Eagles could strike quickly in free agency again

There are no young, elite edge rushers available who are proven in the 3-4 defense, but Mike Neal (shown sackinga Vikings QB) could be an option.
There are no young, elite edge rushers available who are proven in the 3-4 defense, but Mike Neal (shown sackinga Vikings QB) could be an option. (JEFF HANISCH / USA Today Sports)
Posted: March 12, 2014

When free agency opened last March, the Eagles agreed to deals with five players within the first four hours. Two days later, they signed three more.

When free agency begins on Tuesday at 4 p.m., the Eagles could take a similarly quick, targeted approach. General manager Howie Roseman has had two months to plan for the free-agent period and three days to negotiate with agents.

Last season provided a good example of the team's philosophy of identifying free agents and going after them once the market opens.

The Eagles have about $24 million in salary-cap space, although some of that money is allocated for their rookie pool. The Eagles have the 12th-highest total of cap space in the NFL, and the highest of any NFC East team.

Defense will be the team's priority this week. The Eagles are expected to sign at least one safety and an edge rusher and could add depth at other spots such as defensive line and cornerback.

The top safety on the market is Buffalo all-pro Jairus Byrd, who could command a contract that would make him one of the highest-paid safeties in the NFL. There are no young, elite edge rushers available who are proven in the 3-4 defense - look for Cincinnati's Michael Johnson to draw the most interest among defensive ends - and the Eagles could be picking from a second tier that includes Green Bay's Mike Neal, Seattle's O'Brien Schofield, and Washington's Rob Jackson.

The Eagles also must determine what they will do at backup quarterback. The best option could be retaining Michael Vick, although Vick has repeatedly stated his intention to find a starting job. Two potential targets were likely eliminated when Minnesota re-signed Matt Cassel and Jacksonville brought back Chad Henne. Both could be serviceable stopgaps while their teams look for young future starters.

The New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders could be options for Vick, with coaches who need to win and either instability or inexperience at starting quarterback.

Vick is one of seven free agents on the Eagles roster. Punter Donnie Jones is a player the team is interested in keeping, and Jones could be re-signed after 4 p.m. on Tuesday to more than the one-year veteran minimum deal he played under last season.

Safety Nate Allen is the only starter on offense or defense who is a free agent. The other free agents are safeties Colt Anderson and Kurt Coleman, defensive lineman Clifton Geathers, and linebacker Phillip Hunt.

After the Eagles made it a priority to sign receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin before the market opened, it looks as if the team will let its other free agents explore options elsewhere.


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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