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March 07, 2016

Eagles free agency primer: 15 players who could be of interest

Eagles NFL
030716GeorgeIloka AJ Mast/AP

No, the Eagles won't be signing Miles Austin again. We're showing the other guy, Bengals safety George Iloka.

According to, the Eagles will head into free agency this offseason with $17.4 million under the cap and a need to lock up Fletcher Cox long-term, which is on the Eagles' minds. That cap figure is less than what we're used to seeing (cough, Chip Kelly cough), however, the Eagles could still be active in free agency. They'll just need to shop at WalMart instead of Nordstrom Rack.

Today at noon EST begins the "legal tampering" phase of free agency, although agents have already been "illegally" talking with teams about their clients for weeks.

Position-wise, here is where the Eagles may have interest:

• QB: Breaking news -- Mark Sanchez isn't good. If the Eagles can find a replacement for him, they can cut Sanchez and save $3.5 million.

• RB: This is an underrated need for the Eagles as the RB cupboard could be bare in 2017, however, this feels like a position more likely to be addressed in the draft than in free agency.

WR: The Eagles' young wide receivers struggled last season, but there is some upside there. Beyond the three young guys, they have no depth whatsoever. Expect the Eagles to add a vet (preferably a low-cost one), and possibly a guy who can contribute on special teams.

TE: No need here.

• OL: It is a near certainty the Eagles will add offensive line help, with the most logical position being guard. Selling a tackle on coming to Philly may be difficult, seeing as there are no starting spots open there, so that is more likely to be addressed in the draft.

DL: The Eagles want to add "fastballs" to their defensive line, both at defensive end and defensive tackle. They won't spend a lot of money here, but the Eagles could add a body or two to the mix.

• LB: The Eagles need depth, or perhaps even a starter here depending on what they think of Kiko Alonso.

CB: Cornerback is another underrated position of need, as the Eagles will likely want to get out of Byron Maxwell's contract the first opportunity they get. Still, like RB and OT above, this is a position they are probably more likely to add in the draft than in free agency.

S: Walter Thurmond is not expected to be a starting safety for the Eagles this season, so expect the Eagles to once again be shopping for one this year.

Here are 15 players we previously profiled:

Chase Daniel, QB, Chiefs (6'0, 225)

Daniel was previously thought to be a logical target if Sam Bradford did not return to the Eagles. Now that Bradford has signed a new two-year deal, Daniel's likelihood of signing with Philly dropped some, but may still make sense as a backup.

If Daniel tests the free agent waters and doesn't find any opportunities to compete for a starting job, he could look at the injury-prone Bradford and reason that the Eagles are the most likely path to playing time. As an added bonus, in Philly, Daniel would not have to learn a new playbook under former Chiefs offensive coordinator and current Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.

Jeff Allen, LG, Chiefs (6'4, 306)

Staying on the Chiefs theme, Pederson's old LG was a second-round pick who is really beginning to come into his own as an NFL starter for the Chiefs. Allen just turned 26 this January, and would be an immediate (and significant) upgrade over Allen Barbre for the next five years.

Like Daniel above, he'll be completely familiar with what Pederson will expect of him, and would knock out one spot on a neglected offensive line that needs several competent bodies, and fast. Allen feels like a no-brainer target.

Brandon Brooks, OG, Texans (6'5, 335)

Brooks is an interesting case. He was not invited to the 2012 NFL Combine, but had an amazing pro day. At 6'5, 346 at the time, Brooks ran a 4.99 40, had a 32" vertical jump, he did 36 reps on the bench press, and look at what he did to this poor scout:


One of the things the Eagles' offensive line has lacked for quite some time is an interior lineman who can move defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage against their will. At 6'5, 335, Brooks could be that for the Eagles. He will turn 27 in August, and played RG for the Texans.

Kelechi Osemele, OG, Ravens (6'5, 330)

Osemele, at a minimum, is already a very good starting LG in the NFL, and perhaps the best available guard in free agency this offseason. Obviously, that matches up nicely with the Eagles' desperate need for starters at guard. He is particularly good in the run game, and Pederson's Chiefs were the sixth-most run-heavy team in the league a season ago.

However, Osemele brings added value as a guy who can also kick out to left tackle, like he did a season ago. Seeing as Jason Peters hasn't always been able to stay healthy throughout his career, Osemele's ability to move out to tackle could be very valuable in the short term, and could leave the Eagles with options to move him out to the edge on a permanent basis if they think he can be a quality starter there.

Speaking at the Senior Bowl in January, Pederson noted what he'll be looking for in his offensive linemen.

"You love offensive linemen that are versatile," explained Pederson. "You love to have tackles that can play left or right. You love to have guards that can also play center. The more you can have that flexibility with your guys up front, the more combinations and rotations you can have because not everyone is going to stay healthy for 16 games and you have to mix and match that. Guys that are athletic who can get out on the perimeter and run, aggressive up front, have a little, as they say, 'piss and vinegar' in their neck are guys that you look for."

Osemele checks the versatility and 'piss and vinegar' boxes, and he'll be 27 in June.

Unfortunately, Osemele is going to get paid, especially since teams are beginning to recognize the need for better guard play. For example, remember last year when Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy wrecked games because the Eagles' interior linemen couldn't block them? Interior defensive linemen are becoming a position of strength in the NFL, so if you're a team with bad guards, you can be exposed the way the Eagles were a season ago.

The Eagles will have to determine if a guard with the upside to transition to tackle is worth in excess of $10 million per season. With their limited cap space, if they signed Osemele, it would hamper their ability to add other pieces to the roster.

J.R. Sweezy, OG, Seahawks (6'5, 298)

See the 'piss and vinegar' quote above from Pederson? Sweezy's blood is made of 'piss and vinegar.' My friend Tommy Lawlor of noted Sweezy as an interesting name to watch a few weeks ago, and I agree. As Tommy notes, Sweezy can struggle at times in pass protection, but is an animal in the run game.

Again, with an expectation that the Eagles may be a run-heavy team under Pederson, Sweezy could make sense for the Eagles.

From Tommy's post, watch this video of Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable showing what Sweezy is capable of:

Sweezy played defensive tackle in college, but when the Seahawks drafted him in 2012, they converted him into a guard and in a short amount of time Sweezy has become a viable starter in the league. Sweezy will turn 27 in April, and may still be getting better.

Amini Silatolu, OG, Panthers (6'4, 320)

Silatolu's college highlights at small school Midwestern State are hilarious. Defenders essentially bounced off of him like Christian Okoye in Tecmo Bowl. This is definitely worth a quick view:

In the pros, Silatolu's career has been stalled due to an ACL tear in his right knee in 2013, and then another ACL tear in his left knee in 2015.

If the Eagles still believe in their sports science initiatives, Silatolu is a player with some intriguing upside who could potentially be had at a low cost. Silatolu will turn 28 in September.

Jermaine Kearse, WR, Seahawks (6'1, 209)

With free agent wide receivers, you really want to be careful not to pay 2's like 1's to play like 3's. It happens every year in free agency. However, if there were one player worth taking a chance on, I would go with Seattle's Jermaine Kearse. Over his four year career, Kearse's numbers have improved every season:

 Jermaine KearseRec Yards YPC TD 
 201231 10.3 
 201322 346 15.7 
 201438 537 14.1 
 201549 685 14.0 

He has also been a very productive player in playoff games. Against the Panthers a few months ago, he had 11 catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. In a playoff game against the Panthers the previous year, he had 3 catches for 129 yards and a TD.

In fact, Kearse has as many playoff touchdown receptions (six) over his career as the entire Eagles roster combined. (Brent Celek and Darren Sproles each have three).

Kearse just turned 26 in February.

Brian Quick, WR, Rams (6'3, 218)

Through the first six games of the 2014 season, Quick had 24 catches for 365 yards and 3 TDs, which would have put him on pace for 64-973-8 on the season. In the seventh game against the Chiefs, Quick suffered a devastating injury to his shoulder.

Rams head athletic trainer Reggie Scott described the injury in this YouTube clip:

“I’ll never forget when we put him on the cart," said Scott. "We had to literally support his arm. I’ve never seen anything like it. Basically you have four rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder, and he tore three of the four rotator cuff muscles. He tore his biceps tendon, which attaches on the front side, and he blew out basically the posterior capsule, or the ligaments in the back side of his shoulder. At that time we were all thinking, ‘This could easily be a career-ending type of injury.’”

Quick was still recovering heading into the 2015 season, as he had to wear a yellow beanie over his helmet for training camp so his teammates knew they were not allowed to hit him hard. He did not play until October, and had just 10 catches for 102 yards with no TDs on the season.

If his medicals check out, Quick could be an intriguing player who seemed to be on the cusp of a breakout season in 2014 before he got hurt. Personally, I think the Eagles should stay away from this crop of free agent receivers, as they are not worth the money they may command. However, Quick would be a low-cost option with upside, and familiarity with Sam Bradford from their time together in St. Louis.

Josh Bellamy, WR, Bears (6'0, 208)

As we've noted, the Eagles have essentially nothing in the way of depth at wide receiver:

 Jordan MatthewsNelson Agholor 
 Josh HuffFreddie Martino 
 Jonathan KrauseSeantavius Jones 
 Xavier Rush 

They're going to need to add a player there who can play special teams, and occasionally contribute in the regular offense. Unfortunately, there aren't many of those guys who exist in this free agent crop.

One player who might make sense is the Bears' Josh Bellamy. In 2015, Bellamy had eight special teams tackles. As a receiver, he caught 19 passes for 224 yards and 2 TDs.

Bellamy has great speed. At his pro day at Louisville in 2012 he ran a 4.38 40 time, so there could be some hope for him as a player who can stretch the defense.

Another player who could make sense for the Eagles is old friend Russell Shepard, who played for the Bucs in 2015. Over the last two seasons, Shepard has notched an impressive 24 special teams tackles.

To note, both Bellamy and Shepard are restricted free agents. Since both were undrafted, the Eagles would not have to give up any compensation to sign them, but their respective teams would have to option to match any deal the Eagles offered.

Nick Fairley, DT, Rams (6'4, 308)

Fairley was drafted by Jim Schwartz and the Lions at 13th overall, and was beginning to play well before the Lions canned Schwartz. Fairley's season-by-season numbers:

Year Tackles Sacks FF FR 
 2011 Lions15 
 2012 Lions34 5.5 
 2013 Lions35 
 2014 Lions14 
 2015 Rams29 0.5 

The numbers in blue above note when Fairley played under Schwartz. In 2015 free agency, Fairley signed a one-year deal with the Rams worth $5 million. If his price tag comes down a shade, Fairley could be an attractive rotational DT for depth.

Jason Jones, DE, Lions (6'5, 275)

Jones is yet another player who had his best success in the league under Schwartz. The Titans drafted Jones in 2008 in the second round, and while defensive coordinators aren't exactly the guys pulling the trigger in the war room, you can bet Schwartz liked him. In his rookie season, Jones had 5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles, and then Schwartz was off to be the head coach of the Lions.

In 2013, Jones signed with Schwartz's Lions in free agency. He was lost for the season Week 3 with a ruptured patellar tendon.

Could Schwartz and Jones try to unite for a third time? On the one hand, the Eagles are likely to be loading up on defensive line talent, like they used to in the Reid 4-3 days. You know... fastballs and whatnot. On the other hand, Jones will be turning 30 in May. In my view, the Eagles should be looking to go young and building for the long term, but it's hard to ignore Schwartz's and Jones' history, and Jones may come at a reasonable price.

Tahir Whitehead, LB, Lions (6'2, 241)

In 2012, Whitehead was drafted in the fifth round by the Lions when Schwartz was their head coach. Obviously, we can conclude from that fact that Schwartz thought at least at one time that Whitehead was a fit for his defense. Whitehead, meanwhile, was a Temple product, and could find a move home appealing.

If the Eagles do not believe in Kiko Alonso (or can find a trade partner for him), Whitehead would make sense as an option for the Eagles at SAM, with Jordan Hicks at the MIKE spot, and Mychal Kendricks at WILL.

Whitehead did not start at the beginning of the 2015 season, but the Lions inserted him in as a starter in their ninth game. In the eight games he started last season, Whitehead had 37 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 pass breakups and an interception. He'll turn 26 in April.

George Iloka, S, Bengals (6'4, 225)

There are a number of good safeties who are set to become free agents this offseason, such as Eric Berry (franchise tagged), Eric Weddle, Reggie Nelson, Tashaun Gipson, Rashad Johnson, Rodney McLeod, and George Iloka, to name a few. 

Two of those guys are Bengals -- Nelson and Iloka. Nelson was tied for the league lead in interceptions with eight, while Iloka was a solid, well-rounded safety who did not make many splash plays, but did not give up many either. It's going to be very difficult for the Bengals to keep both of them.

Iloka will turn 26 in March. Like Jeff Allen and Jermaine Kearse above, Iloka is an ascending player coming off his rookie contract who the Eagles could immediately insert into their starting lineup and be set there for five years. The downside is that Iloka is likely to command a high price tag.

Rodney McLeod, S, Rams (5'10, 195)

McLeod is only 5'10, 195, which is less than ideal, but he plays bigger than his size. From 2013-2015, when he was a three-year starter, McLeod had 233 tackles, 18 pass breakups, 5 interceptions, and 7 forced fumbles. As you might expect from a smaller safety, he has good range. Here's McLeod in 2014 against the Broncos. He was actually called for a hit on a defenseless receiver on this play, but watch his ability to get to the sideline from his center field position:

McLeod possesses similar athleticism to Walter Thurmond, but is a more physical player in run support. He'll be 26 in June.

Husain Abdullah, S, Chiefs (6'0, 204)

Abdullah turns 31 in July, so he is not an ideal fit for an Eagles team I suspect will once again try to begin rebuilding with youth. However, Abdullah played well last season and would make sense as a Plan B or C if other safety targets sign elsewhere. Obviously, having played for the Chiefs, Doug Pederson should have some kind of idea about his character, even if he didn't coach him directly.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski