Have the Eagles Done Enough to Improve Their Defense Through Free Agency?

Bryn Swartz@eaglescentralSenior Writer IIIMarch 24, 2014

November 5, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce Brown (34) is chased by New Orleans Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) during the first half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles entered the offseason with one glaring hole on their defense and a number of positions that could use upgrades. Through the first few weeks of free agency, they've added cornerback Nolan Carroll and safety Malcolm Jenkins. They also added linebacker Bryan Braman and safety Chris Maragos, both backups who are expected to play significant roles. 

Carroll is expected to compete for a starting spot, while Jenkins' versatility will allow him to play either of the two safety positions.

At this point, the Eagles are likely finished signing players through free agency, and if they do add another player, it'll probably be a depth move. There certainly won't be anymore starters brought in until the draft. 

What they didn't do was spend a lot of money for one of the top free-agent players, notably cornerback Darrelle Revis, safeties Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward and linebacker DeMarcus Ware. 

Revis signed with the Patriots, Byrd headed to the Saints and Ward and Ware joined the Broncos. Instead of the game's best cornerback, a Pro Bowl safety or a future Hall of Fame pass-rusher, the Eagles added a depth corner and a mediocre starter at safety.

That begs the question of whether the Eagles have done enough to improve their defense through free agency.

To me, this is an easy call. They did not. 

The best pass-rusher on this team is still Trent Cole, an aging player who is likely entering his final season in an Eagles uniform. The best defensive back is probably Brandon Boykin, who intercepted six passes while playing a limited role at nickelback in 2013. The best linebacker is probably Connor Barwin, the Eagles' jack-of-all-trades who joined the team from the Houston Texans during the 2013 offseason. 

The Eagles attempted to sell the fanbase on Malcolm Jenkins' versatility. Consider me unconvinced. Yes, Jenkins is a former cornerback who can line up in the slot or even shift over to corner in case of an injury. So, he can basically play any of the four defensive back positions. 

He's also not very good at any of them. It's a little bit like trying to convince me that with Brad Smith, you have a quarterback, rusher, receiver and returner all rolled into one package. Okay, that's great if the Eagles ever suffer injuries to all three quarterbacks or running backs, but can Smith do any one thing particularly well? 

No, he cannot, and that's how I feel about Jenkins as a safety. 

I liked the Carroll signing. He has some upside, he can tackle well and he rated ninth among all cornerbacks in passer rating allowed last season, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). But if he was as good as his numbers, one of the other 32 teams, including his own, would have snatched him up as a starter. 

Again, Carroll is a great player to have if the Eagles suffer injuries to a number of their cornerbacks. But as of now, Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin are all ahead of Carroll on the depth chart, and I haven't even taken into account the likelihood that the Eagles add a cornerback in one of the early rounds of the draft. 

Jenkins is an upgrade over Patrick Chung, but people forget that Chung wasn't even a starter for the second half of the season. He was forced into action because rookie Earl Wolff couldn't stay healthy. And Carroll is an upgrade over Roc Carmichael, but how much is he really going to play?

I wanted the Eagles to vastly improve on defense. I'm well aware that the team wants to build its own players through the draft. That doesn't mean all great players had to be avoided in free agency. 

Ward was signed to a four-year deal worth $23 million, including $14 million guaranteed. That's $5.75 million per year. Malcolm Jenkins was signed to a three-year deal worth $16.5 million, including $8.5 million guaranteed. That's $5.5 million per year. 

For an extra $250,000 per season, I'll take the proven Pro Bowl player over the versatile jack-of-all-trades, master of none. 

Nov 11, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA;Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) against the Miami Dolphins during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Darrelle Revis signed a one-year, $12 million deal. The Eagles could have signed him to a one-year deal worth $13 or $14 million and let him walk after one year with no future implications on the salary cap. Sure, it may have brought on an "Eagles are all-in" circus from the media, but it also would have provided a dominant shutdown corner to deal with the likes of Dez Bryant, Pierre Garcon and Victor Cruz

The Eagles now enter the draft knowing that they absolutely need to improve their pass rush AND their coverage. Oh, and they'll likely have to do it without using their first-round pick, because when DeSean Jackson is traded or released, everybody knows Chip Kelly is going to be eyeing a wide receiver in Round 1. 

I didn't need the Eagles to sign every star player in free agency. But I was hoping for one. I was hoping for more than an average safety, at best, a depth cornerback and absolutely no pass-rusher. 

I'm a big fan of what Billy Davis did with the defense in 2013 and I really like the direction this team is moving in. But that doesn't mean every move they make (or don't make) is a good one. I expected more in free agency. A lot more.