5 Best Free Agent Targets For Philadelphia Eagles
Best-In-Class Free Agents
After a full implosion in 2012, the Philadelphia Eagles have made a remarkably rapid turnaround and are now one of the most complete teams in the NFL. While the Eagles have few weaknesses, there are a handful of positions where the team graded out near the bottom of the league, particularly on the defensive side.
Fortunately, the Eagles were already projected to be $18 million-plus under the salary-cap. Then yesterday, the NFL announced that it would be raising the salary cap by $7 million in 2014 which brings the Eagles' total free agent war chest to $25 million.
In free agency, the Eagles' first priority must be replacing Cary Williams. Most successful defensive schemes are predicated on a team’s best cover corner holding the opponent’s No. 1 receiver in-check. This was something Cary Williams struggled with all year as he finished the season as the 80th ranked corner on Pro Football Focus. For the Eagles’ defensive unit to have a true breakthrough in 2014, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman must upgrade the outside cornerback position.
Philadelphia’s front office also knows that it must improve the safety position in order to win a championship. Nate Allen has been a starter since he entered the NFL in 2010 and is coming off a career-high 94 tackles last season. But even at his best, Allen is simply not a difference maker and will likely sign elsewhere next season. With or without Allen, the defensive backfield is one of the team’s more glaring weaknesses.
Middle linebacker is another weakness that should be addressed. Coming off a 2013 season where he started all 16 games while recording 127 tackles and four sacks, starting "Mike" inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans appeared productive on paper. On film, however, Ryans looked like a square peg in a round hole on the field. The Eagles’ defensive captain was actually a liability against the run and the pass as he graded out second to last, ahead of only the 38-year-old London Fletcher, on Pro Football Focus’ 3-4 inside linebacker rankings.
The defensive end position is the final area of need on defense. Vinny Curry and Cedric Thornton were adequate but one-dimensional last season. Thornton was incredibly stout against the run but was incapable of pressuring the quarterback. Conversely, Curry was able to get to the quarterback but was a major liability against opposing running backs. Adding a more versatile defensive end should be high on the Eagles' wish-list this offseason.
On the offensive side of the ball, the X receiver position could be ripe for a major upgrade depending on the outcome of Philadelphia's contract negotiations with Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. Maclin is reportedly being courted by the New York Jets and others. He may be able parlay a weak receiver market and sign multiyear contract elsewhere despite tearing his ACL last summer.
When the Eagles deliberate Cooper’s next contract offer, his blocking ability and knowledge of Chip Kelly's system makes him attractive. However, he lacks the long speed and ability to consistently separate that true go-to receivers possess.
Given these weaknesses and yesterday's unexpected NFL salary cap increase, here are the best possible free agents that the Eagles could sign this offseason.
5. Brandon Spikes
New England Patriots inside linebacker Brandon Spikes was the best 3-4 run stuffer in the NFL in 2013. However, with an abundance of in-house talent at the linebacker position, the Patriots are not expected to re-sign him. Adding Spikes would immediately upgrade the Eagles' porous rush defense.
4. Arthur Jones
Arthur Jones is not expected back with the Baltimore Ravens in 2014. Jones is one of the few 3-4 defensive ends who can stuff run plays while consistently pressuring the quarterback on passing downs. The Eagles need a versatile defensive end to free up Fletcher Cox and Trent Cole on the edges.
3. Jairus Byrd
Jairus Byrd publicly announced his frustration with the Buffalo Bills after the team hit their star safety with the franchise tag in 2013. Byrd has already warned the Bills that if they franchise him again in 2014, the relationship will be irreparable. Rather than risking the possibility of a holdout and the inevitable locker room distraction, look for the Bills to let Byrd test the free agent market this offseason.
Byrd is one of only a handful of two-way safeties in the NFL that excel against both the run and the pass. With Eagles struggling in both departments in 2013, Byrd would be an ideal fit for the team's beleaguered secondary.
2. Eric Decker
Reports have surfaced that Eric Decker is intent on leaving the Denver Broncos to be paid like a No. 1 wide receiver. At first glance, Decker's productivity would seem inflated by catching passes from Peyton Manning. Upon further examination, Decker's targets were comparatively low, and his efficiency, particularly in the red zone, was near the top of the league.
The Eagles can pay Eric Decker more than the Broncos, and he is perfectly suited to take over Riley Cooper's role as the X receiver. Pairing Decker with DeSean Jackson would provide Philadelphia with explosive athleticism on both sides of the field and truly unlock the potential of Chip Kelly's offensive attack.
1. Brent Grimes
The Miami Dolphins are not expected to hit Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes with the franchise tag. Grimes graded out as the No. 2 cornerback in the NFL on Pro Football Focus in 2013 and would be hands-down the best cornerback on the market if Miami lets him walk.