The offseason officially gets underway at 4 PM. It would be a lot of fun if the Eagles had a major visit lined up or a player ready to sign, but that's not always the best course of action. The Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010 with almost an entirely homegrown team. The Giants won the next year with a handful of free agents sprinkled in with key players who were drafted and developed. The Ravens won it all this year with the help of a few free agents, but mostly homegrown talent.
Teams that have to make splash signings usually have major holes to fill. The Eagles have some areas that need help. There is nothing wrong with using free agency. It can be a valuable tool. You just don't want to overdo it or load up on too many stars. The key is finding players who fit what you want to do. Back in 2000, Andy Reid signed Jon Runyan, Carlos Emmons, Brian Mitchell, Paul Grasmanis and Jeff Thomason. That turned out to be a better group than the 2011 cast of stars.
Runyan was brought in to play right tackle, which is what he did in Tennessee. He had to learn a new playbook, but his job was essentially the same. The only real difference was more pass blocking than run blocking. Emmons was miscast in the Steelers' 3-4 scheme. He wasn't meant to be a pass rusher. The late Jim Johnson wanted him to be a strongside linebacker. Johnson thought Emmons could play the run, cover tight ends and occasionally blitz. Mitchell came here to be a backup running back, but primarily to be the return specialist. Grasmanis was going to be the No. 3 defensive tackle. Thomason was going to be the backup tight end. Every player had a role that matched his experience and skill set. That group helped the Eagles become a winning organization.
We don't yet know what the Eagles free agency plan is, but if they could come away from this period with a pair of starters and three key role players, it would be a success. It is possible the team could try to add even more than two starters. That's fine, depending on who the players are and how well they fit in. I'm sure that general manager Howie Roseman and others in the personnel department have studied success and failures of the last couple of offseasons. They'll build a smart plan.
The key for me is the secondary. I want the Eagles to land a pair of starters, one a corner and the other a safety. Mix those guys in with returning players and whoever you add in the draft and you could see a major improvement in 2013. There isn't one cornerback who I'm completely sold on. Antoine Cason of the Chargers is a player I've liked since he was in college. It would be interesting to see him as an Eagle. Sean Smith is the biggest corner. He's almost 6-4 and weighs almost 220 pounds. That is a huge corner. He lacks ideal agility, but is physical and runs well.
The guy who fascinates me the most is Bradley Fletcher from St. Louis. He missed time in 2011 due to an injury and was just a backup last year, but if you put on the tape, he's got the best pure cover skills of any corner on the market. You are taking a bit of a chance on him, but he played all 16 games in 2010 and 2012 so it isn't like he's injury prone. The reason he was a backup is that the Rams signed Cortland Finnegan and drafted Janoris Jenkins early. That pushed Fletcher to the back burner. He was the No. 3 corner and played well. Fletcher will turn 27 this summer and has plenty of good football left in front of him.
There are still several safeties to choose from. Dashon Goldson is the big name. He's been outstanding for the Niners in recent years. Glover Quin is a free safety for the Texans. Adam Caplan and Greg Cosell did a great job breaking down his game in the Film Room segments for PhiladelphiaEagles.com. Those are must-watch material, by the way. Chris Clemons of the Dolphins is a player on the rise. He could play deep or in the box. Patrick Chung is a player who really impressed me when I studied him.
LaRon Landry is the player who really got my attention. I put on a Jets game from last season, not sure what to expect. On the first play, Landry walked down in the box and stuffed a run. A few plays later, he shed the block of an offensive lineman to help disrupt a run play. Wow. Landry had four forced fumbles. That shows he hits with impact. To put that in perspective, the entire Eagles secondary had four forced fumbles in 2012. Landry is not great in coverage. He's better than people give him credit for, but his strength is playing the run and being a powerful hitter and tackler.
Landry would also make sense because defensive coordinator Bill Davis had a player just like him in Arizona. Adrian Wilson was a huge safety who could stuff the run and deliver impact hits. Landry is actually better in coverage, but very similar in other ways. I could see Davis valuing a versatile talent like that.
The Eagles could use help up front on defense. San Francisco's Ricky Jean-Francois is the hot name, but Oakland's Desmond Bryant is the guy who was more impressive on tape. Bryant has the size to be a defensive end, but played defensive tackle in Oakland. He started 18 games over the last couple of seasons and could become a good starter for some team. Bryant has the kind of size that I think Chip Kelly wants. He also offers versatility. If the Eagles want to run a creative defense, you need players that can handle multiple roles.
If the team goes for a nose tackle, Roy Miller is the player who could be targeted. Miller isn't going to get to the quarterback, but he will eat up blocks and stuff the run. Miller might remind you of a younger Mike Patterson. I just don't know if that's something the Eagles are looking for.
So what about offense? I don't anticipate the team adding offensive linemen. Help is needed, but my guess is that the Eagles wait for the draft so that they can add depth and youth. There are already several older guys in the lineup. I'm not against the team going for help here. I just don't see it as likely.
Tight end seems to be the one spot where the Eagles could make a move. One thing you must understand is that Kelly will use tight ends differently than Reid did. Kelly seems to want a mixture of H-backs and conventional in-line guys. Jared Cook is the big name to mention. He's almost in a category all of his own. Cook was essentially a giant slot receiver for the Titans. He has the speed to get deep. He also has the size to win matchups in traffic or around the line of scrimmage. Cook will have multiple suitors. He could be very pricey.
Dustin Keller is shorter than Cook, but also a speedy tight end who can make plays in the passing game. If the Eagles prefer a more versatile option, that would be James Casey. He can play fullback, H-back and tight end. He can catch and block. Casey would give Kelly a player to use creatively in the run and pass games. Delanie Walker is another option, but he doesn't have great hands and that could make him less attractive.
I don't know if the Eagles will jump into free agency with both feet right away or if they'll have a more measured approach. This is an odd year because of this past weekend when teams could talk to agents and begin the process of negotiating. As we always talk about this time of the year, the key isn't to make the biggest splash, but rather to make the right moves. I know I'm excited and can't wait to see what the Eagles do.