Eagles' free-agent outlook

Posted: March 11, 2014

ON TWITTER over the weekend, " @FakeWIPCaller," a parody account, twice expressed exasperation that the Eagles hadn't yet signed any free agents.

The joke, of course, was about fan impatience; while teams were free to talk to agents for pending unrestricted free agents starting Saturday, the teams can't sign those players until 3 p.m. tomorrow.

It's a long time to wait, and to track rumors. A cynic might suggest that the 3-day "official tampering period" was instituted to give agents a chance to create some buzz around their clients. "League source says teams X, Y and Z have expressed interest . . . "

How much interest?

That picture nearly always remains fuzzy.

It won't necessarily get clearer tomorrow, either, because the Eagles, as has been stated here and nearly everywhere else, probably aren't going to strike any splashy, big-money deals with top free agents, the kind of deals that get announced as soon as free agency starts. They feel, rightly, that such moves rarely pan out. They also feel that they are in a building process, are not one of those veteran teams that becomes a Super Bowl favorite by adding one key piece.

Yes, they have about $24 million in salary-cap space, enough to do just about anything they'd like. And they will sign players - it would be a huge upset if the Birds went into the May draft needing three or four safeties, just to replace departures, or if they didn't add either an outside linebacker with edge-rushing skills, or a defensive lineman. They might root around for offensive-line depth in free agency, as well.

Remember, their draft philosophy is all about feeling free to take the best player on the board for that pick. Looking at their roster right now, especially if safeties Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson leave in free agency, there'd be no way to go into the draft with that attitude, especially if the Eagles' plans don't include Patrick Chung. Chung is scheduled to make $3.25 million in the second year of a 3-year deal, and the Eagles would incur a $1 million cap charge by cutting him.

Some Eagles fans are convinced the Birds must sign the top free-agent safety available, Buffalo's Jairus Byrd, who is said to want to be the highest-paid safety in football, at somewhere north of $9 million a year. Paul Domowitch wrote Friday that Byrd is an unlikely Eagles target, and nothing happened over the weekend to change that view. Many observers seem to think Byrd might be headed to Cleveland, where his former Bills defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, is now the head coach.

There has been a great Byrd debate among the fan base. Some people feel that the Eagles' longstanding problem at safety is so profound, they have to do something drastic to fix it, as they did at wide receiver with Terrell Owens in 2004. Other fans wonder whether Byrd, despite his three Pro Bowls, really is a best-in-the-league-level superstar, and whether overpaying him would set a bad precedent on a team that is going to face a financial reckoning with a number of its better young players at this time next year.

Former Colts general manager Bill Polian, now an ESPN analyst, said on a conference call last week that in free agency, you have "essentially, B players who are looking for A money." Roseman said something very similar recently.

There are plenty of safeties other than Byrd, even if none of them has three Pro Bowl appearances. A source close to the situation indicated yesterday the Eagles have shown interest in Mike Mitchell, who hopes to make some money in free agency after playing for the Panthers under a 1-year, $1 million deal.

Mitchell was a Raiders 2009 second-round bust before going to Carolina in 2013, but then he played very well in coverage for a strong defense, helmed by former Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. Mitchell, 6-foot, 210, notched 3 1/2 sacks and four interceptions for the Panthers, easily career highs. He missed some tackles but also made some impressive hits. He'll turn 27 in June. Mitchell is considered an intelligent player who might have benefited from moving to strong safety to free safety when he left Oakland for Carolina.

New Orleans' Malcolm Jenkins is another high pick who struggled intially. Jenkins was drafted 14th overall in 2009, as a 6-foot, 204-pound corner out of Ohio State, despite running a 4.53 40. He moved to safety a year later, and has earned a reputation as a hard worker with star potential that he hasn't quite realized. Some observers have called him a "tweener" who isn't quite a real good safety or corner.

Miami's Chris Clemons and Indianapolis' Antoine Bethea are other midlevel safeties. There's been no indication of Eagles interest.

The corner market is interesting. There is talent there, including 35-year-old Champ Bailey, and suddenly yesterday, almost-30-year-old Antonio Cromartie, but the Eagles got good bargains in a cheaper 2013 FA market in Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who both had decent seasons. They might be looking more to the draft for an eventual successor to Williams or Fletcher, instead of bringing in someone now at a higher figure to take one of those spots right away.

Early in the weekend, the Eagles were said to be interested in edge rusher Michael Johnson (Cincinnati), but they dropped out of that bidding very quickly, a source said. Higher-profile rusher Lamarr Houston (Oakland) will likely go to the winner of a bidding war, which again does not sound like the Eagles' approach.


Expect the Eagles to bring back punter Donnie Jones once tomorrow arrives and they are allowed to give him more than a 1-year minimum-salary deal . . . Looks like a solid Michael Vick market is forming. Vick ought to be able to get at least the $8 mil over 2 years that Chad Henne got from Jacksonville, $4.5 million guaranteed.

On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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