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January 10, 2017

Five free agents who make sense for the Eagles, version 1.0

This year's crop of unrestricted free agents is less than awesome, however, you can be certain that the Eagles will look to add to their roster this offseason in the open market, as they do seemingly every year. Last year we pegged Chase Daniel, Rodney McLeod and Brandon Brooks as logical targets. Here are five free agents who make sense for the Eagles in 2017.

Note: We'll probably do two more of these, so we'll get to more players who are flying under the radar a bit.

DeSean Jackson, WR, Redskins (5'10, 175)

Yes, yes, he's been covered to death already, starting with a conference call with Philadelphia reporters earlier this season when Jackson left the door open for a return to the Eagles, noting that his distaste was for Chip Kelly, not the city or the organization. We'll still include him here.

In 2016, Jackson had 56 receptions for 1005 yards (17.9 YPC), and four touchdowns. Those numbers would have looked even better if Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has missed an open Jackson on several occasions early last season, squandering opportunities for big plays.

Jackson turned 30 in December, but he can still run and would, of course, fit the speed receiver profile the Eagles unsuccessfully tried to add last offseason. The Eagles would just have to be careful not to commit too far down the road, as Jackson's usefulness will likely fall off a cliff once he loses his speed, unlike other older receivers who can adapt.

From a football standpoint, Jackson would be a great fit for the Eagles' offense, giving rookie quarterback Carson Wentz one of the premier deep threats in NFL history. Jackson could not only produce the big plays the Eagles offense missed badly in 2016, but his mere presence on the field could open things up underneath for players like Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz, and Darren Sproles.

Kenny Stills, WR, Dolphins (6'0, 195)

Stills is the younger, less talented, probably less-costly version of DeSean Jackson. In 2016, Stills had 42 catches for 726 yards and nine TDs. His career numbers:

Kenny Stills Rec Yards YPC TD 
 2013 (Saints)32 641 20.0 
 2014 (Saints)63 931  14.8
 2015 (Dolphins)27 440  16.3
 2016 (Dolphins)42 726 17.3 
 TOTAL164 2738 16.7 20 


The appeal of Stills is that he's still only 24 years old (he turns 25 in April). If you believe that Stills has uncapped potential, then I can certainly understand the argument that he makes more sense than Jackson as a long-term play.

Stephon Gilmore, CB, Bills (6'1, 190)

Because the Eagles signed three former Bills defenders last offseason (including two cornerbacks) who played for Jim Schwartz in Buffalo, it's easy to label Gilmore as a logical Eagles free agency target this upcoming offseason. And, well, that's what we'll do.

Howie Roseman noted that those acquisitions were of the band-aid variety.

"When you change coaching staffs and you have guys who have played in a scheme, and the coaches are describing to you what they are looking for, it's easy to go back and watch tape and see guys in those schemes to kind of get through the moment, said Roseman. "And for certain positions, that's what we were trying to do last year. But again, our job is to improve in all areas and we weren't perfect in free agency as a whole. Our batting average is never going to be 100 percent unfortunately. We have to learn from that and do a better job as we go forward."

Gilmore would be more than a band-aid, as he's 26 years old, and a former first round pick (10th overall in 2012) who had five picks last season. Last offseason, the Bills exercised their "fifth-year option" on him, and he counted for $11,082,000 against the Bills' salary cap in 2016. Should the Bills need to use their franchise tag on Gilmore this offseason, it would cost them significantly more. Last year, the NFL's franchise-tag amount for cornerbacks was a hair under $14 million, a number that will rise in 2017.

Gilmore is a good corner, but he is not worth what it would take to keep him under the franchise tag. He excelled under Schwartz in a scheme in which the Bills' front four was able to generate pressure without the help of blitzing, however, he has been less effective in Mike Pettine's and Rex Ryan's schemes, which put more pressure on cornerbacks.

Gilmore liked playing for Schwartz, as evidenced by the following quote the day Schwartz was carried off the field after a win over the Lions, via Kyle Meinke of MLive.com.

"We play for him. The defense plays for him. And we wanted to win for him," said Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who picked off Stafford once. "He's a great coach, and we wanted to play for him. He told us before the game that it would mean a lot to him to get a win."

The downside is cost. Good cornerbacks get paid in free agency, and Gilmore will have plenty of teams with interest.

Devin Taylor, DE, Lions (6'7, 275)

The Lions selected Taylor in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, which was during Jim Schwartz's tenure. Yes, my apologies, we're doing another "Schwartz guy." (I promise they won't all be like this). 

In his time as the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills, as well as his time in Detroit, Schwartz has employed some rather large defensive ends. For example:

 PlayerYears Height Weight 
Devin Taylor 2013 6'7 275 
 Kevin Carter2001-2004 6'6 305 
 Mario Williams2014 6'6 300 
 Dave Ball2008 6'6 275 
 Jason Jones2008 6'5 272 
 Ezekiel Ansah2013 6'5 271 
 Lawrence Jackson2010-2012 6'5 261 
 Willie Young2010-2013 6'5 251 
 Kyle Vanden Bosch2005-2008 (Titans), 2010-2012 (Lions) 6'4 278 
 Antwan Odom2004-2007 6'4 277 
 Jevon Kearse2001-2003, 2008 6'4 265 


Taylor was the tallest of the bunch. Here are Taylor's career numbers:

 Devin TaylorTackles Sacks FF 
 201314 2.5 
 201415 
 201535 
 201628 4.5 
 TOTAL92 15 


While I don't believe Gilmore would be a band-aid, as noted above, Taylor would, as the team is nearly certain to trade or cut Connor Barwin. Taylor is far from an exciting player, but the Eagles will need bodies at DE.

Kyle Juszczyk, FB, Ravens (6'1, 240)

During the 2016 season, Doug Pederson made it clear that he wants a fullback on his roster.

"Down the road, as we go, if we can develop a fullback at some point, we will do that," he said. "We're constantly looking at that position, not only around the National Football League, but on our roster."

Juszczyk is a quality run blocker, and an effective receiver out of the backfield. Over the last two seasons, Juszczyk has 78 catches for 587 yards and 4 TDs. He made the Pro Bowl this year, and is in the conversation for the best fullback in the NFL.

In his post-season press conference, Howie Roseman said that vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas, who Roseman hired away from the Ravens, would be setting the Eagles' free agent board.

So there's your fullback (maybe), Doug.


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