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Fan-Demonium: Free Agency Preview

Posted Mar 7, 2012

Fan-Demonium

Free agency starts next Tuesday at 4 PM EST. This is exciting news because it means that we will finally get some activity. Signing linebacker Monte Simmons and tackle D.J. Jones was nice. Hiring Todd Bowles was a great move. But let's be honest. We want "real" moves - adding major players.

Don't expect anything like last year. The Eagles had a real young roster with several holes that needed to be addressed. This year there is a better mixture of youth and veterans. There aren't nearly as many holes. Free agency will be a much different experience this time around and there is nothing wrong with that. I want the team go out and sign or trade for a starting linebacker. Beyond that I think the team should focus on backups.

The Eagles can make other moves based on how things play out. Every year we see some players who seem to slip through the cracks for some odd reason. Should the Eagles see the right player available at the right price, maybe they make surprise move or two. Don't count on those, but never rule them out.

What happens next week will give us a major hint about draft plans. Luke Kuechly has been mentioned as an Eagles target for months. If the team goes out and signs a middle linebacker, Kuechly becomes a much less likely target, if not a non-target. If the team goes for an outside linebacker in free agency, then Kuechly might be the primary target at pick 15.

There is a similar scenario at wide receiver. If the team goes for Plaxico Burress or a similar receiver, then going for a big pass catcher in the draft is less likely. It the team passes on Burress, maybe the Eagles have a draft prospect they have really taken a liking to. There are some big receivers in the upcoming draft who would look pretty good in midnight green.

It will be interesting to see not only who the Eagles go after, but how they go after players. Last year there was a flurry of activity in a short period. This time around there is a full off-season. Teams, players, and agents will spread things out a lot more. The first few days of free agency will be crazy, but then things will calm down. All parties involved will step back and review the situation. That's when the second wave of free agency will start.

I imagine the Eagles will go for a linebacker pretty quickly. The big name is Curtis Lofton of Atlanta. He is an outstanding player. I've seen plenty of reports questioning his coverage skills, but Lofton didn't look like a coverage liability to me. He looked like a normal middle linebacker. He's best against the run and up and down when it comes to coverage. I think Lofton would be an excellent addition for the Eagles. The big question with him is cost. There are some reports that Lofton is looking for huge money. I don't think he is worth elite pay. Lofton is a good middle linebacker, but he's not a difference maker. Do you break the bank for a guy like that?

Stephen Tulloch is another player who could be of interest. The Eagles didn't make a play for him last year, though. Tulloch was asking for $6 million per season. No team came close to that so he settled for a one-year deal from Detroit. The Lions want to keep him, but it doesn't sound like he and the team are close at all. I'm guessing he's once again looking for big money. Tulloch has a strong reputation, but when I watch tape of him I see a good player, just nothing special. He's not my preference.

David Hawthorne has quietly led the Seahawks in tackles for three straight years. He has played in the middle and on the weak side. He's shown some playmaking potential with seven interceptions, six sacks, and five forced fumbles in those three years. I think all Eagles fans remember his pick of Vince Young that he ran back for a long touchdown. That was a nail in the coffin in that tough loss. Hawthorne could be a really good target. He is a good player, but will have a reasonable price. Hawthorne will turn 27 this spring so he's in the prime of his career. Goes almost 250 pounds so he's got the size you want. He is a good hitter and solid tackler. I think he would be a good fit in the middle of the Eagles defense.

I have to admit being fascinated with the idea of going after London Fletcher. He remains a very good middle linebacker. Fletcher has started to show some signs of slowing down, but he still managed to post ridiculous numbers last year. Fletcher had 166 total tackles, two interceptions, and three forced fumbles. He also knocked the crap out of any player that got near him. I love the fact he's built like a tank. Fletcher is short, but his thick, powerful build allows him to pack a major punch when he tackles. He will turn 37 in May so Fletcher would just be a short-term solution. I'd still love to see him in midnight green. He could be the defensive version of Brian Mitchell. Remember him? The ‘Skins thought he was over the hill so Mitchell traveled up I-95 and became a special teams demon for the Eagles. He is one of the great free agent signings of the Andy Reid era. I don't know if the Eagles will have serious interest in Fletcher because of his age, but I would love to see him running around and punishing Cowboys, Giants, and ‘Skins players for the Eagles defense. That would be great to see.

There has been some recent talk about Dan Connor of the Panthers. He was a terrific player at Penn State and has developed into a solid pro. Connor isn't a guy you make a primary target. He would be someone to go after if the first set of targets re-signed or went elsewhere. Connor is a good run defender. I think he is best suited for a downhill scheme where he can regularly attack the line of scrimmage. The Eagles need linebackers that can attack or move east-west along the line of scrimmage. Connor could fit, but it wouldn't be an ideal match.

Is there a sleeper name to watch? Larry Grant started in place of Patrick Willis for several games this year in San Francisco. Grant played very well and could get some looks from a team as a starting middle linebacker. I think he's too much of an unknown for the Eagles to make him a primary target. He could be a fallback option.

There are other names out there like Barrett Ruud, Jameel McClain, and Jo-Lonn Dunbar, but I've watched tape and I'm not all that impressed with them for what the Eagles are looking for.

The Eagles still have some internal questions to deal with. DeSean Jackson got the franchise tag. Now the team has to get a long term deal done with him. Left guard Evan Mathis is a free agent. He wants to stay and the team wants him. Trying to find the right price has proven to be trickier than anticipated. I'm still hopeful that situation works out. Mathis was terrific for the Eagles in 2011.

Lawlor

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He was a finalist for Philadelphia's Most Influential Blogger Award and is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com




Defensive tackle is a bit up in the air. Antonio Dixon is a restricted free agent. Depending on what level of tender the Eagles put on him, some other team could consider going after him. I don't think that is likely to happen, but it is possible. The Eagles definitely want him back. Trevor Laws and Derek Landri are free agents. I don't think the team will keep both. I think you all know that Landri would be my choice. If reports are right, the team is talking more to Laws because of his youth and versatility. My free advice to the Eagles. When in doubt, keep it simple. Watch the game tape and choose the better player.

Let's talk about some miscellaneous names of interest:

DE Mario Williams - The Eagles don't need a starting defensive end, but Williams is a special player. The team will certainly discuss him as a target. They won't likely decide to go for him due to the certain bidding war for his services, but he's too good not to at least discuss adding.

DT Jason Jones - Interesting player. He thrived for Jim Washburn playing on the inside at tackle. The Titans moved him to end last year and he struggled. I think some team will go after him, but if Jones is one of those guys with no offers after a week, maybe the Eagles do give him a call. He would be a good fit here.

WR Plaxico Burress - I hope the Eagles seriously consider him. The red zone offense got better down the stretch last year, but could always use a big, physical target. Burress isn't starter material anymore, but could be a good role player.

SS LaRon Landry - Pass on him. Landry hasn't been healthy for two years and if you read his thoughts on medicine/healing, he's an odd duck. Very talented player, but he is a risk and will cost big money.

OG Carl Nicks - Dominating player, but he will cost a fortune. I'd rather see the Eagles get Mathis re-signed than unload a Brinks truck at Nicks front door. Wants to be the highest paid guard in the league.

OG Mike Brisiel - If the Mathis situation falls apart, Brisiel could be of interest as a replacement. He has the kind of build that Howard Mudd likes at 6-5 and 300 pounds. He's got 47 career starts. He is an overachiever type who won't be looking for mega-bucks.

RS Eddie Royal - Back in the 2008 draft I wanted Royal to fall down to the Eagles pick. Instead, the Broncos nabbed him and we had to "settle" for DeSean Jackson. I'm glad I was wrong about that. Royal is up and down as a receiver, but has good return skills. I think the Eagles would rather find a returner in the draft, but if the price is right, Royal could be of interest.

I've mentioned cost and price quite a bit. Some of you may wonder why. The Eagles have LeSean McCoy and Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie scheduled to hit free agency next year. Jeremy Maclin could get an extension at some point. Dixon will be an unrestricted free agent next year, unless the team works out an extension with him. You always have to focus on your own players. Throwing money at outsiders sounds good in early March, but it isn't a prudent way to run a team long term. Be careful what you spend in free agency so that you can keep the homegrown players that you want to stick around.

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