What's Next for Philadelphia Eagles After Initial Wave of Free Agent Signings

Andrew Kulp@@KulpSaysContributor IMarch 24, 2014

Aside from re-signing seven of their own to new contracts, the Philadelphia Eagles remained largely dormant as over 150 players changed locales during the first two weeks of free agency. With the NFL’s signing period entering its twilight, it’s only natural to wonder what comes next for the Birds.

Despite their relative lack of activity in the marketplace, the Eagles have plenty of needs left to address. A few more free-agent additions may still be on the way. Most areas will have to wait for the draft. And then there is the continuing drama surrounding wide receiver DeSean Jackson, whose tenure in Philly sounds closer to its end with each passing day.

First things first, and that is rounding out the 90-man roster with a little competition in two key roles.


Competition Still Needed at Backup Quarterback, Kicker

Michael Vick was always a long shot to return to Philadelphia to backup Nick Foles, but that ship sailed over the weekend when the four-time Pro Bowler agreed to a one-year deal with the New York Jets. That leaves second-year passer Matt Barkley and camp arm/scout-team QB G.J. Kinne as the lone understudies.

Clearly, that’s not going to fly.

Matt Barkley 2013 Stats

The Eagles used a fourth-round pick on Barkley in ’13, so they obviously like the kid, but bringing in some veteran competition for the No. 2 job wouldn’t hurt. While Kinne will do anything the coaching staff asks of him, including practicing on special teams during last summer’s training camp, he doesn’t appear to have a real future as an NFL signal-caller.

The Eagles could wait until the draft, but with Kinne the oldest QB on the roster at 25, they could stand to add an experienced voice to the mix. It doesn’t have to be a big name, mind you—Barkley preferably wins a battle in the end. Anybody remotely resembling legitimate competition will do.

Meanwhile, the team could also stand to upgrade at place kicker, where 2011 fourth-round pick Alex Henery has failed to live up to his draft position. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration at all to lump him in among the worst kickers in the league.

Alex Henery 2013 Stats & Rankings
82 (23rd)2 (t-26th)62.7 (21st)41.1 (t-20th)

Neither former head coach Andy Reid nor his successor Chip Kelly appeared to trust the 26-year-old to attempt long field goals, as Henery has just five tries from 50 yards or more in three seasons. He wasn’t reliable from 40 to 49 yards last season, either, converting just 70 percent—good for 30th in the NFL.

Henery missed badly from 48 yards in the Eagles’ first-round playoff loss by two points to the New Orleans Saints. He blamed the cold weather, but Saints kicker Shayne Graham had no problem pushing one through the uprights from 46 in the same game.

Henery is a liability on kickoffs as well. Only 41.1 percent of his kicks went for touchbacks in ’13, which was tied for 20th.

Ideally, the Eagles would sign his outright replacement yesterday, but there aren’t many options available, even fewer good ones. In all honesty, an undrafted free agent could make sense here. At this point, it almost doesn’t matter who it is, just as long as there is some form of competition for the job.


Building the Defense Through the Draft

There was some disappointment from the fanbase over the Eagles’ lack of free-agent moves to improve a defense that ranked 29th overall and dead last against the pass last season. Yet with so many needs across the board, there was no solving the problem with one or two expensive veterans.

Philadelphia must improve its depth or find eventual replacements at literally every level of the defense. Defensive line, outside and inside linebacker, cornerback and even safety despite signing Malcolm Jenkins from the Saints are all areas that should be addressed sooner rather than later.

That’s simply too large of a rebuild to accomplish through free agency.

Contract Details for Key Eagles Veterans
Cap Hit ('14)Dead $ ('14)Cap Hit ('15)Dead $ ('15)FA
Trent Cole$6.6M$4.8M$11.6M$3.2M2018
DeMeco Ryans$6.9M$0$6.8M$02016
Cary Williams$6.4M$3.3M$8.1M$1.6M2016
Bradley Fletcher$3.2M$0--2015

The defense is probably set up the best along the D-line, where Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton are the presumed starters heading into 2014. Vinny Curry is a solid situational pass-rusher as well. However, there is little to nothing in the way of depth behind them.

Speaking of pass-rushers, Trent Cole turns 32 this year, and his salary-cap figure is scheduled to balloon to an unseemly $11.65 million in 2015 according to contract figures from Spotrac. He’s not necessarily an ideal fit at outside linebacker anyway, so it’s time to start developing his replacement.

DeMeco Ryans isn’t in an altogether different position from Cole at inside linebacker. Ryans is about to turn 30 and is set to earn $6.9 million over the next two seasons, after which he’ll be a free agent.

At cornerback, Bradley Fletcher can become a free agent in ’15, and Cary Williams will be 30 and likely nearing the end of his usefulness. If Fletcher has another quality season, his return isn’t out of the question, but Williams probably will probably be out the door, leaving at least one opening.

The Eagles could’ve attempted to replace Cole or Williams in free agency, but cutting either player would’ve created a ton of dead money against the cap. Considering both players—plus Ryans and Fletcher for that matter—are still serviceable, eating their salaries to take on costly aging veterans would’ve been counterproductive when the organization can develop cheaper (and hopefully better) draft picks to take over.

Finally, Philadelphia can get by for now with Jenkins, Nate Allen and Earl Wolff at safety. Those three can provide a stability the franchise hasn’t enjoyed in their defensive backfield in some time, but Allen or Wolff in particular may not be permanent solutions.

Key Eagles Defensive Additions 27 and Under (2012-14)
2012 Draft2013 DraftFree Agents
DE Fletcher CoxNT Bennie LoganOLB Connor Barwin
ILB Mychal KendricksS Earl WolffS Malcolm Jenkins
DE Vinny CurryDE Joe Kruger
CB Brandon Boykin

Between Cox, Logan, Mychal Kendrick, Brandon Boykin and perhaps Curry and Wolff, the Eagles have over the last two years drafted some terrific building blocks for the future of the defense. Add competent free-agent additions Jenkins and Connor Barwin to that equation as well. Now the front office focus this May should be on finishing the rebuild that is already underway.


Dangling DeSean

Whether you think the Eagles would be crazy to dump a 27-year-old, three-time Pro Bowler coming off a career year or understand the DeSean Jackson situation is more nuanced than most people give it credit, one thing is for sure: Allowing this situation to fester and play out slowly through a painful series of anonymous media reports isn’t doing anybody any favors.

The fact is it’s difficult to see a path for Jackson’s return to the Eagles at this point. The organization hasn’t come out against these stories to back their star receiver, which if his Instagram account serves as any indication, No. 10 has taken notice of the lack of support.

Does he even want to stick around?

Knowing Jackson’s attitude and how it’s affected his effort in the past—remember the great contract dispute of ’11?—it could actually prove detrimental to hang on to him now.

Ultimately, how soon the Eagles can put the vicious cycle to rest depends in part on when another team comes forward with a somewhat suitable offer for speedy wideout. Whatever the Birds are willing to accept in an exchange, they should probably jump on it once it’s on the table, just to make this story go away.

This situation could drag out until closer to the draft, or Jackson could be gone tomorrow. If it truly is inevitable, the sooner he's gone, the better, as a star player being left to hang out to dry sends a bad message to the rest of the roster.


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