Lawlor: The key to success in free agency

Free agency will officially get underway starting on Wednesday. The Eagles now have space under the salary cap to make some moves to help the team. Instead of focusing on which players they should target, let's talk about the kinds of players. The goal in free agency isn't to sign the most prominent names, but rather to make the right moves.

I remember sitting at my desk at work on a Friday evening back in 2011. I was about to leave and thought I would check to see if there were any breaking free agency reports. Boom. The Eagles had just agreed to terms with cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. I sat and stared at my monitor. That was a shocker.

While signing Asomugha was incredibly exciting, the results weren't great. He was an awkward fit for the Eagles on and off the field. The 2011 and 2012 seasons were disappointing for both him and the team.

I remember logging on to Twitter a couple of years ago and seeing the Eagles had made a couple of what would be deemed as minor acquisitions. The team added veteran pass rusher Chris Long and cornerback Patrick Robinson. I thought those were smart, safe signings. Exciting? Not at all.

Long played for the Rams and was a productive player from 2008-13. He totaled eight sacks and dealt with some injuries over the next three seasons. The Eagles knew he would be a good scheme fit. They felt he would also excel when used in a rotation. They took a chance on Long and he's been terrific.

Robinson had more of an up and down career, playing for the Saints, Chargers, and Colts. He was a starter and a role player. The Eagles saw him more as a long shot and signed him to a cheap deal. They had seen Robinson play well in the NFL and felt he was worth a gamble.

Robinson struggled in the spring and summer, but then found a home when the Eagles put him in the slot. He ended up being one of the best nickel backs in the league. No one will ever forget his pick-six in the NFC Championship Game.

Long and Robinson had one thing in common. Both were former first-round picks. The Eagles knew they had talent. It was a matter of keeping them healthy and finding the right roles for them. Those turned out to be a great pair of free agent signings.

If you think back to 2014, the Eagles needed a veteran safety. Some people wanted the team to go sign a ballhawk like Jairus Byrd. He had piled up 22 interceptions over his first five seasons. Byrd had also 11 forced fumbles in that span. He was a playmaker.

Other people wanted the Eagles to go after T.J. Ward, one of the biggest hitters in the league. Ward would bring a physical presence the team had lacked since losing Brian Dawkins five years earlier.

Instead, the Eagles signed Malcolm Jenkins. He had just six interceptions and six forced fumbles in his career at that point. He wasn't a big playmaker. Jenkins wasn't a huge hitter. More than a few people questioned why the Eagles went after him.

Jenkins had the versatility to play cornerback, nickel back, deep safety, and in the box. The Eagles valued that versatility, seeing that the NFL was becoming more creative offensively and there was a real need for players who could move around and do everything.

The Eagles also valued Jenkins as a leader, both on and off the field. They knew he was a high-character person who would give them maximum effort and would do everything asked of him. He was the kind of player you want to target in free agency.

Jenkins turned out to be a great signing. He's been tremendous as a player, a leader, and a presence in the community.

You can't always sign mid-level guys or go bargain hunting. There are times when you must spend big to land a star player. The Eagles did that in March 2017 when they signed Alshon Jeffery to a one-year contract that eventually led to a long-term deal.

The Eagles had a huge hole at wide receiver in 2016. They knew that had to be fixed for the team to get back to winning and for the offense to become more productive with young quarterback Carson Wentz. The team took a multi-faceted approach.

They hired a new receivers coach in Mike Groh, hoping he would get better production from players who were brought back. The team signed Torrey Smith to add some speed to the passing game, as well as a veteran presence in the locker room. The team drafted two receivers, both players who could stretch the field. Nelson Agholor, who had struggled on the outside in 2016, was moved to the slot.

The biggest move of all was signing Jeffery.

This wasn't a no-brainer signing. Jeffery had dealt with injuries in his two previous years. He had only caught a total of six touchdowns in those seasons. The Eagles saw a big, physical receiver with outstanding ability. They knew him to be a high-character player and felt he was worth the risk.

Obviously, this turned out to be a home run. Jeffery has 15 regular-season touchdown receptions since joining the Eagles. He caught three more touchdowns in the postseason, including one in the Super Bowl.

All teams have hits and misses when it comes to free agency. You just never know how a player will do on a new team and in a new environment. You also have to factor in that money can change people.

When the Eagles have made smart decisions, the results have been great and some of those players were keys to the team winning its first-ever Super Bowl. Forget about splashy moves and headlines. The focus should be on whether the Eagles make the right moves. That can help put a good team over the top.

The next week will be interesting, to say the least. This is when big names and lucrative contracts will fly around like crazy. Be patient, though. Not all key moves are made in the first week. Long and Robinson were signed several weeks into free agency. Both turned out to be key reasons that the Eagles hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

The Eagles were headline-makers back in 2011 and that didn't work out at all. The Eagles were smart shoppers in 2017 and that resulted in the best parade in Philly history. Let's hope Howie Roseman and the front office have some more of that 2017 magic when they sign players this week.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. You can also find his work at IgglesBlitz.com where he is the site's editor.

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