Eagles clean up in secondary market

Posted: March 15, 2013

EAGLES GENERAL manager Howie Roseman plans to travel to Arizona for the NFL Meetings this weekend. Roseman said he will then turn the page from free agency, to start preparing for his team's most important draft in more than a decade.

Something could unexpectedly crop up Friday, but it's quite possible Roseman and the Birds are done with free agency after signing eight players in two hectic flurries - five of them on Tuesday when the market opened, three more Thursday. Roseman has added seven bodies to his team's rebuilding defense, and on offense, he has given new head coach Chip Kelly a Swiss Army knife-type weapon to play with in former Texans tight end-fullback James Casey.

The final signee Thursday was another former Texan, outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who got what was billed as a 6-year, $36 million deal but really is 2 years, $8 million guaranteed, $13.5 million if he plays 3 years.

"You're talking about a guy who has dropped in coverage, he'll set the edge and he's able to play standing up or with his hand down," Roseman said of Barwin, 26, who is listed at 6-4, 268. Barwin notched 11 1/2 sacks in 2011, only three last season. Roseman said Barwin's role changed.

"He was more on the open side 2 years ago," Roseman said. "He was more in position to set the edge and cover the tight end this year," instead of rushing the passer. "We think we know what we're getting here, a high-motor guy."

It's quite possible Roseman has assembled the Birds' 2013 starting secondary, though he said Thursday he'd like to wait a while, maybe as long as early September, before committing to that. The Eagles added ex-Ravens cornerback Cary Williams and former Giants star safety Kenny Phillips on Thursday, after signing former Rams corner Bradley Fletcher and ex-Patriots safety Patrick Chung on Tuesday.

Williams will get $17 million over 3 years, $10.5 million guaranteed over 2 (but the second year of the guarantee is only for injury, a league source said). Phillips signed a 1-year deal, apparently for not a lot of money, reflecting concern about the knee problems that presumably ended the New York tenure of one of the key players on the Super Bowl XLVI championship team.

"Kenny's a talented guy. The Giants are a very smart organization, obviously. They drafted him in the first round [31st overall], and we've seen a lot of Kenny," Roseman said. "Kenny will tell you he wasn't 100 percent toward the end of last year," after spraining his right MCL against the Eagles Sept. 30, on top of 2009 microfracture surgery. "Kenny really wants to come here and basically try to show us what he has, because we do like the player . . . He's a big, physical player with ball skills. We're excited to get him.

"Some of the best values, when we look back at the history of free agency, is guys coming off recent injury . . . It's different looking at guys who are 25 or 26 coming off injuries than it is guys who are 31 or 32."

Roseman said that a year ago, Phillips and Chung were rated among the top safeties in the league. Phillips got hurt again, Chung just didn't play well, for whatever reason.

It's interesting that while all four new defensive backs have struggled at least here and there, either with injuries or in coverage, all are considered strong tacklers. Tackling was not the linchpin of the 2012 Eagles secondary.

"We're going to have competition," Roseman said, when asked about his new corners. "Both of these guys, you're talking about tall, long guys who tackle . . . We want to be a physical defense."

Fletcher is listed at 6-foot, 200, Williams at 6-1, 190.

The Eagles' free-agency emphasis was not on stars but on potential building blocks. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, 31, is the only over-30 member of the group. The signings should free the Eagles to draft the best available player at fourth overall, or move back in the first round if they have a chance - there is no glaring unmet need. Certainly, the fact that they haven't signed an offensive lineman makes it very possible that the Eagles will go that way with their first pick.

"These guys come from winning programs, recently winning programs. Football's very important to them. When you watch them on tape, there's a physical aspect to their play," Roseman said. "In an ideal world, do you want to sign this many free agents? No, you don't. We didn't come to free agency necessarily going to do this, but we also felt like it was an opportunity to add guys who'd come here and compete, play the right way, with their hair on fire, and with a high motor, and that's the kind of energy we want to create."

The Eagles introduced Chung and Fletcher on Thursday in a NovaCare news conference overshadowed by the signings. Chung made it clear that having played at Oregon when Kelly was the offensive coordinator had a lot to do with his decision to become an Eagle.

"I think the guys that coach is going to bring in here, they'll be ready to work and to learn," Chung predicted, when asked about building chemistry. "It will be as hard as you want it to be. We have to gel together, new brothers, and just get this going and start working."

Fletcher said he is willing to play either side.


Connor Barwin's fellow Cincinnati alums were happy to welcome him to the Eagles. Center Jason Kelce tweeted that Barwin "will instantly become a leader on this team." Tight end Brent Celek, who played alongside Barwin - literally, since Barwin got reps at tight end - texted that Barwin was a blue-collar player who is "tough and relentless, exactly what this city loves" . . . Eagles president Don Smolenski said there was no update on whether the Eagles will hold training camp at Lehigh.

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