The madness has officially begun.
As of 12:01 AM Friday, NFL free agency is underway and the league is in the throws of an uncapped year.
While many think that will lead to erratic spending patterns—especially if your name is, say, Dan Snyder—what it did lead to was 212 players ostensibly getting screwed by restrictions.
Counting the two players they released on Friday, the Eagles had 16 players from the 2009 squad eligible for the various levels of free agency.
However, only four were unrestricted, and none of them were really worth getting one of the franchise or transition tags the Birds had at their disposal.
That doesn’t mean they weren’t valuable in their own ways, though. Many or even all of them could be brought back, and one already has.
For the unrestricted and released, I’ll look at whether they should be brought back or forgotten; for the restricted, however, it will be whether or not they should be retained if someone offers on them.
Tender Offer: Second-Round Level ($1.759m for a fourth-year veteran)
Avant will never be anything higher than the Eagles’ No. 3 receiver unless DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin somehow drop dead.
But he was one of the most valuable cogs in the offense in 2009. He put up 41 catches for 587 yards, and about two-thirds of those seemed to come in huge situations.
That said, how valuable is he to the league at-large?
$1.759m isn’t an exorbitant amount for a receiver, but the second-round pick attached sure is. It’s not a deep receiver draft, but Avant isn’t any better than anyone who will be available in the top 64.
But if someone does want him, then unless he gets a ludicrous contract offer—I’m looking at you, Nate Burleson—the Birds should do what they can to keep him in the fold.
Babin was a nice surprise last year, earning his spot in training camp and notching 2.5 sacks as part of the rotation at RDE behind Trent Cole.
But really, he was never more than depth, and with the Eagles possibly going after Julius Peppers and/or looking to pick up a complementary LDE in the draft, they’ll have plenty of pieces already at their disposal they can plug in to replace Babin as a No. 5/6 end.
Tender Offer: Second-Round ($1.759m for a fourth-year veteran)
With Jamaal Jackson most likely going to miss at least the first few weeks of the season, Nick Cole might be the most valuable guy on the offensive line not named Jason Peters.
A solid backup for three years, Cole stepped up amidst the turmoil on the line last season. He started at one of the guard spots for the first 15 games, then stepped in at center for the finale and the Birds’ playoff loss after Jackson tore his ACL.
While Todd Herremans and Stacy Andrews—the projected starting guards in 2009—will be back and healthy, Cole still has a huge role on this team.
He can step in to start at center if newly-signed AJ Shipley falters, can back up Herremans or Andrews (most likely the latter) if their season is interrupted and knows the offensive schemes.
Unless someone offers an exorbitant contract for him, the Eagles should match it. And even if it is high…Cole should be looked at as a long-term keeper.
Tender Offer: Original Round (fifth; $1.176m for a fourth-year player)
Gaither has fluctuated violently from solidly-entrenched starter to fallback option throughout his career.
But with the release of Will Witherspoon this weekend, it’s clear that Gaither—who can play both the WILL and the MIKE—fits into the Birds’ plans at least for this year.
Coming off a Lisfranc sprain, he might not command more than that $1.176m, so unless someone overbids to either a multi-year deal or $3m-plus, he should return and settle into a backup role.
Tender Offer: Original Round (third; $1.176m for a fourth-year veteran)
Gocong has gone from golden boy to completely out of favor in the span of two years.
A college DE drafted to be a pass-rushing SAM, Gocong hasn’t really ever shown a great grasp of that transition and lost his job in 2009 to seventh-round rookie Moise Fokou—who is no prize himself.
The Eagles tried to see if he could play the MIKE late last season, and could try to move him to LDE this year in certain situations…but he may not be able to save himself.
Gocong will be unrestricted following the 2010 season, and it’s almost certain he’s in his last 365 as a Bird.
He could do well in the right system, so if someone makes him an offer, it might be worth the third-round pick to let him go a year early.
The Eagles don’t have a third-rounder, and with the wealth of middle-round-graded OLB they could get there—Florida State’s Dakoda Watson, for one, has already met with Philly and has seen his stock rise as of late—he can be replaced.
Tender Offer: First-Round Level ($2.621m for a fifth-year veteran)
Hobbs wants a chance to be a starter in the NFL. And to his credit, he and current Eagles starter Asante Samuel were the top CB duo for that nearly-undefeated Patriots team a couple years back.
But in Philly, unless injury strikes or Sheldon Brown stages a sit-in, he’s at best a nickel corner and top kick return option. Hobbs would have been unrestricted in a capped year, so he’s truly the victim here because the Birds get the best of both worlds.
If he stays and signs the tender, they have a starter-quality CB for a bargain price; but if someone offers him anything, he’s absolutely worth surrendering for a first-round pick that can turn into someone like Boise State’s Kyle Wilson or the safety the Birds absolutely need.
Tender Offer: Original Round (fourth; $1.176m for a fourth-year player)
Ask any Eagles fan their opinion on Jean-Gilles, and two-thirds or more will tell you he’s terrible. He’s also injury prone…and somehow has ended up having to start 16 of the 29 games he’s played in as an Eagle.
Yes, 29 in four years.
Gilles is a candidate to be released no matter what happens, but they put the lowest tender on him in hopes of maybe getting anything back for him first. If one of the other 31 teams bites for some reason, it should be curtains for Big Max.
Jones played well last year and even took over at the starting free safety at one point. Of course, that was half by default because Macho Harris had to take snaps at corner, but he was still a better safety than the Macho Man.
But comparatively, he underachieved and had his worst personal year since 2005.
The Birds will be looking safety very early in the draft. And when you combine the fact that there’s also a lot of mid-round talent out there with the fact that there are a ton of good veterans available on the free market (now including Antrel Rolle and Gibril Wilson), Jones isn’t a high priority to re-sign.
Tender Offer: Second-Round Level ($1.684m for a third-year player)
The Eagles put a second-round tender on a guy who was an undrafted free agent, and then released one of the guys who could have usurped his starting job.
I’d say they like Jordan a fair bit, no?
He’s looking to start at the WILL this season—much as he did last year before getting injured—and he’s only in his first of two restricted seasons.
The only way Jordan shouldn’t be retained is if he’s getting more than Will Witherspoon was due ($5m) or someone wants him for more than five years.
Tender Offer: Right of First Refusal
What that offer means is basically this: The Eagles have the right to match whatever any other team offers Rocca, but get no compensation if he leaves.
Rocca had a good season by the numbers, as he set the franchise record with a 38.3-yard net average and is the franchise’s all-time leader in that category with 37.1 yards net.
Still, I’m not really sure anyone is going to be clamoring for a 36-year-old punter, even if he did have a decent season by the numbers.
But if they do, let him go. The Birds signed Durant Brooks—a 2008 sixth-round pick of the Redskins—to a two-year deal last month, so they have other options.
Tender Offer: Non-tendered
Smith is one of the few that “made out” so to speak.
As a fifth-year guy, he would have been an unrestricted free agent if this were a capped year. But it’s not, so he wasn’t.
Doesn’t matter, as he never factored into the Birds’ 2010 plans and the fact that the Birds didn’t even bother to put the minimum $1.226m tender on Smith (he was a third-rounder in 2005, and that is the original-round tender amount for a fifth-year guy) isn’t really a shock.
With Cornelius Ingram hopefully back from his torn ACL and Martin Rucker continuing to develop on the practice squad, Smith is expendable.
His three catches won’t be hard to replace, and the Birds can go out and find a dozen guys like him in camp if Ingram and/or Rucker aren’t NFL-ready.
Trotter is/was/has been Mr. Eagle for a long time now. He’s been cut, brought back, cut, brought back, cut and brought back, with the last return coming almost out of necessity thanks to the chaos that was the Eagles’ MIKE situation last season.
That’s settled, and as a result, Trotter can go again.
Even in limited action in 2009, it was clear he’s not even the same guy he was two years ago. That’s a steep decline, especially at the most important position on the Birds’ defensive unit.
With Stewart Bradley due back from injury, Omar Gaither being tendered and Joe Mays somehow still on the roster, Trotter has seen his last days as an Eagle.
Unless, of course, he’s forced into being their tenth option again next year, but let’s hope that doesn’t happen and JT trots off into the sunset.
Tender Offer: Second-Round Level ($1.859m for a fifth-year veteran)
The tender was a formality, as it was known the Eagles were looking to formulate a long-term deal with Weaver.
If this were a capped year, Weaver probably would’ve gotten the franchise or transition tag (which would have been an exorbitant $7.15m or $8.15m).
Thankfully, it wasn’t and he wasn’t, so he got a $1.859, tender instead…and then signed a three-year deal worth $11m (possibly $12m with incentives). $6.5m of that is guaranteed, and the contract makes Weaver the highest paid fullback in NFL history.
But hey, he was a fullback in name only for the Birds in 2009, racking up 463 total yards and four touchdowns as an integral part of the ground game.
Depending on how the contract is worded—it could be front-loaded, back-loaded with high early guaranteed money or a signing-bonus albatross—this could still end up being a steal for Philly.
Brian Westbrook was Mr. Eagle.
But in the uncapped year, there was no way for him to avoid being cut—what with him coming off a pair of concussions and being owed $7.25m next season.
Honestly, I feel as if he could still help the team. If he were to be brought back on a one-year deal for say, $3 million, it would be a good fit.
The Birds would have a veteran to help shoulder the load for Weaver and LeSean McCoy, and Westbrook would have a chance to showcase that he’s fully healthy and ready to roll.
But it doesn’t seem as if the front office feels the same way, and with so many other good to great veteran backs available to fill the same role, it appears as if Westbrook’s time in Eagle green is, in fact, 100 percent over.
White came to the Eagles as a special-teams stud and “left” as an important part of last season’s linebacking corp.
His tip that led to Sean Jones’ interception at the end of the win over Chicago is just one example of a number of huge yet under-loved plays White made when he stepped in as a backup linebacker last season. (Wow, that’s a long sentence.)
But it’s true, and White could still be a very valuable piece of the puzzle. His special teams prowess in undeniable, and there still might be a spot for him among the mish-mosh at linebacker if one, two, or six of the guys that have under contract find a way to fly the coop.
He won’t cost too much (seriously, he made roughly $1m last season) and can be a big contributor if given the right opportunity.
I firmly believe Witherspoon was a “cap casualty” of sorts.
He was due $5m this year, which would have made him one of the Top 20 or so linebackers in the NFL salary-wise.
He’s clearly not worth that much, but for even $3m, he’d be a huge asset to the team. He can play either MIKE or WILL, and given the team’s utter failure over at SAM, he can step in there or at WILL if they decide to try Gaither, Jordan or someone else over on the strong side.
He’ll be 30 this season so he won’t get a long-term deal, but you can certainly always find a place for a linebacker who put up 81 tackles, one sack, one pick and one forced fumble in 2009.