Why Free Agents Should Be Chomping at the Bit to Come to the Philadelphia Eagles

Andrew Kulp@@KulpSaysContributor IMarch 7, 2014

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, right, congratulates quarterback Nick Foles (9) after Foles' touchdown pass to wide receiver Riley Cooper (14) during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013. The Eagles won 49-20. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Ben Margot/Associated Press

Some 500 NFL players will become unrestricted free agents at 4 p.m. on March 11, and the Philadelphia Eagles should have their pick of the litter with few exceptions.

Expert salary-cap management goes a long way. The Birds are an estimated $24 million under the ceiling, according to OverTheCap.com, which means they can afford anybody they want. For many job-seekers, that would be enough.

The fact that the Eagles appear to be a franchise on the rise can’t hurt, either. Head coach Chip Kelly guided the club from worst to first in the NFC East in his inaugural season on the sidelines. If all goes according to plan, Philly will be a trendy pick to reach the Super Bowl this year or next. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that?

Yet, money and winning might not be the most compelling reasons to sign on the dotted line. What better sales pitch than that of fellow players?

Michael Perez/Associated Press

Left tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce and wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin all agreed to contract extensions last week, a major coup for general manager Howie Roseman and the future of the franchise. Peters and Kelce had one year remaining on their current deals. Cooper and Maclin were two weeks away from becoming free agents.

Any of them potentially would have received a better deal from another team had they reached the open market. All were perfectly content to stay.

If that doesn't send a message to the rest of the league that Philadelphia is a top free-agent destination, then nothing will.

As Kelce explains to Geoff Mosher for CSNPhilly.com, there is something special brewing in the City of Brotherly Love:

I think the biggest thing that we’ve seen over the last two days, a lot of guys re-signing, I think it really shows how genuinely enthused -- and I think I speak for the whole team when saying this -- that everybody is happy with where this team is going, where this organization is going. I think there’s been a revitalization of the whole culture, and it's really exciting to be a part of it.

Speaking to Reuben Frank for CSNPhilly.com, Peters sounded absolutely ecstatic over having the opportunity to wear midnight green for the remainder of his playing days:

A whole lot of weight off my shoulders just knowing that I’m going to be here, be in Philly. I love it here from Day 1 when coach [Andy] Reid brought me here. I’m ready to go to battle for Chip [Kelly], and I’m with him for the next five years.

I love Philly. I love the organization. I thank Big Red (Reid) for even bringing me here, getting me out of Buffalo.

And according to Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News, Cooper never gave serious consideration to testing the market:

I didn't test free agency because I wanted to be here. I wanted to be here with Chip Kelly, Nick Foles, [wide-receivers] coach [Bob] Bicknell - all the core guys that are here. I got great teammates. Why would somebody want to leave that? . . . I'm glad I didn't have to deal with free agency . . . It's like a weight lifted off my shoulders.

Even the recently released Jason Avant offered nothing less than an endorsement of his now former employer. In an interview with Derrick Gunn for Comcast SportsNet (via CSNPhilly.com), the Eagle of eight seasons was actually appreciative of the way the organization cut him. Seriously:

But at the same time, I really respect the Eagles for letting me know so soon, so I can be on the market before free agency. That’s beneficial to you rather than go into it with 100 other players. ...

I believe...if there weren’t contracts and there wasn’t a salary cap I’d still be here. But when your [salary] numbers are going up and your production doesn’t look the same, there has to be some type of release to relinquish that pressure.

There’s a reason so many players find their way back to Philadelphia eventually, even when the vibe surrounding their departures could’ve been considered contentious. Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook and Tra Thomas were all forced to finish their storied careers elsewhere, but all came back in just the last two years to retire as members of the organization.

It speaks volumes about the franchise from top to bottom, from owner Jeffrey Lurie and the front office to the city and its proud fans.

Michael Perez/Associated Press

The team has also taken better care not to engender negative feelings among its veterans in recent years. Trent Cole, DeMeco Ryans and James Casey were all suggested as candidates for pay cuts by Mosher this offseason. There were no reports of the Eagles going after anybody for money, though, whereas in the past, they might have played hardball with key contributors and locker-room leaders.

Rest assured, free agents are taking notice of the current movement that’s underway in Philadelphia. Three-time All-Pro safety Jairus Byrd—the consensus best player available at the Eagles’ consensus greatest position of need—remarked on ESPN the other day that the team is heading in the right direction, per Mosher.

The Eagles won’t necessarily target Byrd, but it’s a sentiment one could imagine being echoed by impending free agents all across the league. This is a stable organization with a coaching staff on the rise, a solid core in place, money to spend and better days seemingly on the horizon.

No free agent in his right mind is going to pass up an opportunity to come to Philadelphia right now. It’s merely a matter of which players the Birds target.