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A Huge Day 1 In Free Agency

Posted Mar 12, 2013

All of those days and nights of preparation and planning paid dividends for the Eagles, who opened free agency on Tuesday by agreeing to terms with five players who are here to bolster depth ...

Everything happened so quickly on Tuesday that the news is going to take some time to settle in. First the team released cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, a move long anticipated and understood. Asomugha just did not play well enough in his two seasons here to justify a roster spot now.

That move happened officially about 15 minutes prior to the 4 p.m. start of free agency, and only a few hours passed before the news came fast and furiously.

First it was tight end James Casey who agreed to terms on a three-year contract, and in Casey the Eagles welcomed a player who brings versatility and a nice skill set to add to Chip Kelly's offense. It's hard to project a player we haven't seen much into an offensive scheme we haven't seen at all, but Casey figures to be a "move" player in the offense. He was used as both a tight end and a fullback with the Houston Texans and last year caught 34 passes.

Casey's role could expand if he is everything the Eagles think he can be. The team likes his toughness, his character, his ability as an in-line blocker and the way they hope to use him in the slot, and displaced in the formation, and as a tight end, and even as an H-back at times. How that works into Kelly's offense is the great unknown, but Casey's presence points to an element of unpredictability and explosiveness.

Kelly played with multiple tight ends at times in his days at Oregon, so it's conceivable that the Eagles will have some funky formations designed to create favorable matchups as they look to gash defenses in a variety of ways. Some in the media have compared Casey to Chris Cooley and Frank Wycheck, a couple of very accomplished former NFL tight ends who were tough to handle in the passing.

With the Casey deal agreed to, the Eagles quickly turned to the defensive side of the ball and added defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga, linebacker John Phillips, cornerback Bradley Fletcher and safety Patrick Chung.

Sopoaga is a nine-year veteran who started for years in San Francisco and who can line up as a nose tackle in the 3-4 and a stout tackle in the 4-3 on the defensive line. Phillips was a reserve and special teams contributor in Baltimore and Carolina and he'll add competition to both spots here. Chung is a rising talent who started 30 times in 50 games in New England and he clearly adds some talent to a safety group that is looking for upgrades. Fletcher started in 26 of his 43 games after the Rams made him a third-round draft pick in 2009 and he's got size -- 6-feet, 200 pounds -- length, and a history of being around the football. According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks who threw at Fletcher compiled a passer rating of 55.8 last year. That ranked Fletcher seventh among NFL cornerbacks. Impressive.

How do they fit in? That remains to be seen. There are no promises here. This isn't an approach to add big names, for none of the players have been to Pro Bowls or garnered any Top Free Agents To Watch notices.

But what you see is that the Eagles wanted good football players who, for the most part, are entering the primes of their careers. Fletcher is 26 years old. Casey is 28, having played in just  four NFL seasons. Chung is only 25. Phillips is 27 and while Sopoaga is 31, you understand that he's here to fill the void created when the Eagles released tackles Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins and allowed Derek Landri to test the free-agent market.

We've been waiting for a long, long time to see what the Eagles would do in free agency, and they didn't disappoint in the least on the first day. They used their prep time wisely and aggressively hammered down deals, and as a result the defense has, on paper, improved quite a bit from a depth standpoint.

Do the moves mean the Eagles are done, for example, at safety now that Chung is here, or at cornerback, with Fletcher in the fold? No, not at all. But it means the Eagles had no intention of throwing huge money at big names on the first day of free agency. They went and spent some money, no question about that, but they didn't leave it all in the hands of one or two high-profile players.

This is a developing roster. Don't think for a minute that Kelly or general manager Howie Roseman is finished building the best roster they can put together. Certainly, the Eagles hope that each of the five players who agreed to contract terms on Tuesday night will be difference makers in 2013, but that is never a guarantee. Instead, the Eagles are looking at each as a rising player or a solid veteran added to create competition and depth on the roster.

Who will have the most impact? That's impossible to say right now. Casey is going to potentially play a big part in the offense and Sopoaga may very well start along the defensive line. Fletcher has a chance to get some big-time playing minutes with a young group at the cornerback position, and Chung comes right in as competition for holdovers Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman at the safety spots.

But, truthfully, until Kelly and his coaching staff have a chance to see the players in practice and in game situations in these schemes, nobody really knows for sure.

What's great to know is that the Eagles entered free agency armed with a plan and went out and executed it flawlessly on day one. They set sights on their targets and hit bull's eye after bull's eye.

There is more to come, understand that. The Eagles still have room with in the salary cap and needs on the roster. Are there "big names" on the horizon? Maybe, but isn't the idea to sign good players and not "big" names? We've seen how that approach, circa 2011, doesn't always pan out.

The Eagles scored big on Day 1 of free agency. They impressed with the stealth-like approach and the precision of their targets and negotiations. They added the players they wanted to add, and in the words of Kelly, some of the very first words we learned when he was named head coach here, the Eagles won the day.

There are many more to come, so enjoy the ride as the Eagles build their roster for 2013.

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