Burned before in free-agent market, Eagles avoid big names

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (24) catches the ball during practice before the start of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011, in Miami . (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (24) catches the ball during practice before the start of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011, in Miami . (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Posted: March 14, 2013

It was exciting to see the Eagles make a big splash on the first day of NFL free agency, especially since it was Nnamdi Asomugha being thrown overboard.

Hey, at least he made contact. The Eagles will pay Asomugha $4 million not to play for them in 2013 and that is the best bargain general manager Howie Roseman could have made.

There are two ways to make your team better, and subtraction is the easy one. It is the addition part that gets tricky, as Asomugha's two-year display of ineffectiveness demonstrated.

On the addition side of the ledger, the Eagles made news that will appear under a smaller headline. They signed a total of five players: tight end/fullback James Casey, safety Patrick Chung, defensive tackle Isaac Sapoaga, linebacker Jason Phillips and cornerback Bradley Fletcher.

If you can honestly say you'd heard of all five before Tuesday, congratulations. You are now overqualified to work in an NFL personnel department. Seriously. The Eagles were so excited by the moves, they originally announced they'd signed Fletcher Bradley.

Backward or forward, he can't be as big a bust as Asomugha. That's because there are absolutely no expectations attached to his signing.

If you were expecting a little more sizzle, that's understandable. Frankly, the league isn't doing its member franchises any favors. The NFL Network ran hours of programming building up to a "Free Agent Frenzy" at the opening of the market. For fans of many cap-strapped teams, that was practically cruel - like Mom and Dad leaving cookies out for Santa but cementing the chimney closed on Christmas Eve.

Let's just say it creates high expectations. At precisely 4 p.m., Roseman was free to hammer out the enormous contracts he will soon be asking players to renegotiate for salary-cap relief.

Instead, the Eagles made a series of smaller, less glitzy moves. That is understandable, given their last free-spending foray into the marketplace. Once bitten by Asomugha and the rest of that 2011 class, twice shy.

The alternative interpretation is a bit more sobering. Maybe the Eagles weren't being prudent by not throwing big money at big names like Dashon Goldson and Sean Smith. Maybe after the new three-day feeling-out period, they knew they weren't high on the list of attractive destinations for players looking to win now.

The Eagles are no longer a perennial contender with a proven head coach and a superior new practice facility. They are a 4-12 team with an unknown quantity at head coach and a dubious quarterback situation. The facility is still nice, but the rest of the league has long caught up in that area.

There is, of course, another criterion used by free agents looking for a new gig: cash money, filthy lucre, piles of dough. The Eagles have plenty of that to spend. Their salary cap is unburdened by a legitimate franchise quarterback or a single defensive player worth paying above-market rates.

That vast cap space and the Eagles' arm-long list of needs make for a dangerous combination. This team desperately needs impact players, especially on the defensive side. But investing large sums of money in a guy who could be the next Asomugha does not seem like a great idea. Spending wisely on a group of second-tier free agents probably makes more sense strategically. It just doesn't excite fans who are overdue for a little positive news.

All the big names were in the reports that said the Eagles were not immediately in play. Goldson, the hottest name among safeties, was bound for Tampa. Darrelle Revis, the Jets' star cornerback, is probably getting traded elsewhere. Glover Quin, the Houston safety (did we mention the Eagles need DBs?), is visiting the Lions.

An offseason can't really be evaluated until it is complete. Even then, you don't always know for sure until after a season or two. So it is ridiculously early to form opinions about the approach taken by Roseman and new coach Chip Kelly. If they have a plan, it won't be clear until after they've executed it.

It will take more than one afternoon of contrived "frenzy" - and more than the five gentlemen they did sign - to turn the Eagles ship around. At least they started off by throwing some dead weight over the side.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow @Sheridanscribe on Twitter.

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