NFL free agency will start in less than a month, and the Philadelphia Eagles have a couple of needs that will have to be addressed this offseason. The team finished 10-6 in Chip Kelly’s first year as head coach, establishing franchise records in points scored and total yards gained.
Nick Foles heads into the summer coming off a Pro Bowl season, and the offense should be just as good considering most of the skill position players and the entire offensive line are intact for 2014. General manager Howie Roseman’s job will be to continue managing the salary cap in such a way that allows the Eagles to pursue a big-name free agent should it be necessary.
Outside of star safeties like Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward, here are six lesser-known players that could contribute if Philadelphia signs them in free agency.
The Detroit Lions just released Louis Delmas, saving themselves $6 million in cap space. Delmas is still just 26 years old and will be an extremely attractive commodity in free agency. Because he was released, he’s eligible to sign with any team at any time, and the Philadelphia Eagles should be calling.
Delmas was a second-round pick from the 2009 NFL draft, and he’s lived up to that potential. Delmas played in all 16 games in ’13, registering 49 tackles, three interceptions and two sacks. He was Pro Football Focus’ (subscription required) 11th-rated safety in pass coverage out of 86 qualifiers.
Delmas should command a good contract in free agency as he’s still in the prime of his career. Injuries have been his downfall; he missed a total of 13 games the past two seasons. But he picked a fine time to stay healthy, seeing action in all 16 contests last year for the first time ever.
The Eagles could always bring back Nate Allen, but he’s a marginal starter at best. Earl Wolff was a fifth-round rookie a year ago, and he will get the opportunity to start. Patrick Chung and Kurt Coleman likely won’t return, and Philadelphia will definitely need to take a serious look at the safety market.
Josh Freeman has all but fallen off the face of the planet following a dismal 2013 season that saw him get released in Tampa Bay and ride the bench in Minnesota. Freeman has been linked to the Oakland Raiders by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, and he would probably get a chance to start there.
Should he join the Philadelphia Eagles, he won’t push Nick Foles for playing time next year. But Chip Kelly is a quarterback guru who has brought out the best in both Michael Vick and then Foles.
Freeman’s best bet may be to accept a backup job and try to play well if given the opportunity. The Eagles have a terrific supporting cast around Foles and Freeman could likely be obtained on a cheap one-year deal.
Signing an elite safety would be the best offseason move for the Philadelphia Eagles. But should the team miss out on Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward, Bernard Pollard is a solid option.
Pollard is still just 29 years old. He’s played for four teams in the last six years, but he’s remained durable. Pollard started all 16 games for the Tennessee Titans in 2013, registering three interceptions, 10 passes defensed and 77 tackles. Since ’06, he ranks third among all safeties with 121 games played and tied for third with 536 tackles.
Pollard is a hard-hitting player who inexplicably hasn’t been able to stick with a team for very long. The Eagles should be able to grab him on a two-year deal. Pollard rated as the sixth-best run-stuffing safety in the NFL last year, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He’s a definite upgrade over Patrick Chung at the strong safety position.
Bringing in Will Smith means adding a veteran outside pass-rusher who can contribute as a situational player. The New Orleans Saints released Smith recently, clearing up over $11 million in cap space according to CBS' Jason La Canfora (via CBS' Josh Katzowitz).
Smith is 32 years old and coming off a season in which he missed all 16 games due to a knee injury. He’s been a member of the Saints his whole career, racking up 67.5 sacks and 20 forced fumbles. Smith has had success, previously making a Pro Bowl and registering double-digit sacks in two different seasons.
He’s never been an outside linebacker, having played 4-3 end his whole career. It may be difficult for Smith to make a late-career transition to stand-up linebacker, but he can probably be obtained at a cheap price. He’s worth a look if Chip Kelly thinks Smith has any sacks left in him.
Derek Landri was previously a Philadelphia Eagle, seeing success as a 4-3 defensive tackle in 2011. That year, Landri was rated by Pro Football Focus as the fifth-best tackle in the NFL, despite appearing in just 12 games.
Landri played in eight games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, missing the other eight with a sprained MCL. Landri was an offseason release by the team, and he still has some football left in him. Landri is just 30 years old and he clocks in at 290 pounds, which means he could transition well to being a 3-4 end for the Eagles in their new defense.
Landri is more of a run-stopper than a pass-rusher, so he would be a good situational backup behind Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton. Cox and Thornton are emerging as one of the better 5-technique end duos in the game, with Vinny Curry as a pass-rushing specialist off the bench. Landri could also contribute some at nose tackle, although he’s better suited as a 1-technique or 3-technique end when the Eagles play a four-man front.
Ted Ginn Jr. is absolutely the kind of player Chip Kelly would sign. He’s similar in playing ability to Tavon Austin or De’Anthony Thomas. Ginn was a top-10 pick from the 2007 NFL draft, and he’s been a disappointment as a receiver, despite showing flashes of brilliance.
Ginn played well for the Carolina Panthers in 2013, putting up a 36/556/5 receiving line. That was after he entered the season with six career receiving touchdowns in just six seasons. Ginn has been a tremendous return man, as well, bringing back six total kick and punt returns for scores in his NFL career, plus two more on carries.
He could certainly fill the kick returning void the Philadelphia Eagles have had for several seasons now. The Eagles will have major decisions to make regarding both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, and there’s still Arrelious Benn signed for the ’14 campaign. Kelly will have to decide what to do with those three players, but Ginn is definitely a guy who should be on his radar.