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Hunt For Big Games, Not Names

Posted Mar 14, 2013

The Eagles aren't finished in free agency yet, and what direction they take next we just don't know. They are searching for players with big games, not big names, as they add depth and talent to the roster ...

The team introduced two of their newest players on Wednesday, tight end James Casey and defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga, and both were lauded as the kind of players Chip Kelly wants: tough, versatile and productive.

That's the theme of this free-agency class and, I suspect, the way Kelly will conduct his roster business. There are no free rides, no bonus babies, and no privileged few. Kelly wants to see how his players, every single one of them, performs on the field and who will earn the right for playing time.

In this free-agency crapshoot -- and, let's face it, that's exactly what it is -- the Eagles hope to bring onboard players who are going to fill needs. And with a team that went 4-12 last season, there are plenty of needs.

That's why this initial group of five players is so interesting. Tight end James Casey, for example, had as many as 15-18 teams chasing him -- depending on reports -- and yet he's hardly a household name. In 2012, Casey's 34 receptions were a career best, so why were so many teams interested in someone who hardly has posted eye-popping numbers?

It's because Casey is a player the Eagles, and many other teams, have tracked since he came into the league. He's a tremendous athlete, highly versatile, a great character player, and the feeling is that he needs to be given a chance to shine to truly show the world how good he can be in the NFL.

He's going to get that chance with the Eagles. Kelly's mind is far, far advanced beyond mine, so it wouldn't surprise me to see Casey as a tight end along with Brent Celek, or as an in-motion H-back, or as a wide receiver in a tight end's body. If the comparison to the way New England uses Aaron Hernandez is at all valid, then you're going to see Casey all over the formation, and you're going to see the ball in his hands a lot, including in the red zone as a big-bodied target.

Sopoaga is going to play up and down the defensive line in this defense, no matter the alignment. If the Eagles use some 3-man fronts, he'll be a nose tackle along with Antonio Dixon. In the 4-3, Sopoaga will line up at defensive tackle. He's a massive man, a hard-working player and he's obviously very confident in his ability to make plays and improve this defense.

In the secondary, well, the Eagles probably still have some work to do. They added Bradley Fletcher to help at cornerback, and he's a long-armed, big-bodied player who is best in a bump-and-run format. Is Fletcher a starter? He has to earn it. Same with Patrick Chung, who comes on board from New England and adds to a picture in need of improvement at safety.

The Eagles aren't finished in free agency, in the trade route and, of course, the draft is still five weeks away. They may want to think long and hard and get another lineman in here to complete the offensive line of scrimmage. Perhaps there is a multi-dimensional playmaker out there who can help Kelly's offense.

And then there's the defense. The goal, as it is with every team, is to find players who are going to make a difference. How many of those kinds of players are on this defense? Is Trent Cole able to return to his Pro Bowl ways? Can Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks take that next step in year two of their NFL careers? Will DeMeco Ryans flourish in the Bill Davis defense?

Where does the team go next in free agency? There have been so many players on the move in these dizzying three days, and it's clear the Eagles want to build the right way and not tie themselves up with contracts as Kelly introduces his schemes to the locker room.

Maybe the focus moves now toward the draft. There are still a couple of days to go before the NFL convenes in Arizona for NFL Owners Meetings, an unofficial gateway into the draft process. There will still be some signings after Saturday, but the pace is expected to slow to a trickle.

There is enough talent remaining in free agency to upgrade this roster, but are there difference makers out there? That's for Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman to determine. While the Eagles still have some money to spend within the salary cap, how prudent is it to do so at this point?

The bottom line is that the Eagles are looking at big games and not big names. That much is clear. The 2011 frenzy is a lesson learned. Only left offensive guard Evan Mathis remains from that signing spree, and he was perhaps the least-heralded signing of the bunch that summer.

The hunt continues for a specific player, one who fits the criteria Kelly outlines. The Eagles just can't have too many players who bring it every day, who want to be great, and who are able to do the many things that Kelly and his staff are going to ask.

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