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On March 5th, expect the phone to be busy at the Eagles front office. They won’t be pursuing a lot of players in what is not a particularly strong free agent class (due in large part to predetermined restrictions of a lapsed Collective Bargaining Agreement), but the Eagles have been uncharacteristically aggressive (to some) since last year’s offseason. In 2009, they added Stacey Andrews, Leonard Weaver, Eldra Buckley, Sean Jones, Alex Smith, Jason Babin and traded for Will Witherspoon, Jason Peters and Ellis Hobbs. And those are just the players that made the team.
The truth is that the Eagles have the tendency to set their sights on big names very early on in free agent eligibility. Asante Samuel, Jevon Kearse and Stacey Andrews were all secured in the first few days of free agency with little or no hesitation. The Eagles have been plugging the left Defensive End position with short term solutions for years now. Don’t get me wrong. Juqua Parker is a nice player and he’s coming off a career high 8 sacks this year, but in his tenure, the Eagles have signed Darren Howard, Chris Clemons, Jason Babin and drafted Victor Abiamiri and Bryan Smith in an effort to replace him. To his credit, he has been able to fend all of them off with solid, if unspectacular play.
The whole time, they’ve been waiting for a player like Peppers to hit the free agent market and they will act aggressively to tie him up. Peppers has good size, power, quickness and long arms to get to the quarterback and he is a very capable run defender who has a knack for jarring the ball loose (10 forced fumbles in the past two years). He started his professional career on the left side of the line, but was moved back to the right side after a disappointing 2.5 sacks in the Panthers 2007 campaign.
There are concerns with Peppers. Of course, it will be a big ticket free agent signing for a player over 30, which always seems to challenge this Front Office’s commitment. He takes plays off at times and after receiving a huge payday, it’s hard not to be concerned about his devotion to the game. Others have questioned his appreciation to football and the Eagles should be wary of some version of Jevon Kearse 2.0. Undoubtedly, other teams will have to game-plan for Peppers, and he could be a big part in closing the gap between the Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East division. Overall, this could launch the Eagles defense into the most formidable in the division, but the Defensive End position is not the priority that Free Safety is. As long as they can cover both in one off-season, the Eagles will have handled their two highest priorities.