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March 25, 2019

Eagles free agency grade roundup

NFL free agency will continue on until, well, the end of the 2019 season, but the most noteworthy players have already been snapped up across the league. And so, let's take a peek at what some outsiders are saying about the Eagles' free agency period. (We gave the Eagles a C+ over the weekend.)

ESPN: Various grades

Bill Barnwell took on the monumental task of grading every noteworthy free agent move for every team. We won't copy/paste each entry, but here are each of the grades for the Eagles' acquisitions:

Ronald Darby: C

DeSean Jackson: B

Malik Jackson: B

Michael Bennett trade: B-

Brandon Graham: C+

#JimmySays: Barnwell generally did a good job trying to understand the context of each of the Eagles' moves. He objected to Darby's $8.5 million price tag, which he no doubt wrote that at a time before the "real" numbers came out. It's more like a $5.6 million deal, with incentives.

I'll object to the notion that Graham got overpaid, but we'll get to that in a minute.

Bleacher Report: C+

What they needed to do

The cap-strapped Philadelphia Eagles entered free agency just trying to hold on for dear life. With little money to spend, they had to decide which members of a large group of pending in-house free agents were worth prioritizing. 

What they did right

They brought cornerback Ronald Darby back on a cheap one-year deal, wisely let good-not-great off-ball linebacker Jordan Hicks leave for big money elsewhere and brought back DeSean Jackson for less than the departed Golden Tate received from the Giants. They also got younger up front on defense by effectively swapping out Michael Bennett with Malik Jackson. None of these victories are large, but a win's a win. 

Where they went wrong

Malik Jackson could become a negative if he's declining as his 2018 numbers in Jacksonville would suggest. And with Bennett gone, they overpaid Brandon Graham, who brings plenty of pressure but isn't a finisher. They've also yet to address their running back depth chart, which has become a major weakness of late, and they have a hole at left guard that remains unaddressed while they focused on patching up their own house.

What they should do now

They have enough wiggle room to pull the trigger on a deal for a running back like LeSean McCoy, Jerick McKinnon, Duke Johnson or Jordan Howard, and they have three top-60 draft picks with which they can address needs at guard, defensive end and potentially even left tackle (assuming Jason Peters isn't Benjamin Button).

#JimmySays: Oof. Where do I begin?

• Malik Jackson replaces Timmy Jernigan, not Michael Bennett.

• Was Brandon Graham really overpaid? Here is what top edge rushers slated for free agency made this year:

Player Team Contract APY
DeMarcus Lawrence Cowboys 1 year, $20.5 million $20.5 million
Trey Flowers Lions 5 years, $90 million $18 million
Dee Ford 49ers 5 years, $87.5 million $17.5 million
Frank Clark Seahawks 1 year, $17.1 million $17.1 million
Za'Darius Smith Packers 4 years, $66 million $16.5 million
Jadeveon Clowney Texans 1 year, $16 million $16 million
Brandon Graham Eagles 3 years, $40 million $13.3 million
Preston Smith Packers 4 years, $52 million $13 million
Justin Houston Colts 2 years, $24 million $12 million
Dante Fowler Rams 1 year, $12 million $12 million

Graham got significantly less money than Trey Flowers and Za'Darius Smith, two others players whose sacks numbers won't wow anyone (Flowers averages 5.3 sacks per season over his four-year-career, while Flowers averages 4.6), but were more expensive because they're younger. In the same piece, the Lions and Packers are praised for the signings of those two players.

And sure, while Graham had something of a down year in 2018, pressure-wise, he makes a ton of plays that don't often show in the stat sheet, he is an outstanding run defender, and he has missed one game in seven years. So, sure, perhaps he "isn't a finisher," except, you know, this...

What exactly should he have been paid relative to the other edge rushers on the open market? 

• Hole at left guard? Huh? They re-signed their starting 25-year-old LG to an extremely team-friendly deal. Who exactly should they have signed instead?

Alright, moving on...

Washington Post: C

Philadelphia Eagles: General Manager Howie Roseman has had to redo contracts and let some quality players leave (including defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Tim Jernigan) to keep the core of the team together. But they managed to add two potential difference-makers in deep threat DeSean Jackson and interior pass rusher Malik Jackson. Grade: C

#JimmySays: Jernigan would have been gone no matter what the Eagles' cap situation was.

Adam Rank of specifically graded trades. There were two for the Eagles. First, DeSean Jackson:

Bucs ship WR DeSean Jackson to Eagles

Eagles acquire: Jackson, 2020 seventh-round pick

Buccaneers acquire: 2019 sixth-round pick (No. 208)

Grade for Eagles: B+. After trying for years to find a DeSean Jackson-type to replace the receiver who was unceremoniously dumped by former coach Chip Kelly in 2014, the organization did the right thing and just brought Jackson back to the fold (they also gave him a new three-year deal). Jackson led the NFL in air yards per target last year, with 19.1. That's well ahead of the No. 2 receiver, the Jets' Robby Anderson (16.5), among receivers with at least 50 targets.

Grade for Buccaneers: C. I mean, the fact that Tampa got anything for a player who was probably going to be cut loose anyway should be seen as a victory. Jackson and the Bucs had some nice times over the past two seasons (he posted a league-high 18.9 yards per catch last season), but the pairing never really lived up to its potential.

And Michael Bennett:

Patriots acquire DE Michael Bennett from Patriots

Patriots acquire: Bennett, 2020 seventh-round pick

Eagles acquire: 2020 fifth-round pick

Grade for Patriots: A. This is a typical Patriots move right here. After losing Trey Flowers to free agency, they complete a cost-effective transaction to actually improve. How is this possible? What's interesting to note here is that since 2014, only Khalil Mack and Von Miller have been better than Bennett at rushing the passer among edge rushers, according to Pro Football Focus; Bennett generated 374 pressures in that span, behind Miller's 405 and Mack's 386.

Grade for Eagles: C. From 2009 to 2017, Bennett split his time between the Bucs and Seahawks, but now, after one year in Philly, he's on to another new team -- the 33-year-old is at the mercenary stage of his NFL career. Bennett not only wouldn't take a pay cut to stay with the Eagles, but he wanted a raise. So even though they're losing a player who recorded nine sacks last season, this move did make some sense for them.

#JimmySays: No complaints here.

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