Creating the Philadelphia Eagles' Free Agency Fall Back Plan
There’s little doubt amongst fans that the Philadelphia Eagles will sign Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward, Jimmy Graham and Reggie White circa 1987 when NFL free agency opens at 4 p.m. on Tuesday. Just in case all of that doesn’t come to fruition though, management would be wise to develop a fallback plan.
The Eagles undoubtedly have a blueprint for how they would like to approach the signing period, but ultimately changes in the marketplace can dictate which moves a team is able to make. If another franchise swoops in and claims one of their targets, the Birds must be prepared to move on and pursue the next name on the list.
Fortunately, Philadelphia isn’t really in a position where it must add a ton of pieces during free agency. 21 of 22 starters on offense and defense are slated to return from 2013. In most cases, either it would be difficult to upgrade or the Eagles are fiscally committed to those players.
That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be active in free agency. The defense in particular has a huge hole at safety and could use some situational pass-rush help, too. Anything else is likely to act purely as depth or competition to the rest of the roster though.
That’s why I am only suggesting three simple moves for the Eagles in the event they lose out on any primary targets. There is no need to overreact and sink large sums of money into lesser players this offseason, not when the organization has other means of getting by.
Miss out on Buffalo Bills All-Pro Jairus Byrd or Cleveland Browns rising star T.J. Ward? Not thrilled with any of the mid-tier options at safety?
No problem. Simply re-sign Nate Allen and call it a day. The fact of the matter is some of the options being proposed are not even definitive upgrades over Allen, who did his best to shake the “bust” label in 2013.
Allen’s campaign got off to a bumpy start, but the 26-year-old adapted well to a new defensive scheme that demanded far less of its safeties. Anecdotally, it’s difficult to recall any big passing plays down the field that were a result of Allen being burned or out of position in the second half last season, and he turned out to be a fairly reliable tackler as well.
His overall impact still felt somewhat lacking. Allen recorded just 1.0 sack, one interception and one forced fumble in ’13. If that was the ceiling of the former second-round pick’s ability, the Eagles can certainly do better.
Still, Allen was if nothing else dependable last season. There is something to be said for that.
In the interest of full disclosure, I did say previously that re-signing Allen was a move the Eagles need to avoid. There is just so much talent available this offseason, it would be a shame to settle for merely dependable.
That being said, if a deal for a veteran safety comes down to Allen or overspending on an equally uninspired choice, at least the team knows what they’re getting here. I realize there’s a mandate from the fanbase for the Eagles to upgrade the safety position, but it’s unclear whether some of these so-called mid-tier options truly are any better—looking at you, Mike Mitchell for the Carolina Panthers.
Allen is young and should be available at a discount, provided the team doesn't wait too long to reach a decision. Who knows, maybe he would even continue to improve with another year under defensive coordinator Bill Davis.
Let’s face it, there isn't a ton of (any?) high-end pass-rush help out there for 3-4 defenses in this free agent class. Furthermore, with Connor Barwin and Trent Cole locked into spots at outside linebacker in Philadelphia for 2014, there wasn’t necessarily a great deal of room for a big name to begin with.
All of which means the Eagles will likely dive into the bargain bin and try to uncover some situational rushers who can give Barwin and Cole a breather. Of course, if the right person isn’t available, it’s not like there isn’t an overlooked option already in the roster.
We recently wrote that Brandon Graham could be an ideal candidate to be traded during this offseason. Once the 13th overall pick in the draft back in ’09, Graham was relegated to just a quarter of the Birds’ snaps last year. Furthermore, he’s almost universally perceived to be a better fit at defensive end in a 4-3 alignment.
Graham could probably fetch a mid-round pick from the right team if it intended to make him a starter. Or the Eagles could increase his role in their own system if they have trouble replacing him.
While he may not be ideal for the Birds’ scheme, it’s not as if Graham struggled to get after opposing quarterbacks—3.0 sacks in ’13 are probably a bit deceiving due to his limited role. According to metrics site Pro Football Focus (subscription only), the 25-year-old was the seventh-most productive pass-rusher among qualifying 3-4 outside linebackers based on a formula that combines sacks, hits and hurries.
With a record number of underclassmen in the mix, the upcoming draft seems to be particularly deep, so grabbing a pick for Graham sounds great. Yet if it means signing a less productive player to fill the void, is such a deal worth it?
Graham has 8.5 sacks over the past two seasons despite being continuously blocked on the depth chart, which is about the same you could say for most of the pass-rushers the Eagles would be looking to sign. Maybe Philly should be grateful for what it has.
Other than a competent starter at safety and a situational pass-rusher or two, there is absolutely nothing the Eagles require from free agency that can’t be found in the draft. Therefore, there’s no need to devise a backup plan at other positions should any other potential targets fall through.
At a certain point, the talent that’s on the market isn’t going to be any better than what will be available in the amateur pool come May. Plus, the kids just coming into the league possess the added bonus of being far cheaper than any veteran.
Just because the Eagles don’t have a lot of obvious holes doesn’t mean they shouldn’t make moves. Depth at quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback and along the defensive line are each concerns. Traditionally, the back end of any roster could always use improvement.
But signing free agents just for the sake of signing free agents is not the way to go about building a strong team. It makes far more sense to develop young players while they are still impressionable and have a clean slate than to collect a bunch of castoffs and expect the same or better results.
I personally am not predicting an incredibly busy free agency for the Eagles given their relative lack of immediate needs. Some moves are on the way for sure, but probably not of the magnitude fans are hoping for at several positions.
As general manager Howie Roseman explained to Philly Mag's Tim McManus at the scouting combine, sometimes it's about getting by and letting the roster improve through more organic means.
You can't force things. You can't make something that's not there. I think we've all seen the lessons learned from that. If you do that you're going to make a huge mistake. Sometimes the option is just to get through the moment and to do some stop-gap things. And I'm not necessarily saying that's what we have to do at a particular position, but if you look at the teams that have won the championships over the last couple of years, they're not perfect at 22 spots. And I think there's a big difference having a weakness at a particular position as opposed to being solid and getting through. That's going to be the important thing.