COMMENTARY | Now that the NFL Scouting Combine has come and gone, Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles will be turning their attention to the start of free agency on March 12.
Thankfully, the Eagles aren't expected to go on the kind of free agent-spending spree that ended up backfiring on them big time in 2011. But there certainly will be opportunities for some judicious acquisitions to help fill the many needs that can't all be met through the draft in April.
Much, of course, depends on which prospects the Eagles plan to pursue with their draft picks, as well as which current players are released. The Birds already parted ways with veteran defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson on Feb. 25. The team is also expected to release at least one -- and possibly both -- of their underachieving cornerbacks, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Add to that the need for a serious upgrade at safety, and other personnel changes necessitated by an apparent switch to a hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme, and suddenly the Eagles could be looking to add as many as eight to 10 new players -- and that's just on defense.
The offensive line depth chart could use a boost too, considering how the unit floundered after Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans were lost to injury last season. Veteran guard Jake Scott is probably worth keeping, at least in a backup capacity, but the Eagles certainly can do better than King Dunlap, Dallas Reynolds and Dennis Kelly. And let's be honest -- the likelihood that Danny Watkins is suddenly going to catch fire after two terrible seasons is slimmer than DeSean Jackson's pinkie finger. It's time to declare the former firefighter/first round draft pick D.O.A.
So, which free agents should be on the Eagles' radar under ideal circumstances? Forget about flashy, big-name players like Osi Umenyiora, Brian Urlacher or Wes Welker, all of whom are on the wrong side of 30. Instead, the Eagles should give serious consideration to these younger unrestricted free agents who possess a significant potential upside:
Defensive Free Agents
A second-round draft pick in 2009, Smith has been coming on strong for the last several years and has the kind of size that is scarce among defensive backs. He's also someone the Eagles are already considering, according to Geoff Mosher of CSN.Philly.com. Smith was targeted 113 times in 2012, but opposing quarterbacks completed only 54.9 percent of their attempts and Smith missed only four tackles. Sounds like a major upgrade for the Birds.
According to Josh Alper of NBCsports.com, the 49ers are leaning against tagging Goldson this season and talks for a long-term deal have not been promising. That could be very good news for the Eagles, who sorely need a safety like Goldson, who has 14 career interceptions (over a four-year period) in addition to five forced fumbles and three sacks.
The Lions have been discussing a new contract with Avril's agent, but it's unlikely they will be willing or able to fork over the kind of cash the young defensive end can command. With nearly 40 career sacks and 16 forced fumbles, Avril is someone the Eagles should consider ponying up some big bucks to steal if he fits into the new defensive scheme.
Another worthy option at defensive end, Bennett led the Bucks in sacks last season, but it's unclear how much of a raise the team is ready to give him. If the Eagles want to add another pass rusher who knows how to bring the pressure, they should try to lure Bennett away from the Bucs.
Ellerbe went from being an undrafted free agent in 2009 to leading the Ravens with a team-high nine tackles in their Super Bowl victory over the 49ers. His impressive 2012 stats also include 32 tackles in the playoffs and an interception of Tom Brady in the AFC championship game. If the Eagles are looking to shore up the linebacker position, Ellerbe should be their go-to guy.
Offensive Free Agents
When it comes to consistency, it's hard to beat Levitre. The 2009 second-round draft pick has started in all 64 consecutive games of his career, proving his stamina and durability -- something the Eagles could definitely use on the O-line. Levitre also has been versatile, playing at both left guard and left tackle. So if Jason Peters isn't fully recovered from his achilles injury, and the Bills aren't able to pay Levitre what he wants, the Birds should make a play for him.
Vasquez has been an anchor at right guard on the Chargers' O-line, starting in 54 games over the last four seasons. The former third-round draft pick is already attracting interest from teams looking to better protect their quarterbacks, and the Eagles should do everything they can to be at the front of the line, because Vasquez would be a major upgrade over Danny Watkins.
Doug Legursky, C, Pittsburgh Steelers6'1", 315 pounds, age 26
Legursky was signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2008, and has mostly played as a backup at center and right guard, starting in 17 out of 50 games. But Legursky is no stranger to big games: in his first postseason start at center, he replaced an injured Maurkice Pouncey in Super Bowl XLV. This is a guy the Eagles could really use on the roster in the event of injuries.
Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee Titans6'5", 248 pounds, age 25 2012 stats: 44 Rec., 523 yards, 11.9 avg., 4 TDs
With Brent Celek and Clay Harbor hardly setting the world on fire, the Eagles should bring in another tight end to compete for a starting spot, especially if Chip Kelly goes with a two-tight end offense. The Titans definitely want to keep Cook, but if they don't tag him and he ends up on the market, he'd make a great addition to the Eagles' offense.
Special Teams Free Agents
Kevin Huber, Punter, Cincinnati Bengals6'1", 212 pounds, age 27 2012 stats: 76 punts, 46.6 avg., 69 long, 33 inside 20
One thing Mat McBriar has not been able to do consistently for the Eagles is pin opponents within the 20 yard line, doing so on only 13 occasions in 2012. Huber was able to do that 33 times last season. Who would you rather have punting for the Eagles?
Gary Strassberg has been a journalist for more than 20 years. He has worked for the E.W. Scripps Company, The Nielsen Company, and other media outlets. Follow Gary on Twitter: @GaryStrassberg
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