Time for the Eagles to go shopping for a safety

Posted: March 12, 2014

There are free-agent safeties for the taking, and the Eagles are expected to take a plunge into those waters, but they won't dive in at the expense of being taken.

Free agency opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday, but after the first two days of a three-day window to negotiate with player representatives, the Eagles have yet to be linked to one particular safety.

Jairus Byrd, formerly of the Bills, will likely set the market, but if his contract demands drop, would the Eagles be interested? Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins could be right in the Eagles' wheelhouse in terms of his age (26), upside, and expected price tag, but a direct connection had yet to be established.

The Eagles have reached out to Panthers safety Mike Mitchell, according to a source close to the situation, but the team's level of interest is difficult to gauge. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and coach Chip Kelly have nothing to gain in sharing information about their plans.

Mitchell is an intriguing possibility, though, and one who makes sense in several regards. The 27-year old had a solid season in Carolina after signing a one-year, "prove-it" deal last offseason after four years in Oakland.

He's versatile, has good size (6-foot-1, 220 pounds), and shouldn't break the bank, although there have been indications that he wants a long-term contract. Former Eagles safety Quintin Mikell, who played alongside Mitchell for most of last season, gave his teammate a positive endorsement.

"Would he fit in Philly? I don't know the scheme," said Mikell, 33. "But he's fast, athletic, physical, can cover, and is super smart. He has all the tools."

While his assessment may be a bit biased, Mikell knows what it takes to play in Philadelphia.

"He is a very good locker-room guy," Mikell said. "He's smart and headstrong. He has the thick skin to handle locker-room issues and fan-media issues as well."

Mikell played eight seasons with the Eagles before signing with the Rams in 2011. The Eagles have yet to find safety replacements as good as the Hall of Fame-bound Brian Dawkins, who left in 2009, and the steady Mikell.

"Dawk, yes, me, not so much," joked Mikell, who said he hoped to play one more season.

The Eagles started Nate Allen and a combination of Patrick Chung and Earl Wolff last season. Allen will become a free agent on Tuesday and is unlikely to return. The Eagles still have Chung under contract, but he will have to earn his way onto the roster. Wolff still has lots to prove in his second season.

Maybe the Eagles will sign two safeties. Byrd is the most attractive name available, but there remains some question as to whether teams will meet his demands. There were reports that the Dolphins, Browns, and Redskins were interested in the Bills safety - interested being a relative term.

There have been rumors percolating for some time that the 27-year-old Byrd wants $9 million a year, but the NFL Network reported Monday that some teams were being scared off by the number and that Byrd's asking price may have slipped to $8 million.

The Dolphins likely took themselves out of the Byrd sweepstakes after they signed Louis Delmas, who was recently released by the Lions, to a one-year contract worth up to $3.5 million.

If Byrd's price is too steep, the Eagles have other, more economical options aside from Jenkins and Mitchell. The Delmas signing means that Dolphins safety Chris Clemons likely won't return. The Rams' Darian Stewart could be had for a relatively low figure.

Like Byrd, the Browns' T.J. Ward is coming off a Pro Bowl season, but the box safety may not be a schematic fit for the Eagles. Antoine Bethea of the Colts and Donte Whitner of the 49ers could remain with their teams. Both veterans have logged a lot of mileage.

Nothing can be ruled out, though, especially if the Eagles can get any of these free agents for the right price.


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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