With a slew of moves through the first three days of free agency, the Eagles have not only filled significant holes on the defense for the 2013 season, but they've set themselves up to better address the future state of the roster. Since the opening bell rang on free agency at 4 PM Tuesday afternoon, the Eagles have added eight players, including seven defensive players, six of whom will be in immediate contention for a starting job.
The ripple effect? Armed with the fourth overall pick, the team should now feel no need to reach for any one position in April's NFL Draft.
"When you go into the draft room and you look at the depth chart and you see all of these players on there, it's exciting because you don't have to (reach)," said general manager Howie Roseman late Thursday afternoon, minutes after putting the finishing touches on the six-year agreement with linebacker Connor Barwin. "There's no 'Have to' in the draft. As much as you say you want to take the best available player, I've been around long enough to know you can say that, but it's hard when you see the big gaping hole on the depth chart. I think that's one of the things that we thought was enticing about this is we like the players we brought in here, at the same time we can go into the draft and we can go in any direction."
Heading into the offseason, there were several potential voids on the roster that needed to be addressed in some fashion or another. Start with the secondary, where the team parted ways with both of last season's starting cornerbacks and looked to improve a unit that allowed the most passing touchdowns in the NFL in 2012. Now? Cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams both have extensive starting experience, as does the safety tandem of Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips. With hints that the defense will at least incorporate some 3-4 defensive principles next season, a potential nose tackle was a need. Enter Isaac Sopoaga. Then, the team brought in a proven 3-4 pass rusher in Barwin, adding to a stable of pass rushers that includes Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Phillip Hunt.
"We haven't put a number on how many guys we want," said Roseman. "We want to make sure we're able to get pressure on the quarterback. Getting pressure on the quarterback, preventing pressure, that's always going to be stuff that's important to us. When we have opportunities, we didn't go into this necessarily thinking that we were going to have the opportunity for Connor, but as we go through the market on the last couple days some things have popped up that maybe we hadn't anticipated in the free agency process."
So now, while there's no question that the Eagles will continue to aggressively pursue talented players, especially with the draft on the horizon, there are no longer any screaming deficiencies on the roster. Best player available, as Roseman said, is a philosophy to which the team can easily adhere.
Meanwhile, take one more look at the eight players signed by the Eagles over the past few days and two things stand out. First, the team added more young talent to what was already one of the youngest rosters in the league. The eight free agents signed by the Eagles average just over 27 years of age, with only Sopoaga coming in on the plus side of 30. Second, the vast majority of the new Eagles come directly from franchises that have experienced significant success, especially of late. Of the seven signed players who each played significant roles on either offense or defense with their previous team, four appeared in either of the last two Super Bowls, while Casey and Barwin went to the playoffs each of the last two seasons with the Texans. In fact, the combined winning percentage of those seven players over the last two seasons is an impressive 64 percent.
"We've talked about the kinds of guys we wanted to bring in here," said Roseman. "These guys come from winning programs, recently winning programs. Football is really important to them. When you watch them on tape, you see a physical aspect of their play. That's exciting for us. In an ideal world, do you want to sign this many free agents? You don't; we didn't come into free agency necessarily going to do this. But we also felt it was an opportunity to add guys to come here and compete and play the right way and play with your hair on fire and with a high motor. That's the kind of energy we want to create.
"We talk about our defense kind of changing the culture on that side of the ball. Getting guys who have been successful, that's enticing to us."
Roseman On Thursday's Signings
Here's what Roseman had to say regarding each of the players signed by the Eagles on Thursday …
On Barwin:"You're talking about a guy who's dropped in coverage, he's able to set the edge, able to play standing up or with his hand down. When we looked into the free agent market in the last 24 hours, last time we talked we talked about value and, for us, this is a guy who plays with his hair on fire. He has the characteristics that we look for in a defensive player and so we had an opportunity to do it so we made the deal."
On Barwin's drop in sacks from 2011 (11.5) to 2012 (3.0): "He was more on the open side two years ago. He was more in position to set the edge and cover the tight end this year. We watched him two years on the open side and then even this year when they played the Lions and he was doing it more, if I remember correctly, Brooks Reed may have been hurt in that game. We think that we know what we're getting here in him. Of course, you talk about the other guys on our roster in Trent (Cole) and Brandon (Graham) and Vinny (Curry) and Phillip Hunt and some young guys that we've brought in here in the offseason and we just wanted pass rushers. That's something that's important to us and, again, not something that we anticipated early on, being able to be in a position to do this."
On signing Barwin to a six-year deal: "You have a young player and when you have a young player and have an opportunity to lock them up for a long time, that's an exciting thing for our organization."
On K. Phillips: "Kenny's a talented guy. I know the Giants are a very smart organization obviously and drafted him in the first round and we've seen a lot of Kenny and Kenny will tell you he wasn't 100 percent towards the end of last year when we saw him in Week 17, that wasn't who he was … We scouted him coming out. We liked him in the draft. Every time we play against him, he's a big, physical guy with ball skills. He can run, so we're excited to get him here … We've seen him when he's been 100 percent and the kind of player that he can be, having the communication with his agent and his willingness to stay on the East coast and want to play in Philadelphia. For us, we're excited to have him here."
On competition in the secondary: "We're going to have competition. We're going to let those guys play it out. Obviously we lost some players at that position. We have an idea of what we're looking for at the corner position. Both these guys (Fletcher and Williams), you're talking about tall, long guys who tackle and we did not think as free agency started that we would have an opportunity to get a corner like Cary who's experienced and played in a Super Bowl."
On factoring injury history into free agent decisions: "We have a great medical team with our doctors, head trainer Chris Peduzzi and we rely on them in these situations. We don't pretend to know the medical information ... We talk about the player and then we ask our doctors and our trainers about the medical information and they give us an assessment of where the players are. Once they tell us the player is ready to go, he's ready to go. Obviously, durability is a factor in these negotiations when you're bringing a player in. We try to get as much information as possible and then consider."
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