The Eagles' first big foray into free agency during last offseason's series of big splashes was the signing of defensive end Jason Babin, who had spent one season with the Eagles as a rotational player in 2009 before breaking out with 12.5 sacks for the Tennessee Titans and Jim Washburn the following year. The signing was indisputably a success, as Babin's production got even better in 2011 when he recorded an astounding 18.0 sacks as Washburn's crew of pass rushers led the league with 50 sacks on the season. Washburn's presence serves as a recruiting tool for the Eagles, as the respected line coach is beloved by players, in large part because of the results he brings out from his pupils. Cullen Jenkins joined Babin last offseason and performed at a high level as well, enough so that the Eagles extended his contract this offseason. Who will join Babin, Jenkins and Trent Cole in the Eagles' vaunted defensive line?
On The Roster:
DE – 1. Trent Cole 2. Jason Babin 3. Darryl Tapp 4. Brandon Graham 5. Phillip Hunt 6. Maurice Fountain
DT – 1. Cullen Jenkins 2. Mike Patterson 3. Cedric Thornton
2011 Eagle(s) Hitting The Market: The Eagles have three defensive tackles slated to become free agents of some sort. Antonio Dixon, who spent much of the 2011 season on injured reserve after suffering a torn triceps, is still under team control because he will become a restricted free agent. Dixon was a very impressive run stuffer in his first two seasons with the Eagles and could be in line for second-round tender. Trevor Laws was drafted by the Eagles in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft and has been an important member of the defensive tackle rotation each of the past two seasons. The Eagles could look to bring him back at the price. The same goes for Derek Landri, who was signed to fill Dixon's spot on the roster in Week 5. Landri became a pass rushing demon in his rotational role, leading the team with eight tackles for loss. Also heading to the free agent market it defensive end Juqua Parker, 33, who has been a consistent performer for the Eagles since joining the team in 2005. Parker ranks tied for 13th (with Mike Mamula) for most sacks (31.5) in team history.
Adam Caplan's Free Agent Rankings:
DE: 1. Mario Williams
2. John Abraham
3. Calais Campbell (Franchised)
4. Adam Carriker
5. Israel Idonije
6. Red Bryant
7. Andre Carter
8. Juqua Parker
9. Jeremy Mincey
10. Michael Bennett (RFA)
DT: 1. Paul Soliai
2. Aubrayo Franklin
3. Brodrick Bunkley
4. Jason Jones
5. Shaun Rogers
6. Sione Pouha
7. Antonio Garay
8. Rocky Bernard
9. Derek Landri
10. Tony Brown
Where's The Fit?: Certainly the Eagles are happy with their pair of starting defensive ends, as Cole and Babin form one of the best tandems in the league.Darryl Tapp has been a solid rotational defensive end the past two years, recording a combined 5.5 sacks during that time. A lot depends on 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham, who is now over a year removed from his torn ACL. The team still has high hopes for Graham, but a backup plan could be helpful (and don't forget about Phillip Hunt, an early free agent signing last year out of the Canadian Football League). At defensive tackle, there is certainly room for help depth-wise, with Dixon, Laws and Landri hitting free agency. Mike Patterson, one of the most reliable Eagles of recent years, is set to have offseason surgery to repair his brain AVM condition and is expected back for training camp. With only Patterson, Jenkins and youngster Cedric Thornton, for whom the team has high hopes, under contract, it's expected that another player will be added to the position this offseason, either in free agency or through the draft.
Intriguing Names: It's not often that one of the best defensive ends hits the market in his prime, but that's exactly what's set to happen with Mario Williams, the former No. 1 overall pick who has 53.0 sacks in six seasons. Williams is coming off a season in which he only played five games because of a torn pectoral muscle, but he is said to be fully recovered and will certainly command a huge paycheck on the open market. The Eagles obviously aren't likely to be in the mix for Williams because of the presence of Babin and Cole, but then again, the same would have been said about Nnamdi Asomugha last offseason. John Abraham has been one of the more productive pass rushers of the last 10 years, but he will turn 34 before next season which will no doubt drop his price tag. Perhaps playing for Washburn and being able to go full-out on fewer snaps would appeal to the four-time Pro Bowler. Jeremy Mincey had been a part-time player throughout his career before breaking out in 2011 for the Jacksonville Jaguars, starting 16 games and notching 8.0 sacks. At 28, Mincey may command a hefty price tag as a starter. Below the premiere players, a pair of former high-round picks who have been given the ignominious "bust" label are set to be free agents and could have the physical tools to be a Washburn reclamation project (like Babin was once upon a time). Jamaal Anderson, 6-5, 288, was the eighth overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons in 2007, but has only recorded 7.5 sacks in his five year career, including 3.0 last year with the Indianapolis Colts. Quentin Groves, meanwhile, was a one-time second round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars before he was traded to the Oakland Raiders last offseason. In Oakland, Groves played linebacker and made 24 tackles while playing in all 16 games, starting three.
At defensive tackle, the best player is probablyRed Bryant, who played mostly 3-4 defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks. The transition from 3-4 defensive end to 4-3 defensive tackle worked for Jenkins, perhaps leading the way for Bryant, though he's likely to have many suitors. The other player to keep a close eye on, beyond Landri, Laws and Dixon, is Jason Jones, who has a track record of performing under Washburn. In 2010, Jones started 15 games for Washburn and the Titans, ranking sixth overall among all defensive tackle according to ProFootballFocus.com. In 2011, Jones was moved to defensive end and fell all the way to 61st among 4-3 defensive ends according to ProFootballFocus. Perhaps a move back to the inside for his former coach is an ideal landing spot for Jones.
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