Eagles need to play it smart in free agency

ASSOCIATED PRESSS Jairus Byrd is among the prime free agents at safety.
ASSOCIATED PRESSS Jairus Byrd is among the prime free agents at safety.
Posted: March 12, 2014

FREE AGENCY is always a tricky line to walk.

Basically, it comes down to a general manager, coach and staff making an honest assessment of where their team is and where it can reasonably go in the upcoming season.

And that's where Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and head coach Chip Kelly have a dilemma as the NFL's free-agency period opens at 4 p.m. today.

Who are the Eagles and what are they capable of doing in 2014?

I'm not sure if even the people who put this team together know for certain.

If you go by the original plan, this was supposed to be "Year 2" of a massive rebuilding program, moving the Birds away from 14 years of influence from former head coach Andy Reid.

Few people expected Kelly to have delivered 10 victories and an NFC East championship in his first season after leaving the University of Oregon.

But the Eagles are coming off a playoff season, and, as such, plans must be altered some to fit the situation.

That's why it's a little disturbing that various media reports say the Eagles are not planning to jump into free agency with the vigor they have shown in previous seasons.

Obviously, we won't know what Roseman & Co. will do until they actually make or do not make any moves, but it appears there will not be any big news coming out the NovaCare Complex.

Whether that is good or bad depends on whether you believe the Eagles were a legitimate playoff team last season or one that just took advantage of a weak conference and slipped into the postseason primarily because someone from the NFC East had to.

I think the Eagles are the former.

Yes, they were the only team in the East with a winning record, but only nine other NFL teams posted more than the Eagles' 10 victories.

They weren't a Super Bowl-level team, but by the end of the year, they were not that far from becoming one.

That's why I'd like to see the Eagles management team err on the side of aggression rather than caution in free agency.

I'm not saying the Eagles should go on a "Dream Team" spending spree as they did three seasons ago.

They don't have to get in a bidding war for the top player available.

Still, this team has needs that can be filled through free agency. The Birds need to wisely use the $24 million in cap space they have to make some significant upgrades.

It's happened quicker than most expected, but the Eagles have reached a point at which the future is now, not a couple more seasons down the road.

They need to react appropriately.

Over the last 3 days of February, the Eagles re-signed offensive linemen Jason Peters and Jason Kelce, plus wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin.

Those moves show that the front office likes where the team is and wanted to make sure it kept its own talent rather than let key players walk away to free agency.

If the foundation you're happy with won a division title last season, the next logical step is to bring in pieces than can help push the envelope further.

That will require some monetary investment in guys who represent upgrades in current weaknesses.

Throwing around names of players the Eagles could be interested in is like throwing darts while blindfolded. Everyone knows where the Eagles have the biggest hole - safety.

If Buffalo Bills free-agent safety Jairus Byrd is going to command $9 million a year, or the Browns' T.J. Ward is asking for a big number, I can't see the Eagles jumping in, but this team is too close for Roseman to sit idly by waiting around to snatch players at bargain-basement prices.

They must bring in a quality player and that will cost money.

Nothing in the NFL is ever guaranteed, but the Eagles have created a window of opportunity. They are too close to potentially doing something special to penny-pinch on positions of need.

Because the franchise has not won a championship since 1960, there is an aura of desperation that makes anything less than a Super Bowl title a disappointment.

Eagles fans are knowledgeable and understand when their team should legitimately focus solely on building for the future. Those same fans also recognize when opportunities that must be seized present themselves.

Too many times during the Reid and Joe Banner era, the Birds were a move or two away from solidifying something special, yet management stubbornly refused to act.

To be fair, the Eagles have at times made big splashes in free agency. Still, they've almost always hesitated to go all in - whether that meant a quality wide receiver here or a talented linebacker there.

They always had a philosophy that certain positions weren't worth spending big money on and that they could get by with cheaper and lesser talent.

Even though Roseman was also part of the previous administration, you hope that line of thinking left with Banner and Reid.

This is a test for Roseman because the Eagles are at a point at which things must be pushed.

Nothing burns the heart more than knowing your team's weakness, having management not address it, and then watching things come up short because of it.

Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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