Philadelphia Eagles' Final Free-Agency Outlook and Predictions
Free agency opens for business in the NFL on March 11, and as always, the Philadelphia Eagles are expected to be active participants. They have money burning a hole in their pocket as well as needs to fill throughout the roster.
We’ve already been up and down the list of players who are set to become available and determining who would or would not be a good fit in midnight green. Now, it’s just a matter of watching how the pieces of the puzzle all fit together.
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for free agency to being in order to find out what happens. I’ve already looked into my crystal ball and have laid out the Eagles’ future in this handy guide.
How much space under the salary cap do the Eagles have? Which of their impending free agents remain unsigned? What are the team needs, and who are the targets? And most importantly, what’s going to happen once the curtain rises?
The answers to all of those questions and more are straight ahead in this final free-agent primer. Be sure to leave your own predictions in the comments so we can see whose forecast is the most accurate.
According to EaglesCap.com, Philadelphia is an estimated $24 million under the salary cap heading into the new league year. In theory, the organization can sign whomever it wants.
Here are a few things to keep in mind, though.
First and foremost, the salary cap doesn’t work like your vacation days on the job; whatever dollar amount the Eagles are under the cap, they can carry that over into next season.
That’s important, because the salary cap is fluid. Just because the team is $29 million below the cap at this point in time, that doesn’t mean that room will exist next year. For example, Nick Foles, Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin are a few players who could be in line for big raises 12 months from now, which is something the front office has to account for when signing new contracts this offseason.
Contract values fluctuate from year to year as well, so sudden spikes in certain players’ deals could reduce the amount of available money down the road. Naturally, other contracts will come off the books each year and negate some of the increased costs, but with salaries always on the rise, it’s safer to assume the team will be spending more in the future as opposed to less.
Fortunately, the Eagles don’t have too many glaring holes that should force the front office to spend vast amounts of money on fixing them this offseason. They’ll attempt to solve most of their problems through the draft.
Current Free Agents
Nate Allen, S
The Eagles could easily bring Allen back to fill one of the vacancies at safety, and who could complain? There are better players available through free agency, but Allen would provide a relatively safe, cost-effective solution. With plenty of talent on the market, both sides will have to figure out his value.
Colt Anderson, S
A safety in name only, Anderson was kept around specifically for his special teams prowess. Unfortunately, he declined in that phase of the game in 2013, which may have been due to his recovery from a torn ACL the previous season. Regardless, head coach Chip Kelly emphasizes special teams, but he appreciates versatility as well.
Kurt Coleman, S
Coleman turned out to be a decent special teamer in 2013, and with 29 career starts at safety, he won’t completely kill a team in the defensive backfield, either. The chances he returns to Philly are slim with so much safety talent available via free agency and the draft, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he did come back.
Clifton Geathers, DL
Did you know Clifton Geathers appeared in all 16 games for the Eagles last season? No? Who is Clifton Geathers, you ask? Exactly. He is 6’8”, 340-pound defensive lineman, yet he somehow manages to become invisible when you put him on a football field.
Philip Hunt, DE/OLB
Hunt is a restricted free agent, which in most cases means he would be retained. However, he was already attempting to transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker last year when his ACL went. Both sides might be better served if Hunt is given an opportunity to catch on elsewhere.
Donnie Jones, P
One has to think that the only reason Jones hasn’t agreed to an extension with the Eagles is because he isn't allowed to. Per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan, the terms of his contract prevent him from signing a deal until the start of the new league year—or in layman’s terms, when free agency opens.
Michael Vick, QB
There is conflicting speculation as to whether or not Vick would return to the Eagles as a backup next season. If the market is bad enough, he sure could. The four-time Pro Bowler still has a lot to offer the right franchise, though, particularly one with a young quarterback in need of a mentor.
Of the three safeties currently signed to Philadelphia’s roster through 2014, only one—last year’s fifth-round pick, Earl Wolff—is pretty much guaranteed a roster spot. Patrick Chung could be cut this summer, provided there is a replacement for him, while practice-squad graduate Keelan Johnson is a long shot to make the cut.
Between the draft and free agency, the Eagles must obtain no fewer than three safeties this offseason. Expect at least two veterans to try out for jobs, one of whom they can safely pencil into the depth chart as a starter.
Connor Barwin and Trent Cole appear to be entrenched as starters for at least one more season, but the two combined for just 13 sacks in 2013 and there’s little depth behind them. The only other outside linebacker on the roster is Brandon Graham, and he’s a prime candidate to be traded.
Fletcher Cox is a solid every-down lineman, while Bennie Logan, Cedric Thornton and Vinny Curry are all good starters/situational players. However, the cupboards are bare behind them, and the unit needs more talent on the back end.
Alex Henery hasn’t demonstrated an NFL leg on field goals or kickoffs nor much feel in the clutch, for that matter. At the very least, some competition is desperately needed here.
With Vick possibly departing, the Eagles need a third quarterback on the roster. Whether that player will be listed No. 2 or No. 3 on the depth chart is dependent upon whether or not that somebody can beat out Matt Barkley.
Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin have the top three spots locked up for another season. The team could use some depth behind them, but expect the draft to bring a prospect or two into the mix.
With DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper all returning next season, there’s likely no need to acquire somebody who will play a lot of snaps at the position next season. However, the unit would look a little thin if any of the aforementioned players were to go down with an injury.
This might seem like a cop-out, but it would be unfair to paint the Eagles into a corner. They should sign not one, but two, safeties this offseason given how thin their roster is at the position. One of those players should also be able to hold down a regular spot in the starting lineup and excel.
With Washington’s Brian Orakpo and Pittsburgh’s Jason Worilds both receiving the franchise tag, there really are no high-end pass-rushers available this year for 3-4 defenses. That could put a bit more of a premium on some of the situational guys, but the Eagles could at least use another warm body in the pass-rushing department.
The Eagles will have a hard time drawing any big-name free agents along to their defensive line, as there is playing time to be had there but no starting jobs. Philly could be a perfect landing spot for Hood or Neal, though, who are both trying to revitalize their respective careers.
Kicker: Steven Hauschka
The market for kickers is not very deep. If the Birds don’t manage to land Hauschka, it could be a street free agent providing competition for Henery.
Backup Quarterback: Michael Vick, Josh Freeman, Colt McCoy
Don’t rule out Josh Freeman. The Eagles have a long history of developing—and in several cases rehabilitating—quarterbacks. I am not sure if Freeman is the type to take, but his talent should intrigue.
McCoy would be a perfect foil for Barkley, but not so imposing that the second-year Barkley couldn’t still win a competition for the No. 2 job.
If Vick doesn’t find another job, he could easily return for a year.
“Big” Moves Limited to Safety
Aside from maybe kicker, the only position where I see a new starter coming in is at safety.
The Eagles are set on offense, and most of the areas they would like to upgrade on defense—specifically outside linebacker and cornerback—are currently filled by veterans with big contracts, which the front office will attempt to replace through the draft.
Jairus Byrd Does Not Sign with Eagles
There’s little doubt Byrd would be a perfect fit. He’ll only be 28 this year, is familiar with head coach Chip Kelly’s philosophies from their time together at Oregon and is a three-time All-Pro safety to boot.
I just don’t get the sense the Eagles are willing to pay upward of $9 million per year for Byrd. Is he actually worth that? To put it another way, would he have been the difference between Philadelphia winning or losing the Super Bowl last season? Will he next season? Will he ever?
Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s the best guy for the job, and if the Birds sign him, so be it. So much evidence points to the organization going in a different direction, though.
Final Haul: Malcolm Jenkins, S; Taylor Mays, S; Parys Haralson, OLB; Mike Neal, DE/OLB; Colt McCoy, QB; Steven Hauschka, K; Terrell Thomas, CB; Dexter McCluster, RB/WR
While he’s not a sexy name like Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward, Malcolm Jenkins just makes sense for Philadelphia. He’s only 26, has ideal size at 6’0” and 204 pounds and is extremely versatile, with the ability to play some cornerback as well. Jenkins will be moderately priced, but he has been very productive, coming off a season for the Saints where he recorded 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Chip Kelly will know Taylor Mays from their time together in the Pac-12. The USC product is a perfect change of pace for the Birds defensive backfield, as he can line up in the box but also possesses the athleticism to drop into coverage.
Other than Hauschka, the rest of the players on this list are purely for depth or to provide competition throughout the roster.
Haralson has ties to Eagles Vice President of Player Personnel Tom Gamble from their days in San Francisco. Neal can put his hand in the dirt, but he was getting some snaps at linebacker as his stint in Green Bay was winding down. Thomas, like the aforementioned players, would not be a lock to make the team, but if he can show he’s recovered from multiple ACL tears, he could be very valuable coming off the bench.
This would not be an amazing haul by any stretch of the imagination, but every player on this list comes from a quality organization and has something to offer in one capacity or another.