Free agency was set up to be a dud for the Eagles in 2021. A team "in transition" with its roster figured to sit this one out and instead focus on the NFL Draft and all that surrounds it. The Eagles entered the free agency period in March as a team that observers expected to be silent in the world of signing veterans on the streets.
Well, it hasn't turned out quite that way.
As Ryan Kerrigan was introduced to the Philadelphia media on Monday and joined a defense that has been reshaped in part by – you know it – free agency, it is worth a peek into the smart approach the team has taken in free agency. There have been no lavish, multi-year contracts in free agency, but the Eagles have been able to add veteran players still producing at a high level to one-year contracts who have upped the talent level on the roster, improved the veteran leadership in the locker room, and given the younger players on the team a roadmap on how to do things right in this league and in these schemes.
At the end of the day, the method to the Eagles' roster-building has lent a new perspective here – instead of a defense learning Jonathan Gannon's scheme from scratch, the Eagles have safety Anthony Harris and linebacker Eric Wilson in and both of them have experience with Gannon and can help the teaching process. With Kerrigan and his 10 years of NFL experience on board, the Eagles add one of the game's most productive players of the last decade who is going to go all-out on every snap in practice and, as we've seen from his time playing with Washington, in game action.
Add those three veterans to a defense that has veterans like Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave and Darius Slay and others (Rodney McLeod, if his knee injury from last December allows him to get back into the lineup prior to September) and the defense suddenly has a new level of maturity and expectation, perhaps. The Eagles want to go after offenses in waves, and bringing in a player like Kerrigan and employing him in a rotational role, will help keep everyone fresh as the front – both against the run and the pass – wears down offensive lines. They want to change things up. They want to create havoc before and after the snap.
They want Kerrigan to be a big part of things as he blends into what is already here.
"I feel like with this defense and the way we're going to do some things, it's going to allow us to be pretty multiple up front and allow us to not do the same thing over and over again," Kerrigan said. "I think that's going to allow us to gain an edge mentally pre-snap."
Trading for a second-year player like cornerback Josiah Scott, a prospect the Eagles liked in the 2020 NFL Draft who ended up going to Jacksonville in the fourth round, gives the Eagles a young player to develop at the cost of a sixth-round draft pick in 2023 and a cornerback, Jameson Houston, who was going to have a tough time making the roster. Low risk, good upside.
That's really been the approach in free agency, and it has changed the complexion of the team. Quarterback Joe Flacco brings with him 14 years of NFL experience, a Super Bowl victory, and someone who will spread his wealth of knowledge to Hurts.
At running back, the Eagles claimed fourth-year man Kerryon Johnson off waivers from Detroit and Johnson gives the team a young, talented player who has a chip on his shoulder from the way things went down with the Lions. Now the running backs have some real competition in that room, having also added Kenneth Gainwell in the NFL Draft and bringing back Jordan Howard.
The Eagles didn't go about free agency in the traditional manner as they considered their options knowing they would be so tight against the smaller salary cap. Instead of sitting out of free agency, the Eagles have made an impact in their own way. And while the benefits remain to be seen, taking this low-risk, high-reward route could pay off greatly for a team that, yes is in "transition," but one that very much believes it will contend in the season ahead.