We always talk about whom the Philadelphia Eagles should target in free agency, but when you think about it, that’s sort of an odd premise. There are literally hundreds of free agents, and the Birds will only sign a small handful.
Shouldn’t we be talking about the players the Eagles won’t be signing when the market opens on March 11?
True, it is a lot less fun than sharing our wish lists with the world, but that’s because our wish lists are flawed. We want the team to sign players they don’t need, who won’t be available, wouldn’t have the opportunity to play as much as they want or will be plain too expensive.
Sorry to be the one to burst your bubble, but just because the Eagles are an estimated $20 million under the salary cap doesn’t mean they’re going to spend it freely. For one, they would be wise to carry over some cap space into next season to re-sign some of their own young players.
General manager Howie Roseman stressed to CSN Philly's Geoff Mosher that the team will take a cautious approach to free agency this and every offseason, so it’s not as simple as picking out names on a list. The players in question have to be the right fit.
Unfortunately, a lot of the players we’ve been hearing a lot about this winter don’t look they will be in the Eagles’ plans. Granted, plans change, and we can’t necessarily rule out anybody. That being said, here are 10 popular players the Eagles are not likely to target come March.
Whenever I see Washington’s Brian Orakpo on a list of potential free-agent targets for the Philadelphia Eagles, I become confused. One look at the roster shows that $11.5 million in salary-cap space is already committed to outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Trent Cole in 2014.
Where does Orakpo fit in this picture?
He doesn’t. Barwin will be wearing midnight green for years to come, and the Birds couldn’t part ways with Cole right now even if they wanted to (they don’t) because doing so would create $4.8 million in dead money against the cap.
Philly is in need of outside linebacker depth, not to mention an eventual replacement for Cole, but signing Orakpo would take serious coin. As the top pass-rusher on the market for 3-4 defenses, the 27-year-old could command in the neighborhood of $10 million per year.
That's too much, given Philly has two starters at the position.
And is Orakpo truly worth that? He’s registered at least 8.5 sacks in each of his four full seasons in the NFL but has yet to match the career-high 11 he posted in his rookie year. That doesn’t sound like the dominant force a team in the Eagles’ position should overpay for.
Simply put, there is a less than 1 percent chance of this happening. Orakpo will be highly sought after in a barren market for 3-4 pass-rushers and therefore will receive a contract that his performance doesn’t quite merit. The Eagles will go to work with Barwin and Cole next season, perhaps add a bargain free agent for depth and then draft for the future.
In a perfect world, a guy like Jason Worilds would be a perfect situational player for the Birds’ scheme. The 25-year-old stepped up his game for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013 though, and he has a good chance to land a job as a starter somewhere.
The free-agent market for 3-4 outside linebackers isn’t very strong behind Orakpo, which should drive up the demand—not to mention cost—of a solid, young player like Worilds. In his position, the decision will likely come down where he’ll get the most playing time.
That’s not Philadelphia. Worilds isn’t taking Connor Barwin’s job, and he would be behind Trent Cole on the depth chart for a year. I don’t see him as Cole’s eventual replacement, either. The four-year veteran posted a career-high 8.0 sacks in 2013. The Eagles should be looking for more of a pure pass-rusher than that.
Worilds is a quality player who could be a hot commodity if the Steelers don’t re-sign him. But that’s not a bidding war the Birds will jump into.
While the Eagles seem to like Bennie Logan, there’s a strong feeling among fans that the defense needs to improve up the middle. Someone who has been identified as a potential nose tackle prospect is Linval Joseph.
He is an impressive player. The New York Giants defensive tackle is one of the better run-stuffers in the game who possesses the straight-ahead speed to pressure the quarterback. He has racked up nine sacks over the past three seasons since becoming a starter.
A second-round pick in 2010, he is only 25, and at 6’4”, 323 pounds, he has the size to play nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. The issue with Philly is that he would be required to change schemes, which means the Eagles couldn’t be quite sure what they were getting. It may take him a season just to adapt.
Joseph will come with a huge price tag for what amounts to a total unknown. Frankly, the Giants would also have to be crazy to let him get away. If they don’t agree to a contract, the franchise tag could be coming.
Despite the concerns over scheme, Joseph seems like the kind of player who would be a great addition to any defense. The Eagles already have a foundation along the defensive line, though, and aren’t likely to risk making a huge investment on a player who may or may not be a fit.
If the Eagles are unable to land one of the top free-agent nose tackles on the market, why not take a chance on Terrence Cody? The 2010 second-round pick has the build (6’4”, 340 pounds), and he’ll only turn 26 this year.
The issue is Cody may be past the point where he’s going to work out as an NFL player. After starting 16 games in his second season for the Baltimore Ravens in 2011, he was demoted, starting just four more over the last two seasons.
A quality organization like the Ravens that’s known for building through the draft would give a promising young player like Cody every chance to succeed. He hasn’t. He has registered zero career sacks and is generally ineffective.
Maybe it’s scheme. Maybe the light bulb just hasn’t turned on. Maybe his conditioning is that poor. Whatever the case, he isn’t even worth a look from the Eagles, who are trying to build a solid foundation on defense. They need football players.
Jairus Byrd is without a doubt the most coveted free agent on the market by Eagles fans. Now let me burst your bubble as to why the three-time Pro Bowler isn’t coming to Philadelphia.
It’s not a matter of fit. He is connected to head coach Chip Kelly through the University of Oregon. He only turns 28 this season. Sheil Kapadia of PhillyMag.com demonstrated Byrd would be a good fit in the Birds defense—he would be a good fit in just about any scheme most likely.
The problem, quite simply, is asking price. He will be looking to break the bank when he finally reaches free agency. A guy with his playmaking ability—22 interceptions, 33 pass breakups, 3.0 sacks and 11 forced fumbles in five seasons—could fetch in the $8 to $9 million range on the open market, maybe more.
Howie Roseman has been making the media rounds this offseason and stressed a cautious approach to free agency. He hasn’t ruled out the Birds making a big splash, but Byrd is not without some risk.
At 5’10”, 203 pounds, he doesn’t quite have ideal size. He also battled injuries in 2013. And the Eagles made it a point to sign free agents from winning programs last year, whereas Byrd would be coming over from the lowly Buffalo Bills.
Like Roseman, I’m not completely ruling out Philly’s interest in Byrd. The Eagles have the money to make the move, but the thought process in the front office is going to be they can upgrade the safety position for a fraction of the cost and continue building the roster through the draft.
If not Jairus Byrd, then T.J. Ward. Some Philly fans would actually prefer Ward, who is a little more of an in-the-box safety than a coverage specialist.
He has been a pretty solid addition to the Cleveland Browns secondary since he was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft, but he finally got some recognition around the league this season with his first Pro Bowl nod. He finished ’13 with 112 tackles, 1.5 sacks, six pass breakups and two interceptions.
Much like Byrd, Ward is only 27 and has the Oregon ties to Chip Kelly. He’s also similarly undersized at 5’10”, 200 pounds, and whatever Byrd sets the market at in terms of cost, Ward probably won’t come much cheaper.
That’s not even the problem, though. In all likelihood, the Browns will use the franchise tag on Ward if they can't come to terms, per Sports Illustrated, and he won’t even be available unless the Eagles want to surrender first- and third-round draft choices. That’s not going to happen.
There’s a chance the Browns don’t tag Ward, at which point he’s worthy of consideration. I’m not sure his impact will merit $7 to $8 million per year in the Eagles’ eyes though—not with so many other options in free agency.
While we’re on the top free-agent safeties, I wouldn’t get too excited about Donte Whitner, either. The All-Pro will be 29 before the season begins, and he’s no doubt looking for a long-term deal. That means the Eagles would have to pay him into his 30s.
He has been a rock in the San Francisco 49ers secondary, starting all but one game in the last three years in their defensive backfield. He has gained notoriety for being one of the fiercest hitters in the game over the middle, but he’s also been very good in coverage as well.
His age is going to be a major issue with the Birds though, especially for the dollars he’s going to get. He doesn’t have the ideal size (5’10”, 208 pounds) they’re looking for, and because he plays with such reckless abandon, there will be concerns about him breaking down.
I’m not even sure he would be on Philadelphia’s radar, except he is very good.
No, no, no, no, no, no! Bernard Pollard is the complete opposite of what the Eagles need at safety, which is to say a player whose reputation far exceeds the talent he brings to the football field.
He is known for being a big hitter, and while we’re handing out compliments, he is strong against the run. That’s nice and all, but he’s a liability in the passing game. He charted as one of the worst safeties in the league in 2013 in Pro Football Focus’ (subscription only) signature stat of yards per coverage snap.
One of the things the Eagles ask their safeties to do is cover the slot receiver from time to time. That’s not a position Pollard is suited for.
He does have great size (6’1”, 225 pounds) for the position, but the Eagles aren’t going to invest the time in bringing in a journeyman veteran. They’re looking for stability in the secondary and players with upside. Pollard brings neither to the table.
The Eagles may sign a cornerback in free agency but not likely one with Sam Shields’ name value. Frankly, they don’t have room for another high-priced cornerback.
Brandon Boykin has the slot on lockdown. Bradley Fletcher quietly played surprisingly well in 2013 and is a solid hand for a $3.2 million cap hit. Cary Williams is the one that everybody seems to want replaced, but he was adequate as well. More importantly, it would cost the team $5.1 million in dead money to release him, so that’s not happening.
Where would somebody of Shields’ caliber play, who is used to a big role with the Green Bay Packers? He isn’t coming to Philadelphia to be a backup, and the Eagles aren’t paying Williams all that money to warm the bench.
Plus, with Fletcher scheduled to hit free agency next year and Williams not getting any younger or better, the Birds are almost sure to come away from the first three rounds of the draft with another corner. That’s one more player who will be bidding for playing time by next season.
The Eagles have a plan at cornerback, and as of right now, it doesn’t involve signing more free agents.
Of all the players the Eagles will not sign this offseason, Riley Cooper is the one I am least certain of. That’s largely because the club has yet to re-sign teammate and fellow wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who is feeling pretty unappreciated right now, if his Twitter is any indication.
If talks break down with Maclin, that could improve Cooper’s chances of returning to Philly, but I still don’t believe it’s a lock. He won the hearts of many Birds fans by stepping up in Maclin’s absence in 2013 and doing an adequate impression of a No. 2 receiver, but he showed a lot of deficiencies in his game as well.
He is slow and not particularly good against press coverage. His size makes him a decent target down the field, particularly when he is matched up on smaller cornerbacks, but can any team count on him coming up with six receptions of more than 40 yards again...ever?
Cooper’s numbers weren’t even that great. He had 46 receptions for 816 yards and eight touchdowns... wait, that was Reggie Brown with an almost identical line in 2006, and you don’t hear anybody clamoring to bring him back.
Cooper is a replacement-level player who can adequately fill in as a No. 2 receiver, but he doesn’t have all the tools you want from an every-down player. Plus, with him demonstrating some ability as a deep threat, a desperate team may be willing to overpay for that skill—possibly upwards of $5 million per year. That’s too rich.
What happens with Maclin could be one of the determining factors, but if Cooper is looking for an expensive long-term deal as he should be coming off a career year at age 26, the Eagles could move on either way.