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Playing Free Agency The Right Way

Posted Mar 17, 2014

A couple of splashes, some ripples and, all in all, a strong performance in free agency. That's the way it looks from this perspective on the Eagles' achievements in free agency ...

In the days before free agency started, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman described the market as one that lacked the depth in talent it had in previous years and, in fact, referred to the free-agency pool as "depleted." The Eagles had a strong sense of how quickly they needed to get into the market to sign their target players and then how rapidly the higher-level players would commit to deals.

With a plan in place, the Eagles put the wheels in motion weeks before free agency began. They took care of some of their own players, retaining wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin before they hit the market, and they extended the contracts of left tackle Jason Peters and center Jason Kelce. The Eagles also released wide receiver Jason Avant prior to free agency to give him an opportunity to find a home in another NFL city.

A young player who is on the rise, defensive end Cedric Thornton, signed a one-year contract as a restricted free agent. Thornton is among the core of players around whom the Eagles hope to build the roster for years to come.

When free agency began, the Eagles moved quickly. They released safety Patrick Chung and re-signed punter Donnie Jones to a three-year contract, retaining a player who was so valuable to the team in 2013. Then the Eagles secured their first priority, safety Malcolm Jenkins. The market for safeties in free agency moved quickly, and the Eagles got their man in Jenkins, a player they believe will fit perfectly into the scheme as a cover safety with versatility.

One day after Jenkins, the Eagles addressed special teams with the additions of Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman, two players who are expected to impact coverage and kick protection and blocking on every level. They were important additions, and the market was brisk in those first few days of free agency.

On Thursday, Day 3 of free agency, the Eagles had a strong 1-2 announcement: they traded a fifth-round draft pick in May to New Orleans for running back/receiver/kick returner Darren Sproles, and they signed cornerback Nolan Carroll to a three-year contract.

Sproles -- who a day later signed a contract extension through the 2016 season -- is the kind of player who upgrades the Eagles on special teams and on offense. He's a playmaker with special skills who can be used in a variety of ways. Is he is running back? Is he a receiver? Is he both? Chip Kelly is going to have fun working Sproles into the offense, and special teams have an immediate threat with Sproles on kick return duty.

Next was cornerback Nolan Carroll, who said he was told by Kelly that he is here to compete for a starting job. That's what you want to hear at every position. The Eagles want competition across the board, and with Carroll in at cornerback, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, along with Brandon Boykin, will push each other in training camp.

After a quiet weekend, and with safety market thinned out considerably, the Eagles brought back Nate Allen on a one-year deal. He's the fifth safety on the roster, and the Eagles will likely add at least another on the way to a 90-man summer roster. Allen played improved football in 2013 as he tackling improved and his fundamental ability in coverage and in assignment checks got better. He's in another prove-it contract year, and should compete for playing time in the summer.

Free agency is not yet over, but the marquee additions are most likely done for the Eagles. They still have holes on the roster, as Kelly said when he spoke to reporters late last week and so it's possible the Eagles could add another player or two as the market continues.

The Eagles are playing it smart. It's been a productive last few weeks as the Eagles have used a combination of retaining their own players, playing the free-agent market wisely and using an asset (a fifth-round draft pick) to acquire a dynamic talent in Sproles.

In the process, the Eagles have continued to distance themselves in the NFC East. None of the other three teams acquired any difference-making talent, so it appears -- at this juncture, and there is a long way to go -- that the Eagles are the class of the NFC East. They are a building team.

They didn't reach in free agency. They didn't compromise any of their long-range plans. They stuck to their blueprint and helped the roster in every phase of the game, and the Eagles still look forward with the remainder of free agency here, smart decisions potentially to be made in terms of adding more talent, and then turning full attention to May's draft.

It has gone the way the Eagles expected it to go. They moved quickly when needed, backed off when necessary, and plied the trade route until they saw something they couldn't refuse. It's all added up to a better roster as the Eagles build for the present and the future.

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