need to be careful with how they approach free agency. They tried to sign a bunch of big-name players in 2011, and that didn’t work. That year, they added Vince Young, Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith, Cullen Jenkins and Nnamdi Asomugha, plus Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie via a trade.
Not one of those players is expected to be on the 2013 roster. Only Jenkins made a positive impact for the team during his tenure in Philly. That’s why Kelly needs to be careful with the players he adds via this offseason’s free agency. The Eagles are building for the future, which means there’s no point in signing veterans like Ed Reed or James Harrison to a one- or two-year deal.
Kelly’s Eagles won’t be winning anything in ’13. For now, this season would be best spent with the team learning Kelly’s offensive system, finding the quarterback of the future and then competing to win the division sometime soon.
Sign Dashon Goldson
The Philadelphia Eagles should be careful not to spend too much money in free agency. But acquiring a big-name safety is an absolute must.
Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman haven’t been getting the job done. The veterans that have been signed (O.J. Atogwe and Marlin Jackson) have provided no positive impact. That’s why it’s imperative for Chip Kelly to add a quality safety.
Dashon Goldson is the best safety hitting free agency. He won’t come cheap, that’s for sure.
Goldson is 28 years old and has made two consecutive Pro Bowls, along with an AP First-Team All-Pro selection. He’s started 62 of the last 64 games, during which he’s recorded 14 interceptions and 31 passes defensed.
Reports say the Eagles are one of the top teams pursuing Goldson. And that’s good, because they should be the first team to call. Goldson will probably require a contract of around five years at close to $9 million per season. Considering the Eagles won’t likely be bringing back either corner, that’s a viable price to pay.
Sign Ben Watson
Brent Celek hasn’t developed into the tight end he should be. He drops too many passes and he’s not an established blocker. Celek peaked in 2009 when he caught nearly 1,000 yards as a receiver, but his totals dropped to 684 yards and one touchdown last year.
Ben Watson is a former first-round pick that can still stretch the field. He ran a 4.43 40-yard dash back in the day. He would thrive as a second tight end in a two-tight end set.
Watson caught 49 passes for 501 yards and three scores in 2012, and he has the speed to excel in Chip Kelly’s offense.
Sign Brandon Tate
As a wide receiver, Brandon Tate is a non-factor.
But he’s the explosive kick returner the Philadelphia Eagles haven’t had for so many years. Tate has a lifetime kick return average of 24.8 yards, and he’s taken back three kicks for scores (two kickoffs, one punt).
Tate can return both punts and kicks. He would allow the Eagles to focus DeSean Jackson solely on being a wide receiver (not that he really returns punts anymore anyway). And he can rid the Eagles of the ineffective Bryce Brown and Damaris Johnson as return men.
Re-Sign Jake Scott
The Philadelphia Eagles have a hole at the right guard position. Danny Watkins isn’t qualified to start, and he hasn’t produced when forced into the lead role. That’s a problem Chip Kelly will have to address.
It’s his decision whether he wants to move Todd Herremans back to guard and find a new right tackle. Kelly could also give Watkins one more shot, but that’s not likely to work.
At the very least, re-signing Jake Scott should be a priority. Scott has starting experience for the Eagles, having taken over midseason last year. He wasn’t stellar. But he provides depth to the team. And it shouldn't cost more than a one-year deal to retain him.
Sign Gosder Cherilus
Signing Gosder Cherilus would be an effective move to upgrade the offensive line. Cherilus is a former first-round draft pick for the Detroit Lions, having spent five seasons as a starter. He was mediocre for four of them before breaking out last year.
Cherilus’ addition would allow Todd Herremans to move inside to right guard. Herremans is a much more efficient guard than tackle because he’s not adept at handling speed rushers. Meanwhile, Cherilus is a fine right tackle who probably could be obtained at a reasonable price.
His strong performance in a contract year drives up his value. Cherilus does commit too many penalties, and he’s had questions with his knee. But Evan Silva of Rotoworld projects a reasonable two-year, $10.5 million deal for Cherilus in the open market. That should be a deal the Philadelphia Eagles are more than willing to take.
Allow King Dunlap to Walk
King Dunlap probably won’t be high on Chip Kelly’s plans for the future. He’s had five mediocre years in Philadelphia. While that’s impressive for a seventh-round pick, there’s just no point in his returning to the team.
Dunlap has filled in at both right and left tackle. The Eagles have All-Pro Jason Peters returning and Todd Herremans as the right tackle. Dennis Kelly gained valuable experience as a starter in 2012.
There’s no room for Dunlap on this roster.
Sign Aubrayo Franklin
To run a 3-4 defense, the key piece for Chip Kelly will be a nose tackle.
The ideal option would be a zero-technique nose tackle like Vince Wilfork, one that can line up right over the center and require double teams. Wilfork does that like a pro, and should be the model of a quality nose tackle.
Aubrayo Franklin is in no way the Philadelphia Eagles’ long-term solution at nose tackle. He’s 32 years old and will be 33 by the time the season begins. He’s appeared in over 126 games in the last decade, starting 78 of those—and most of them at nose tackle.
Franklin is built like a quality nose tackle. He’s 320 pounds and capable of clogging the middle of the line. Franklin would more be brought in to teach the 3-4 defense on a one-year stopgap. He’s not going to be highly sought in free agency; in fact, he may not get more than one or two offers. But the Eagles should bring Franklin in for a year at a cheap veteran price.
Allow Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to Walk
In five years as a cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been one of the best (2008, 2009), one of the worst (2010) and a backup (2011). Last year summed up his roller-coaster career, as he was dominant early on and exposed as the season progressed.
Rodgers-Cromartie is still young enough that he will get at least a four-year deal. He has a Pro Bowl to his resume and his size (6’3”) is enticing. But there’s no reason for the Philadelphia Eagles to bring him back. He wore out his welcome in Philadelphia, and it’s time for him to move on.
Whether the Eagles bring back Nnamdi Asomugha or not, there’s no reason to move on with DRC.
Sign a Veteran Cornerback
The Philadelphia Eagles need a complete overhaul of their defensive backfield. As I suggested, bringing in Dashon Goldson on a long-term deal is a must. That would allow the team to spend a mid-round (or upper-round) draft pick on another safety. Retaining Nate Allen isn't a bad idea, but Kurt Coleman's time in Philly should be finished.
At cornerback, Nnamdi Asomugha may or may not be back on a reduced deal. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's days in Philadelphia are over and Brandon Boykin probably isn't ready to start.
That means the Eagles need to add two starting-caliber corners. I suggest drafting Dee Milliner at fourth overall or a player like Xavier Rhodes in the second round.
That leaves one free-agent corner to be added. Derek Cox of the Jacksonville Jaguars is a viable option. Aqib Talib will be too expensive, as will Sean Smith. Cox is just 26 years old, and while he's struggled with injuries, he's produced well when called upon. Twelve interceptions in 45 career stats will attest to that.
What This Will Do for the 2013 Eagles
These free agents won't push the Philadelphia Eagles over the top. It's highly unlikely the 2013 squad qualifies for the playoffs. There are just too many holes on the roster, notably at quarterback, where Chip Kelly is counting on 33-year-old Michael Vick to run his offense.
The offensive line will have to adjust to a new style of offense and the defense will have to work in the new 3-4 defense. That won't be easy, especially with the treacherous play from the secondary as of late.
What this offseason should do is set the framework for the future. Dashon Goldson gives the team a quality safety for the future. Aubrayo Franklin is a player that can begin to integrate the 3-4 defense. It would also be fitting to draft a nose tackle like Johnathan Hankins of Ohio State or Jesse Williams of Alabama. A big-play corner like Dee Milliner would be a big piece of the puzzle as well.
But the key for Kelly will be finding his quarterback of the future. Whether it's E.J. Manuel, Geno Smith, Nick Foles or a quarterback still in college, Kelly needs to find a playmaking quarterback capable of producing big numbers.
As Jim and John Harbaugh each learned last season, it's the quality of play from the quarterback that pushes a team over the top.