The first day of free agency is finally here. Among sports-related days, this has to be a top-five day of the year.
It's the day the Eagles can look to upgrade at a number of weaknesses on their team by breaking the bank for one of a number of Pro Bowl players. Or they can opt to spend like they did last season, where they brought in a number of starters, especially on defense, at moderately-priced deals.
The Eagles need serious help at safety and they could also use an upgrade at each position on defense, specifically defensive end, outside linebacker and cornerback. On the offense, no starting position is up for grabs, but the Eagles need depth at a number of positions, notably the offensive line.
What should the Eagles do in free agency?
I'm going to go through each position on the team and address whether I think the Eagles will sign a player, and if so, who I think they will sign.
The big question is whether the Eagles bring back veteran Michael Vick as the backup to Nick Foles. Vick has already stated he wants to go to another team to start but the market may not be as high as he thinks for a 34-year-old on the decline who has played in just 16 games once in his career.
It makes sense for a team like the New York Jets, with Marty Mornhinweg as their offensive coordinator, to take a flyer on Vick. He's a great presence in the locker room and could serve as competition against Geno Smith or a stopgap while the Jets look to pursue their franchise quarterback in the 2014 draft class.
What should the Eagles do at backup quarterback in 2014?
Another possibility is the Oakland Raiders, who have a ton of cap space and may be looking at a player like Jadeveon Clowney in the draft instead of a quarterback. As an added bonus, the Raiders would sell a ton of Vick jerseys.
With Vick not returning, the Eagles need to decide if they want to go into 2014 with Matt Barkley as their backup. I think they do and I think they'll add a player like Tajh Boyd in the middle or late rounds of the draft. But if the Eagles do sign a quarterback in free agency, Colt McCoy seems like a likely possibility.
There's only one player I could see the Eagles sign and that's former New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles. But Sproles turns 31 this offseason and is in decline. He averaged just 21.3 yards per kick return and 6.7 yards per punt return. He's no longer explosive as a runner. He'd catch a ton of passes out of the backfield but so does LeSean McCoy.
The Eagles may want to improve their depth behind McCoy but it's more likely they use a late-round draft pick on a running back.
The Eagles have their top three wide receivers set for 2014. They could use another physical player for the red zone but there's not really any player in free agency who makes sense.
Do the Eagles need to add a starter at linebacker this offseason?
Ted Ginn would be an intriguing possibility. The former top-10 overall pick revived his career in Carolina last year, catching 56 passes and turning in a solid year as a return man. I think the Eagles prefer to go younger, though, and Ginn turns 29 this offseason.
Here's a position that doesn't need to be upgraded at all. Zach Ertz showed flashes as a rookie and will likely be the starter heading into the 2014 season. Veteran Brent Celek will be a solid weapon as the second tight end and if James Casey is kept on the roster, he'll be the third tight end. If the Eagles cut Casey, they can add another player through the draft.
The five starters on the offensive line are all set. From left to right, Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson make up one of the best offensive lines in the National Football League. All five players started all 17 games in 2013. That's likely not going to happen again. The Eagles don't know much about their depth and could use another versatile offensive lineman or two in case of injury.
Rob Turner is a possibility. He turns 30 this offseason and has experience playing both guard and center. Another option is Ryan Cook, a 31-year-old who has started at center, right guard and right tackle over his career. He missed the entire 2013 season with a back injury. I predict the Eagles sign both.
The Eagles could enter 2014 with the same three projected starting defensive linemen as they did at the end of last year: Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton. Cox is a future Pro Bowler and Thornton had a solid year as a run-stopper, although he's virtually invisible as a pass-rusher. The big wild card is Logan, who is undersized for a traditional nose tackle.
The Eagles have been linked to former Detroit Lions defensive end Willie Young, per Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com. Young, who turns 29 at the start of the 2014 season, spent last year as a starter for the first time in his career. He collected just three sacks but ranked third among 4-3 defensive ends with 48 hurries, per Pro Football Focus. By comparison, Fletcher Cox led the Eagles with 39. Young would likely compete for a starting job with Thornton.
My guess is that the Eagles sign Young and also add a defensive lineman or two in the draft.
The four projected starters for the 2014 season: Connor Barwin, Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans and Trent Cole. None of the four players is a Pro Bowler but all are at least average starters. You can enter the 2014 season with these four as your starters and feel secure, as long as you have better depth than Casey Matthews and Jake Knott.
Should the Eagles break the bank for Darrelle Revis?
That's why I have the Eagles adding not one, but two pieces in free agency: O'Brien Schofield and Rob Jackson. Schofield turns 27 this offseason. He's been a rotational player with the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks during his four years in the NFL. He could push Cole for playing time at outside linebacker.
Jackson, 28, has been with the Redskins for six years, all as a backup except the 2012 season, when he collected 4.5 sacks and intercepted four passes.
The Eagles' problem on defense is they have too many solid starters but no elite players. Just look at cornerback. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher played better than expected as starters in 2013, and Brandon Boykin is one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the NFL. But no one would complain about an upgrade.
The Eagles have been linked to Nolan Carroll, formerly of the Miami Dolphins, and Corey Graham, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens. Carroll, 27, intercepted three passes and allowed just a 65.0 passer rating in 2013, ninth-best in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. He also collected 44 tackles in 47 attempts.
Graham, who turns 29 this offseason, intercepted four passes and allowed an 87.4 passer rating in 2013. He also collected a tackle in 56 of 60 attempts. He earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2011 as a special teamer. He can play outside corner or in the slot.
That's the player I think the Eagles sign. He's not going to be handed a starting job but he'll get every opportunity to beat out Fletcher for the No. 2 corner spot next to Williams.
As for Darrelle Revis, I think the Eagles have to be extremely interested. How could they not be? At 28 years old and coming off a torn ACL, he rated as Pro Football Focus's best cornerback. He can do it all: cover, tackle, hit.
Expected to be released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 4 p.m. if the team cannot trade Revis, Adam Schefter mentioned the Eagles and the Patriots as his two most likely destinations. A year after expressing interest in Revis, according to Jeff McLane, it makes a lot of sense for general manager Howie Roseman to consider breaking the bank for a player who will likely go down in history as one of the five best cover corners in NFL history.
Could you handle a quiet free agency period that didn't produce a single star?
I just don't think it will happen. There are 31 other teams in the league and the majority of them will express interest in the future Hall of Famer. Who wouldn't? He turns 29 this offseason and could take less money for the opportunity to play for a Super Bowl title.
You know the Nnamdi Asomugha debacle of two years ago has to be on their minds and although Revis is a year younger and probably better, it's still a very similar situation.
My guess is the team chooses to sign a lesser option like Graham, while also looking at a player in one of the early rounds of the draft.
Here's your biggest question for the Eagles: Do they break the bank for Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward? Or do they settle for a mid-range option like Malcolm Jenkins, Antoine Bethea or Mike Mitchell?
You know they're going to sign at least one safety, if not two. That's the top position on the team that needs to be improved and if the Eagles don't sign a starter (or two) in free agency, they definitely have to take a safety in the draft. That's when reaches happen, like the Jaiquawn Jarrett pick in 2011.
On paper, Byrd looks like a match made in heaven for the Eagles. He's a 27-year-old three-time Pro Bowler who played under Chip Kelly in Oregon. The Eagles have a ton of cap space and they haven't been able to fill their major void at safety since Brian Dawkins left after the 2008 season.
So why wouldn't it happen? A couple of reasons. First, Byrd has already publicly stated he wants to be one of the highest-paid safeties in the NFL. Second, Roseman has spoken about the Eagles spending more cautiously in free agency. Byrd at $9 million a year or Ward at $7 million a year may not seem as attractive to Roseman as Jenkins or Mitchell at $4 million a year.
I don't think Byrd or Ward will be on the Eagles in 2014. I do think Jenkins will.
Re-signing Donnie Jones should be a given. The veteran punter turned in a tremendous season in 2013. I expect him to be brought back on a multiyear deal shortly after 4 p.m.
The big question is whether the Eagles bring in a veteran to replace Alex Henery, who struggled last year, especially down the stretch. I'm going to go with no. I think the Eagles will bring in competition for Henery but I think they'll wait until training camp and either bring in a veteran or a rookie free agent.
Returner is an area of need but I think the Eagles will look for an upgrade through the draft, not a veteran in free agency.
It looks like I have the Eagles signing the following players: offensive linemen Rob Turner and Ryan Cook, defensive end Willie Young, outside linebackers O'Brien Schofield and Rob Jackson, cornerback Corey Graham and safety Malcolm Jenkins. That would make the Eagles very quiet in free agency.
While I don't know if I would be happy without a big-name signing, I just don't expect the Eagles to sign Byrd, Ward or Revis. There are 31 other teams out there and I think sometimes fans forget that. It's not like the Eagles can just decide whether or not a player is worth the money and then sign him. There's competition from the entire league.
So for definite starters in 2014, it looks like Graham and Jenkins will be the only additions. The rest will be rotational pieces.
That gives the Eagles a ton of cap room heading into the 2015 offseason, where they will likely look to lock up Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Brandon Boykin, and, of course, Nick Foles to long-term contracts.