Philadelphia Eagles: 7 Free Agents That Could Be on Chip Kelly's Radar
The Philadelphia Eagles head into the 2014 offseason in pretty good shape in all aspects. The team went 10-6 in Year 1 under Chip Kelly, setting franchise records in both points scored and total yards gained. Quarterback Nick Foles is looking like a franchise signal-caller, and best yet, he’s still set to make just a $615,000 base salary from his rookie deal.
That means the team has plenty of cap room to work with, and there are a handful of free agents who will definitely be on Kelly’s radar. Per Eaglescap.com, GM Howie Roseman has a little over $20 million of money under the cap, which is a tribute to the organization’s phenomenal job at managing the cap on a yearly basis.
The Eagles have to be careful to balance the players the team targets in free agency. No Eagles fan can forget what happened just three offseasons ago, when Philadelphia signed a slew of big-name players (led by Nnamdi Asomugha) and got minimal results.
There is enough cap room that Philly should sign a key player of need. Safety needs to be the top position, as this cost the Eagles in 2013. The following breaks down seven players the team should target (excluding current Eagles players who are hitting free agency, namely Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper).
Jairus Byrd is definitely the best safety on the free agent market, but the problem is that he will command a great deal of money in free agency. Byrd has publicly stated that he wants to be the highest-paid safety in the National Football League. Combine that with the trade speculation that has swirled around Byrd for the last year, and it seems doubtful that he re-signs with the Buffalo Bills.
Byrd isn’t lacking in talent though. He is still just 27 years old and has made three Pro Bowls in his five-year NFL career. Byrd registered four interceptions and 37 tackles in just 11 games last season. Since 2009, he leads all safeties with 22 interceptions.
Byrd has Oregon ties, which could make him even more attractive to the Eagles. The Eagles can afford him, considering how much available money they have. The problem will be whether Philly can outbid the other suitors, and whether Roseman thinks one player is worth half of the available cap space.
In terms of sheer talent though, Byrd can flat-out play. And he would make defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ job much easier.
T.J. Ward is the most likely safety for the Philadelphia Eagles to sign. Like Jairus Byrd, he has Oregon ties. Ward isn’t quite in the elite class, but he’s a borderline top-10 safety who will command a sizeable deal in free agency.
Ward ranked as Pro Football Focus’s third overall safety in 2013. He rated as the No. 1 player at his position in stopping the run. He is a top defender in defending the pass as well; he recorded two interceptions and allowed just a 61.3 passer rating in coverage. Ward played all 16 games last season, recorded 75 tackles and earned a late selection to the Pro Bowl.
That Pro Bowl bid will raise his stock in free agency a bit, but the Eagles definitely have the money to pay Ward. He will likely command a deal around five years between $6 million and $7 million per year. Expect Byrd to get about five years and closer to $10 million per year.
The Eagles will have to decide whether the difference between Byrd and Ward is worth the extra money per season. Regardless, the team can’t possibly go into next year without vastly upgrading the secondary.
Josh Freeman could be an intriguing backup for the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles. He’s all but dropped off the planet after a dismal ’13 season that saw Freeman released in Tampa Bay, then ride the bench in Minnesota.
Freeman’s decline has been perplexing, considering he’s had success in this league—just three seasons ago, he posted a ridiculous 25-6 TD-interception ratio, and even in ’12, he threw for more than 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. Inconsistency is what did Freeman in during his final campaign with the Buccaneers; that, and promising third-round rookie Mike Glennon.
There isn’t much of a Freeman bandwagon left at this point, but he would be a perfect fit for Chip Kelly for several reasons. Freeman has potential, as evidenced by his aforementioned numbers. He would enter as the unquestioned backup behind Nick Foles, and no one would clamor for Freeman to start over Foles.
But Kelly worked his magic in a big way last year, turning Foles into a Pro Bowl quarterback and potential franchise signal-caller. He should be able to help Freeman regain his form, at least to the point of Freeman being a very capable backup in the mold of Matt Moore or Matt Cassel.
Terrence Cody certainly isn’t the player he was expected to be coming out of the University of Alabama, and he’s not a free agent who will push the Philadelphia Eagles over the edge.
What Cody has going for him is sheer size. He’s built like a truck, checking in at around 360 pounds. Cody is a 0-technique nose tackle if there ever was one, and the Eagles need another defensive lineman. Bennie Logan had a decent rookie season but was pushed around by the New Orleans Saints in the playoff game.
Cody wouldn’t be a starter over Logan. He's been a disappointment for the Baltimore Ravens since they drafted him. What he would do is provide depth and a monster of a body in the middle on running plays. Defensive coordinator Billy Davis coaxed fine seasons out of nearly every player on his side of the ball a year ago. If he can resurrect Cody at all, the Eagles may have a steal.
Bernard Pollard is more of a middling safety than a franchise player like Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward. But Pollard is just 29 years old. He has been somewhat of an NFL journeyman thus far, playing for four teams in the last six seasons, and that’s despite having success on the field.
For the Tennessee Titans last year, Pollard started all 16 games, registering three interceptions, a half-sack, 10 passes defensed, and 77 tackles. He’s known as a hard hitter, which is the kind of player the Philadelphia Eagles definitely need in their secondary.
The Titans owe a $6.2 million base salary to their other safety, Michael Griffin, in 2014. Should they also re-sign cornerback Alterraun Verner, that’s a lot of money dedicated to their defensive backfield, and they may be more willing to let Pollard walk.
If that’s the case, the Eagles should be keeping an eye on Pollard. He’s had solid success during his career and he would be an upgrade over Nate Allen, Patrick Chung or Earl Wolff.
Donte Whitner is another free-agent safety who would help the Philadelphia Eagles defense. Whitner was slow to develop with the Buffalo Bills but has made consecutive Pro Bowls now with the San Francisco 49ers.
Whitner is rated by Pro Football Focus as the sixth-best safety in the NFL in 2013. He is a hard-hitting player who would toughen up the Eagles secondary.
The Eagles should be cautious about paying Whitner too much money. He’s going to be 29 years old in the summer, he will want a long-term deal, and he clearly benefits from playing behind the ferocious San Francisco front seven. Dashon Goldson cashed in with Tampa Bay, and he’s not close to the same player as he was with the Niners.
The Philadelphia Eagles desperately need an upgrade at pass-rushing outside linebacker. Brian Orakpo may not be the top player hitting free agency, but he’s an elite talent.
Orakpo is coming off an 10-sack season in which he was rated by Pro Football Focus as the fourth-best all-around 3-4 outside linebacker. Orakpo has made three Pro Bowls in five seasons, and he has averaged 9.5 sacks per year in the campaigns in which he has been healthy.
It will be interesting to see how much Orakpo commands in free agency. Considering he played 3-4 outside linebacker and would do the same in Philadelphia, he’s clearly a fit. If the Eagles release Trent Cole (scheduled to make a $5 million base salary in ’14), Orakpo would start in his place. Should Philadelphia trade Brandon Graham ($3.2 million in ’14), that would clear up even more space under the cap.
GM Howie Roseman will have to wait to see what the market is on Orakpo to see if the organization can afford Orakpo and a top-tier safety, considering the team also needs to bring back either Riley Cooper or Jeremy Maclin (or both).