Last off-season, the Eagles failed to make much of a splash in the free-agent waters. Because the pool of eligible players shrunk when four-year unrestricted free agents became restricted (long story), the pool wasn't very deep. So the Eagles plucked the Marlin Jacksons, Mike Bells, and Hank Basketts from the shallow end. Only Bell ended up playing with the Eagles - for all of 16 carries before he was traded.
This year, though, there is an ocean of talent. And if the Eagles are looking to plug some glaring holes via free agency and not just through the draft - as per usual - they may be able to find a difference-maker or two.
Here's a look at some of the best options at the three positions in which the Eagles are most lacking:
The Eagles paid severely for not having a suitable complement to Asante Samuel at right cornerback. The Broncos' Champ Bailey is the biggest name and he's still among the top corners in the league. But he's 32 and probably staying in Denver. Atlanta's Brent Grimes is no longer one of the more underrated corners in the league. The Shippensburg product finished first in passes defended and will probably require a boatload of cash to lure from the Falcons. The Jets' Antonio Cromartie is intriguing. He may be bigger than the Eagles like their corners (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), but he's only 26 and still a ball hawk. The Bengals may franchise Johnathan Joseph. But maybe they won't. If not, he would fill the Eagles' need for a press-cover corner. And keep an eye on Ike Taylor of Pittsburgh.
Protecting quarterback Michael Vick should be among the Eagles' top off-season priorities. This year's group just hasn't gotten it done on a consistent basis. The Eagles have a bunch of serviceable lineman but not many top-tier guys. They can get one in free agency to fill the right-guard sieve. The Saints' Carl Nicks played better than Pro Bowl teammate Jahri Evans, according to many observers. But Evans recently became the highest-paid guard in the NFL, so it remains to be seen if New Orleans can pony up the cash to keep Nicks. Logan Mankins sat out the first seven games of the season when he and the Patriots could not agree on a long-term extension. He finally signed a reduced tender, so Mankins is probably looking to cash in. But the 28-year-old is a mauler who would bring instant credibility to the Eagles' line.
The Eagles' Jason Peters solidified his spot at left tackle this season, but Winston Justice could be replaced on the right side. Tyson Clabo is more of a run-blocking tackle in the Falcons' run-oriented offense, but the 29-year-old could also move inside to guard. The Eagles may want to avoid offensive linemen with back issues (see: Andrews, Shawn), but Baltimore tackle Jared Gaither, who missed the entire season, is only 24 and full of potential.
Keep an eye on guards Davin Joseph of Tampa Bay and Harvey Dahl of Atlanta and tackle Willie Colon of Pittsburgh.
The Eagles could use an upgrade at all three linebacker positions. Jamar Chaney is likely tagged as the future in the middle and Stewart Bradley could be moved to strong side, but there's a good chance the Eagles let weakside linebacker Ernie Sims walk. In Andy Reid's 12 seasons the Eagles have had 11 different weakside linebackers. If they were to sign a talent like Chad Greenway away from the Vikings, it would signal a change in philosophy. The Eagles have never been big on signing linebackers to large, long-term deals, but the Iowa product is worth it. Paul Posluszny plays inside in Buffalo's 3-4 defense. But the former Penn State product is versatile enough to play all three spots, something the Eagles value. The dismal Panthers did have one positive to come from this season: the emergence of James Anderson. Carolina will probably pull out all the stops to keep the strong-side linebacker - who would be better than Bradley or Moise Fokou - but he may opt to leave for greener pastures.
Keep an eye on Barrett Ruud of Tampa Bay.
The Eagles could just as easily address their defensive end or safety needs through free agency. But that's for another time.
Now back to reality.
Contact staff writer Jeff McLane
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