In their own very particular way, offensive guard Brandon Brooks and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave are case studies for what NFL free agency is all about and are, stepping back and seeing the big picture, exactly what the Eagles would love to add to the 2022 roster when that portion of the offseason opens on March 16.
Brooks, who announced on Wednesday that he was retiring from the game after 10 seasons, and Hargrave, who later that day was named to the 2022 Pro Bowl, are perfect examples of what happens when good scouting and proper allocation of roster priorities come together in the frenzy of free agency. Both players started their NFL careers elsewhere – Brooks played four seasons with Houston and Hargrave was a starter with Pittsburgh for all four of his seasons, playing about half of the defensive snaps until his final season when injuries pushed that percentage higher – before the opportunity to test free agency came about. Neither player generated pre-free agency buzz in those "Best of" lists that fans obsess over every year and that have already circulated looking ahead to March 16.
What's interesting is that, while the Eagles placed a high value on both players, the "Best of" lists didn't go quite that far. In 2016, NFL.com listed Brooks as the 60th best-available free agent under the heading "Starters With Questions." Of Brooks, NFL.com said, "He has shown that he can start in multiple systems." And that's all it said.
ESPN.com ranked Hargrave as its 46th-best free agent in 2020, saying of him, "Not many people outside of the Steelers' fan base know of him, and he doesn't show up on many stat sheets. But Hargrave has been a four-year starter who gets more of a push than you would think for a traditional nose tackle."
Both players were coveted by teams who valued the importance of winning in the trenches and who recognized that changing scenery could bring out the very best in both. In the cases of Brooks in 2016 and Hargrave in 2020, the Eagles lined up each atop their free agent "want" list and made aggressive, pointed, and immediate pitches and landed both and, ultimately, added two Pro Bowl players to their roster. Both are examples of how it is supposed to work in free agency when everything works for a team and for a player.
We are still a long ways away from the start of the NFL's 2022 Business Year and, thus, free agency remains on the horizon. The Eagles are in the process of evaluating every player on the current roster and assigning grades to prospective free agents. After that, the team's decision-makers will map out their strategy, taking into account the available talent, how the current roster looks, and the impact the NFL Draft might have later in the spring and what it all means within the confines of the $208.2 million salary cap.
Adding players like Brooks and Hargrave is the goal. Both were just entering their prime NFL seasons when they hit free agency and both had enjoyed success in the league. The Eagles felt that, for Brooks, a chance to work with Offensive Line Coach Jeff Stoutland in a highly successful environment would help Brooks elevate his performance. That's exactly what happened, as Brooks made three Pro Bowls and was the best right guard in the NFL as the Eagles won a Super Bowl and dominated at the line of scrimmage. The move to Philadelphia and a four-man front has brought out the best in Hargrave, who in 2021 recorded career-best numbers in quarterback sacks (7.5), tackles for loss (9), and total tackles (63).
"Free agency worked out perfectly for me," Brooks said. "The Eagles showed how much they wanted me, Stout was the perfect coach for me, and I worked with the best of the best on the offensive line. You know going into the process that you're looking for certain things and the Eagles met every one of my interests. It couldn't have been a better situation for me."
There are obviously no guarantees that the Eagles are going to sign a Brooks or a Hargrave when free agency begins on March 16. It's just an interesting parallel to make at a time when the "Best of" lists are out and Eagles fans are busy penciling in their wants for this football team. Neither Brooks nor Hargrave attracted headlines when those lists came out upon their free agency experiences, but the Eagles performed their due diligence and landed exactly what they wanted in both players.
That's where we are right now – the due diligence part. When March 16 arrives, we'll see whom the Eagles have targeted, hoping history repeats itself as the roster acquisition period begins anew.