Countdown to NFL free agency

ASSOCIATED PRESS Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith is expected to draw interest from the Eagles, among others.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith is expected to draw interest from the Eagles, among others.
Posted: March 12, 2013

NOBODY REALLY knew what would happen in the NFL's first official "pre-free-agency" negotiating period.

Turned out, not much did.

Everyone was clear that deals couldn't be announced before the official start of free agency, Tuesday at 4 p.m. But agents had hoped to get some numbers from teams, starting at midnight Friday, and they'd figured they might even strike unofficial bargains. The NFL put an abrupt end to those hopes Friday with a memo warning about investigations for "tampering," should anyone enter into even agreements in principle.

As one agent I talked with Sunday noted, the league never seemed very concerned about tampering in the days leading up to free agency before this. Now, after setting up a period that originally seemed designed to legalize tampering, the NFL wants to make sure nobody tampers.

One school of thought is that the NFL maybe didn't intend Friday's memo to produce as chilling an effect as it did, that the league just wanted to make sure unofficial deals weren't announced before Tuesday. But the teams don't want to assume anything, given the disciplinary tone struck in recent years by commissioner Roger Goodell. (Maybe you saw him on the cover of Sports Illustrated last week, sitting in the "Iron Throne" from Game of Thrones.)

So, agents were saying over the weekend that they were getting a lot of general expressions of interest, not much that was really helpful to them, in moving toward a deal. The biggest effect seemed to be that teams worked toward bringing back their own pending free agents, before they hit the market, as was the case with Atlanta and safety William Moore, who agreed to a 5-year deal with the Falcons that will pay him $18 million over the first 3 years.

That was bad news for teams that might have coveted Moore, but it might have helped some of them as well, setting the safety market a little lower than top free agents might have hoped. Reportedly, 49ers safety Dashon Goldson is shooting for $8 million a year. Moore's deal might make it hard for him to get that, even from the Eagles and player personnel vice president Tom Gamble, who worked for the 49ers until last month.

Assessing the Eagles and free agency is tricky, for several reasons. One is that Chip Kelly is brand-new to the NFL, and nobody really knows what he thinks of his roster. After the Eagles' disastrous free-agent spending spree of 2011, there's a sense that general manager Howie Roseman isn't looking so much for big stars in their primes as he is solid starters with upside - younger guys who will still be good in a few years, when the Eagles can logically expect to contend for a Super Bowl. But Roseman has described his job right now as acquiring the kinds of players Kelly needs. What if Kelly doesn't see nearly enough of those when he watches 2012 film, and wants to bring in a truckload of free agents, price be darned?

Given that the Eagles must completely rebuild their disaster-area secondary, it's reasonable to assume they are seeking a corner or a safety, maybe both. You can't draft an entire secondary and put it on the field in 2013, especially when you only have eight draft picks, one in each round until the seventh.

The Eagles are expected to be among several teams vying for the services of corner Sean Smith, a Dolphins free agent who seems unlikely to stay in Miami. (That's a big part of the countdown to Tuesday - who is really ready to go, and who is still trying to work out a deal to stay? When an agent change was announced for corner Chris Houston over the weekend, the inference in Detroit was that this was related to a potential deal to stay with the Lions.) I don't know why Houston switched, but it's worth noting that his old agent, Brian Overstreet, also represents another hot free-agent commodity at the same position, Pittsburgh's Keenan Lewis.

Another top corner expected to hit the market, Atlanta's Brent Grimes, is repped by Ben Dogra, with whom the Eagles have been negotiating regarding a restructuring of Nnamdi Asomugha's contract. It would be interesting if Asomugha's expected departure ends up leading to Grimes coming to the Eagles. Roseman has stressed how much he values his relationship with Dogra.

Antoine Cason, from San Diego, and Greg Toler, from Arizona, also are under-30 corners who might interest the Birds.

The Eagles are among the teams expected to be in the hunt for Houston safety Glover Quin, if Quin doesn't reach a last-minute deal to stay with the Texans. Goldson would be the other top safety name. Depending on how they feel about his injury history, the Eagles might also want to look into the Giants' Kenny Phillips.

Defensive line seems to be another likely spot for additions, especially given the Gamble connection and the pending availability of San Francisco nose tackle-defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois.

Jenkins is a Giant

Cullen Jenkins doesn't fit into the Eagles' defensive plans, but fans who'll miss the solid, smart defensive tackle will be able to see him play at the Linc this season for the Giants. Multiple reports Sunday night indicated Jenkins has agreed to a 3-year, $8 million contract with the Eagles' closest NFC East rivals, with $3 million guaranteed.

Jenkins, 32, was released Feb. 25, along with another solid soldier at the same position, Mike Patterson. The moves seemed to indicate a shift in the type of athletes the Eagles want on the interior line. Jenkins played two seasons with the Birds after arriving as part of the disastrous 2011 free-agent push after the NFL lockout. He and guard Evan Mathis, who remains with the team, were the most productive members of that group.

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