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The Eagles desperately need to upgrade their safety corps heading into 2014, as this was a definite area of weakness the previous season. Nate Allen is an adequate starter. Patrick Chung will likely be released in the offseason, and Earl Wolff may be a year away from being an effective starter.
The safety market is deep, with a handful of candidates that would immediately improve the Eagles’ defensive backfield. Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward are the top two players, and each is coming off a Pro Bowl campaign. Byrd is the superior of the two, as he has made three Pro Bowls in five seasons. He’s coming off another spectacular year in which he intercepted four passes in just 11 games.
Ward started all 16 games in 2013, recording two interceptions, a fumble recovery, 1.5 sacks and 75 tackles. He was rated by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as the third-best overall safety in the league and the best against the run.
Either one of these two players would significantly upgrade the Eagles defense.
Recent reports have indicated Byrd may not be re-signed by the Buffalo Bills. He’s been on the record previously saying that he wants to be the highest-paid safety in the league, per Adam Benigni of WGRZ Buffalo (h/t Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated). That current honor belongs to Troy Polamalu in terms of average annual pay ($9.8 million) and Eric Berry in terms of largest total contract ($50 million over six years).
It’s not unreasonable to expect Byrd to get a deal that exceeds both of those. He’s just 27 years old and in the prime of his career. He missed five games last year due to plantar fasciitis in his feet, but he played all 16 games the previous three seasons.
Byrd could command a five-year deal, checking in at $55 million total. That’s a lot of money, and the Eagles will have to weigh whether he’s worth that money.
Ward shouldn’t command quite as much money. He’s not in Byrd’s class, but he’s still an elite safety. A five-year deal worth $7-$8 million per year sounds reasonable. That would make him the fifth-highest-paid safety in the NFL, just ahead of Antrel Rolle and just behind Eric Weddle.
The Cleveland Browns are trying to bring Ward back, according to Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland, but if they can’t, the Eagles have to call about him.
Should Philly miss out on Byrd and Ward, it increases the urgency to draft a safety in the first round of the 2014 draft.