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Off The Beat: Best Free Agents In Eagles History

Thursday was Malcolm Jenkins' 31st birthday. As fans celebrated his birthday on social media, I thought about everything that Jenkins has contributed to this team and to this city, and I fired off this tweet:

When the Eagles signed Jenkins prior to the 2014 season, it wasn't a popular move with the fan base. Fans took to Twitter saying the Eagles need needed to sign Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward. Jenkins, who had spent his first four years with the New Orleans Saints, playing both corner and safety, wasn't coming off a great year and wasn't the big name the fans thought they wanted.

Five seasons later, Jenkins is the unquestioned leader of the Eagles' defense. He's played both safety and nickel corner, and he's been as impactful a player as there is in the league. This season, the Eagles have had injuries to almost every member of the secondary, from Ronald Darby to Jalen Mills to Rodney McLeod to Sidney Jones … the list goes on and on. Jenkins has been the rock, holding things together on the back end all season long. And for everything he's accomplished on the field with the Eagles, including two Pro Bowl nods and a Super Bowl Championship, Jenkins' work in the community has been just as strong.

In my opinion, Jenkins is the greatest free agent acquisition in team history. But who are the others that you could argue? Here's my list.

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Troy Vincent

After playing his first four years in Miami, Vincent signed with the Eagles in 1996. He played eight years in Philadelphia and earned Pro Bowl honors in five of them. His 28 interceptions rank seventh in team history. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson was known for all of his exotic blitz packages, and he was able to pull them off because of players like Vincent, Brian Dawkins, and Bobby Taylor in the secondary.

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Jon Runyan

Drafted by the Houston Oilers in the 1996, Runyan joined the Eagles in 2000, and from that year through 2008, Runyan never missed a game at right tackle. Not one. Runyan and Tra Thomas bookended the Eagles' offensive line for nearly a decade, forming arguably the best tackle combo in the NFL during that time.

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Nick Foles

Nick Foles is an interesting one. It's strange to me to think of Foles as a free agent signing, since he was drafted by the Eagles in 2012 and has played most of his career in an Eagles uniform. But the fact is that Foles was brought back as a free agent prior to the 2017 season, and we all know what happened next. Foles' statue stands in HeadHouse Plaza at Lincoln Financial Field, and the man who once considered stepping away from the game prior to last season now has a Super Bowl MVP on his résumé. Foles stepped in for an injured Carson Wentz toward the end of the regular season and led the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory. Now, he's looking to do that very same thing again.

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Evan Mathis

When Evan Mathis signed with the Eagles on a one-year deal before the 2011 season, he was considered a journeyman. He'd bounced around with the Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins, and Cincinnati Bengals prior to coming to Philadelphia. When he signed with the Eagles, he was probably the lowest profile move of the big acquisitions brought in that season, but he easily turned out to be the best of the group. Mathis was later extended by the Eagles on a long-term deal, and he became one of the top guards in the NFL, earning Pro Bowl honors in 2013 and 2014. After his time with the Eagles, Mathis went on to win a Super Bowl Championship with the Denver Broncos.

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Asante Samuel

I had planned on keeping this list as a Top 5, but Asante Samuel was just too good to leave off. A two-time Super Bowl Champion with the Patriots, Samuel signed with the Eagles prior to the 2008 season and immediately became a cornerstone at cornerback, earning Pro Bowl honors during his first three seasons with the Eagles. He was huge for the Eagles during their run to the NFC title game in 2008, intercepting two passes in the playoffs and running one back for a touchdown against Minnesota. Samuel intercepted 23 passes in just four seasons with the Eagles, placing him in the top 10 in franchise history.

Agree with this list? Who would you vote as the greatest free agent signing in Eagles history?

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