Free agency officially begins at 4 PM on Tuesday, as NFL teams will have the chance to go sign players who hit the market. The Eagles were very active last year. They were trying to add bodies to help the transition to the 3-4 defense. While the Eagles added several players, they didn't go after big-name targets. They focused more on mid-level guys and had some good success.
The Eagles don't need volume this year. I think you will be highly disappointed if you expect Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly to go sign five or six free agents in the first week. Most of the starting lineup is in place. I expect the Eagles to be very selective shoppers this year.
Fans make up a list of the top five players at a position and expect their team to target all five. Teams don't work like that. They rarely go into free agency thinking if the number one player at a spot is gone, we'll just shift to number two. If he's gone, we'll just shift to number three. NFL players must be the right fit to succeed on a team.
NFL teams tend to be choosier. They make a list of specific targets they're willing to spend big money on. If they fail to get those players, the team may sit back for a week or two and take a look at what's left, but this isn't like shoppers working on a list. You don't just replace one item with another. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, this is just the beginning of the offseason. Teams will still have the draft as a way to find some top talent. Some veteran players will be cut during the spring and summer so there is a second wave of free agents. Then you also have trades in the late summer and very patient teams could sort through the final cuts in early September. While it would be great to fill every hole on the roster by March 15, that's not reality.
The other factor here is that you don't want to commit resources to a player you don't believe in. If the Eagles go sign a player that might fit and they're willing to take a chance on, how are they going to feel if a terrific player at that position is there in the draft or if a veteran player of is cut later in the year. The Eagles could add those guys, but would have wasted money on signing the first player.
Years ago little Tommy Lawlor was in the middle of a great self-debate. I had three dollars and found some baseball cards that I wanted. They cost $2.64. These were some 1982 Topps cards that were sold at toy stores and it was a jumbo pack with something like 45 cards. I really wanted to make the purchase, but hated to blow all my cash. Money was tough to come by at age 12. My grandmother saw me agonizing over the situation and said, "When in doubt, leave it out." I put the cards back and kept the money. I'm sure I blew it on Cokes and Reese's Cups or comic books or smaller packs of baseball cards, but I wasn't comfortable with the big purchase so it was smart not to make it.
NFL teams can't just sign a guy because he might be a good addition. They need to believe he has a good chance of succeeding in whatever role they have designed for him. The team must believe in the signing. Do not settle.
Different teams have different philosophies when it comes to free agency. Ozzie Newsome is a terrific general manager. He's run the Ravens for quite a while now and really is a guru on team building. Newsome is willing to be patient in free agency almost better than any other general manager. Ted Thompson of the Packers just avoids it. Newsome will throw big money at players from time to time, but often will sit back and let the market play out. He prefers to build through the draft. He trusts his current roster and his coaching staff. He has faith that they will find and develop young talent. If the right free agent is available down the line, Newsome will add that player. He doesn't spend as much money and often gets a player with a chip on his shoulder. The Ravens have had a lot of success with this style of team building in recent years.
Part of the trick with Newsome's style is that you have to be willing to not count on free agency for help. There are times when the right players don't hit the market and he's stuck with a hole in his roster. Essentially, Newsome is playing chicken with the free agent market. Time has shown that he doesn't flinch. This isn't a perfect way of doing business, but there is some wisdom in it. Compare what he's done to teams like Dallas and Washington that are very active big shoppers.
Enough about philosophy, let's talk about players. I do think the Eagles will try to sign a key target or two.
The Eagles could use a starting safety. Or two. There are some players of interest so I think the Eagles will talk to them and see about a deal. Jairus Byrd is the big name. Byrd has been a ballhawk for the Buffalo Bills in his five years in the league. He has 22 interceptions and 33 pass breakups in that span. Byrd also has 11 forced fumbles. He is an outstanding cover safety who can help generate turnovers. The problem with Byrd is that the Bills let him sit back like a centerfielder most of the time. He could then attack the ball in front of him. I don't know if the Eagles want to run the defense like this. Comments from defensive coordinator Bill Davis made it seem like they didn't. If the Eagles decide having a safety who generates turnovers is worth it, they could offer a good-sized deal to Byrd.
T.J. Ward is another big name. Ward is a tough, physical player. He can unleash jarring hits on runners and receivers. That would be a welcome addition to the secondary since it has been lacking since Brian Dawkins left, but I don't get the feeling Ward will be a target.
Malcolm Jenkins of the Saints might be the best fit of any free agent safety. He is a very versatile player who could really help the Eagles. Jenkins can play in the box or back deep. He played in the slot on a regular basis for the Saints. They even used him at outside corner on occasion. Davis likes versatile defensive backs that he can move around. The argument against Jenkins is that he's not great at anything. He can do anything you want, but he's not an impact player or special in any way. One other reason the Eagles could like him is cost. I think Jenkins is more of a mid-level target.
Mike Mitchell had a great season in 2013 for the Carolina Panthers after having a non-descript career with the Raiders up to that point. Mitchell could be a good target, but players who coming off of a career year make me nervous. Can he repeat his 2013 success?
Everson Griffen is a player some people think the Eagles could target. I've got my doubts. He hasn't been a full-time starter in the NFL. He hasn't played in the 3-4. He hasn't played linebacker. That is a lot of unknowns in terms of a free agent target. Can you really offer him big money? If he was willing to sign a mid-level deal, then Griffen could absolutely be of interest. Let him come here and compete for a job.
Mike Neal had a breakout season for the Packers. He moved from defensive end to linebacker and played well. The problem with Neal is that he's more of a complementary pass rusher. The Eagles need a primary pass rusher, someone who can consistently beat left tackles. Neal played on the other side in Green Bay and had five sacks last year. If the Eagles didn't have
Some fans ask me about the Eagles going for a cornerback in free agency. I don't see that. They already have veteran players. I'm thinking the Eagles will look to the draft to help that spot.
I do wonder if they will go for a backup defensive end or nose tackle in free agency. There could be some interesting players to choose from. I didn't have time to focus on role players so I don't have any details on players they might target.
This week is going to be interesting. I'm looking forward to seeing what the Eagles do. Who knows...maybe they'll surprise us with a move or two.