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Better Option: Free Agents Or Trade Route?

The warning words for every pre-free agency period are the same: Don't expect too much. With so many teams having so much room under the salary cap, the pool of players available will be shallow. When it all goes down on Friday, February 27 at 12:01 a.m., whose phones will be ringing?

I've looked at the list, one that is sure to narrow in the coming week. And my conclusion is that there just isn't much out there. If I'm running the show with the Eagles, and thank goodness I'm not, the best route to take is to concentrate on the Eagles' free-agents-to-be and to get creative and keep open all avenues of player acquisition.

In fact, it isn't a stretch to suggest that trades may yield more help than signing free agents, and that is tricky, tricky territory for the Eagles and for any team.

Go ahead and tell me which free agents that are on the list right now make sense for the Eagles. I'm talking about the upper-tier players, the players who are worthy of that first-weekend attention. Albert Haynesworth? Well, yeah, great player and everything, but the Eagles already have a good situation at defensive tackle. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha? Again, fantastic player, but the Eagles went that route last year and I just don't see them going for a cornerback again. Besides, Asomugha is unlikely to actually reach free agency, anyway.

Who else grabs your fancy? Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh has been fantastic as a Bengal, incredibly productive and he is an outstanding player. But he comes with questions, no? Speed, age, etc. Is he is a first-day unrestricted free agent? I'm not sure about that. Maybe he is.

See, I'm picking through the thicket that is the Eagles' pre-free agency smokescreen. They give out no information to the media, and they don't exactly walk through the hallways here announcing their intentions. I walk into an office here and there and ask questions and I get polite smiles and then a few minutes of mumbo-jumbo and, really, nothing. So I walk out. And I talk to my co-workers and we kick around scenarios and this is the one I have arrived at today: The trade route might be the best route for the Eagles to go in this off-season.

I'm not kidding. The Eagles have made their fair share of trades before, and they have done so with reasonable success. They landed Terrell Owens in a trade, Donte' Stallworth in a trade, Takeo Spikes in a trade and, in the best trade of all, defensive end Hugh Douglas from the Jets in a trade for second- and fifth-round draft picks.

Of course, there have been some misses along the way, but for the most part the Eagles have been strategic and successful in their trade moves. Why not take that route this year?

I am under no illusions about what the Eagles can truly add in the months ahead. They aren't going to re-make this roster. They aren't going to turn things upside down. If the Eagles are able to match what they did last year when they signed Asante Samuel and Chris Clemons in the first two days of free agency, hey, I'm thrilled. Get two players in the pre-draft period who can help, along with concentrating on signing some of the free agents-to be on the current roster and the Eagles can go into late April confident that they don't have to "reach" to fill a glaring need.

That is really what the pre-draft weeks are all about. Too many times teams go into a draft knowing they "have" to fill a position and they make mistakes. The Eagles have done it, although probably less than many teams in the league.

Anyway, back to the thinking -- at least for this day -- that maybe the Eagles can work some trade magic rather than spending money on free agents. There are many questions, and many negotiations that have to take place -- first with a team that is willing to tango, and then with a player who usually wants a new contract when a trade happens -- but that is one of the challenges of the off-season. Nothing is going to come easily.

Teams that take the "traditional" route in free agency have to compete against each other and recruit players with piles of money and sweet talk. Trades are going to be every bit as challenging, perhaps even moreso than in recent years. Teams want to hold on to their good players, and teams have money to re-do deals for disgruntled players.

You read and hear about this player and that player being "available" for a trade, but the truth isn't always in the advertising. Teams have to work long and hard to make a deal happen, and so I am going to be on full alert if free agency begins and the Eagles are silent. I expect the team to be aggressive, as usual. But if they aren't out there on that first weekend making something happen, what are they doing?

Chances are they will be, in that scenario, talking to teams behind the scenes trying to work out a deal.

Hey, who knows. I'm just like you, counting it all down, wondering and waiting for the off-season to kick into high gear. I know all the rumors out there, many of which are simply ridiculous. The Eagles head to the Scouting Combine on Wednesday, taking a respite from their aim at free agency. Next week promises to hold the key days for the blueprint to begin to unfold, and I truly do think the Eagles must consider making trades -- one or two -- to acquire some impact.

They have draft picks to deal, and they have some veterans with value. They have cap room. They have a lot of good things going for them, and the most creative minds will yield the best results as the Eagles talk with teams around the league between now and the draft.

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