Setting Realistic Expectations for Each Philadelphia Eagles Free-Agent Signing

Cody SwartzSenior Writer IMarch 17, 2014

Setting Realistic Expectations for Each Philadelphia Eagles Free-Agent Signing

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    The Philadelphia Eagles have been relatively quiet in the free-agent market thus far this spring. They've locked up the core of their own team, offering new deals to receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, as well as star punter Donnie Jones.

    Other than that, general manager Howie Roseman has refrained from making a big splash. He turned down both Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward, instead locking up former New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins to a three-year deal. Jenkins isn't quite Byrd or Ward, and defensive coordinator Billy Davis will really be tested to try to get the best results out of him.

    Aside from Jenkins, there were a couple of players who will contribute exclusively on special teams. It has been a fairly boring spring, which is why it will be crucial that the Eagles capitalize on the upcoming NFL draft. For now, here are expectations for those players who were re-signed or added via free agency.

Riley Cooper

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    Six months ago, no one would have thought Cooper had a prayer of returning to Philadelphia. But a midseason connection with second-year quarterback Nick Foles earned Cooper career-best numbers and a five-year, $25 million contract extension.

    In reality, the Eagles can get out of the deal after just two years, and that's a very fair price to pay for Cooper. After all, he had little-to-no production in his first three seasons before breaking out in his contract year.

    What the Eagles can expect from Cooper in 2014 is still pending.

    Will DeSean Jackson be back with the organization? Per Philly.com's Jimmy Kempski, Jackson may not be an ideal fit with Chip Kelly's locker room, and it has been speculated that he will be traded.

    If Jackson is not back, that's bad news for Cooper. Cooper thrived on intermediate routes, while Jackson's speed required a deep safety at all times. Cooper lacks the ideal agility to separate from defensive backs, and his game could be reduced to that of an Anquan Boldin role if Jackson doesn't return.

    Jeremy Maclin would be the focal receiver in the offense, and there would be an increased concentration on the tight ends and running backs.

    If that's the case, Cooper will have to prove he at times requires more than just a single cornerback in man coverage.

    Prediction: 48 receptions, 701 yards, 6 TD

Jeremy Maclin

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    With the recent drama surrounding three-time Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson, Roseman has to be happy he did bring back Maclin.

    Maclin is a former first-round pick who missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL. He did show good chemistry with Foles when they played together in ’12.

    Maclin has the ability to thrive on the outside, and he could be poised for a breakout campaign under Chip Kelly. After all, Jackson, Cooper, Foles and LeSean McCoy all posted career-best numbers under Kelly. There’s reason to believe Maclin can do the same.

    If Jackson isn’t back with the Philadelphia Eagles, Maclin could put up 1,200 or more yards. He’s still never even reached 1,000 yards in a season, but that should change in ’14.

    Prediction: 72 receptions, 1,046 yards, 10 TD

Darren Sproles

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    Technically, Darren Sproles wasn’t a free-agent signing, but he is a new player to the Philadelphia Eagles, coming over via a trade.

    As a runner, Sproles probably won’t make a big impact in 2014. He’s never carried the ball even 100 times in a season. He hasn’t reached double-digit carries in a game since 2011. And the Philadelphia Eagles have LeSean McCoy, an All-Pro runner still in the prime of his career.

    What Sproles will do is thrive as a third-down pass-catcher out of the backfield. Chip Kelly will have fun utilizing the two of them in the same backfield. Sproles has caught at least 70 passes in three straight seasons to date. He won’t reach that total in Philadelphia because Nick Foles spreads the ball around a lot, but it’s not at all unreasonable to think Sproles can catch 40-50 passes.

    Sproles will also return both punts and kicks for the Eagles. He struggled in this role for the New Orleans Saints a year ago, posting career-worst numbers in average yards per kick return (21.3) and his second-lowest numbers in average yards per punt return (6.7). That’s a substantial drop from his kick return numbers of 2012 when he averaged over 26 yards per return.

    Hopefully Sproles can recapture the explosiveness he displayed in ’13, although that’s not likely given his increasing age (31 as of the start of the season). His best bet is to succeed in passing downs and provide a bit of a spark as a returner.

    Prediction: 42 carries, 184 yards, 4.4 YPC, 2 TD; 47 receptions, 502 yards, 4 TD; 19 KR, 426 yards, 22.5 avg; 25 PR, 245 yards, 9.8 avg

Malcolm Jenkins

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    The Philadelphia Eagles certainly didn’t make a big splash in free agency in terms of the safety position. They didn’t sign Byrd or Ward or Donte Whitner or Antoine Bethea or Ryan Clark or Bernard Pollard or any of the other safeties I rated in my top 10 that the Eagles should target in free agency.

    What they did get is a system player in Jenkins, which is a way of saying a second-rate player who fits what they want to spend at safety. Jenkins is a former first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints who has played both cornerback and safety. He does have the skills to cover more than a traditional safety does, but defensive coordinator Billy Davis will have to utilize Jenkins well to get the most out of him.

    Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Jenkins rated as just the 65th-best safety in 2013 out of 86 qualifiers. He tied for third among safeties by missing 16 tackles. He allowed over a 100 passer rating in coverage. He committed four penalties. And the Saints had no qualms about letting him walk and upgrading the position with Byrd.

    The Eagles will have to hope that Davis can do with Jenkins what he did with Cary Williams in 2013. That would be taking an average player and coaxing a good season out of him. If Jenkins can start all 16 games, record a couple of interceptions and keep his missed tackles down, that would be a solid performance.

    Prediction: 16 games, two interceptions, one sack, 91.0 passer rating allowed

Donnie Jones

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    Donnie Jones is quietly one of the best punters in the business. He set a Philadelphia Eagles franchise record with 33 punts inside the 20-yard line, doing so in his first season with the team. Per Pro Football Focus, Jones was ninth in average net yards per punt. He was a two-time NFC Special Teams Player of the Week, doing so in consecutive games.

    Jones was locked up with a three-year deal, which was a terrific move by the Eagles. There was no reason not to bring Jones back. He has a strong leg and kicked efficiently when called upon, frequently bailing the Eagles out. He should be just as productive in 2014.

    Prediction: 44.3 yards per punt, 29 inside the 20-yard line

Nate Allen

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    The Philadelphia Eagles re-signed Nate Allen to a one-year deal according to Dan Klausner of PhiladelphiaEagles.com, which was actually a good move by the organization. There wasn’t a lot of demand for Allen, and he has several factors going for him. He’s a former second-round pick, he’s spent four years in the organization already and now he will finally have the same defensive coordinator for the second season in a row.

    The ideal scenario is that Allen doesn’t have to start. Jenkins is locked in as the one starter. As of now, the other spot goes to Earl Wolff, but if Philly can draft a first-round safety such as Calvin Pryor, then Wolff and Allen suddenly become experienced depth.

    If Allen is needed to step in and start games, it would be nice if he could perform well in pass coverage and come up with a couple of turnovers.

    Prediction: 16 games played, two interceptions

Nolan Carroll

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    Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles were exposed when dime cornerback Roc Carmichael had to play in the NFC wild-card loss to the New Orleans Saints. Carmichael was targeted on his only play, with Drew Brees connecting on a crucial completion that kept the chains moving.

    That shouldn’t happen again in 2014. The Eagles will return the same top three cornerbacks in Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin, and it’s likely that they will play the same role they did last year. But Carroll is a solid dime cornerback with experience at the NFL level.

    Carroll played pretty well for the Miami Dolphins last year. He picked off three passes, recorded two sacks and knocked down 12 throws his way. Per Pro Football Focus, Carroll actually allowed the fourth-lowest completion percentage (47.8) and ninth-lowest passer rating (64.3) of any corner in the NFL in ’13. 

    Considering Carroll is owed just $750,000 in ’14, that’s a terrific signing. If he can come anywhere close to those numbers next year, Eagles fans have to be happy.

    Prediction: 15 games, one interception, six passes defensed

Chris Maragos/Bryan Braman

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    The Philadelphia Eagles added a pair of no-name special teams players in Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman. Maragos was a backup to Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor for the 2013 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, playing in just 53 snaps on defense.

    Braman is a reserve linebacker for the Houston Texans who has experience playing in a 3-4, but he will be counted on more for his size and speed on special teams.

    Last year, the Eagles were the only NFL team to allow two kick-return touchdowns and one of just three teams to allow both a punt- and kick-return touchdown. That can’t happen again in 2013, and that’s why one of Roseman’s first moves once free agency started was to improve the special teams units.