March 14, 2021
It's finally (almost) here.
NFL free agency will unofficially get underway on Monday with the start of the legal tampering period that will last two days until free agency officially begins — meaning players are able to actually sign their negotiated deals – on Wednesday.
And every year, the start of the new league year — and in turn free agency — brings a ton of excitement to the football world, especially for Eagles fans who know they have a front office that isn't afraid to go out and make big moves. That even applies in 2021, when the Birds will have little to spend and will likely be making moves on the margins rather than any major splashes like they've made in past offseasons.
Still, hope springs eternal, and some Eagles fans will talk themselves into believing the moves their team makes in the coming days and weeks will turn them from one of the worst teams in football in 2020 to a playoff contender in 2021 — they're currently +400 to win the NFC East (third best), according to Pa.Unibet.com, so they'll need some serious help. Some Eagles fans will go on believing this team is doomed no matter what moves Howie Roseman and Co. make. And still others will, perhaps more accurately, see this offseason for what it is — the first step in a rebuilding process that is likely going to take more than one winter to fix.
There is a bright side, however... if 2020 was bottom, there's nowhere for these Eagles to go but up. And that upward journey back to contention in the NFL could (and should) begin this week. With that in mind, let's get right into today's special NFL free agency edition of What They're Saying...
Before we look at who the Eagles might add, we have to look at their salary cap situation. The Eagles are still currently $18 million over the cap, according to OverTheCap.com and have to get that number down to zero by Wednesday. That being said, there are reports that the Eagles will have no problem doing that, so much so that they actually don't need one of the players who was rumored to be restructuring his deal to do so.
Here's more from NBC Sports's Reuben Frank...
Lane Johnson won’t be restructuring his contract.
Not because he doesn’t want to. Because he doesn’t need to.
A league source told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark that the Eagles informed Johnson that they no longer need him to re-work his contract since they’ll be able to get down to their salary cap by the deadline without restructuring his deal.
The source said Johnson was willing to restructure but it simply wasn't needed. [nbcsports.com]
We've reached the part of this WTS where we're going to rip through some free agency predictions and rumors from various outlets. Let's start over at CBS Sports with Cody Benjamin, who took a look at five "big-name" free agents the Eagles could target this offseason that might come as a surprise given their current cap situation. But, as we previously outlined, they don't appear to have any issues getting below that number, and once they do, we all know how creative Roseman can get with the ledger.
That said, is it safe to rule out even a single big swing from general manager Howie Roseman? We'd caution against doing so. Roseman has built a reputation as one of the NFL's most trade-happy personnel heads, so it's more likely he tries to get creative to acquire a starting-caliber veteran already under contract. But if the Eagles are serious about adding to a mostly barren secondary or capitalizing on an especially deep free agent wide receiver class, they can't be counted out of the mix for some top targets.
"Anything is possible with a willingness to have a low first-year cap number where the other figures balloon like the Saints did in 2014 with Jairus Byrd while having a tight salary cap," says Joel Corry, CBS Sports contributor and former agent and cap expert. "The Eagles already have no problem adding voiding/dummy years to deals to stretch out signing bonus proration. Using the signing/option bonus structure, like in Carson Wentz's contract, would be a way to keep cap numbers low in the first two years."
There's more risk in this approach, Corry says, because if a player doesn't pan out, the back-loaded contract can haunt the team down the road. (The Eagles are navigating that very issue, in part, this offseason.) But let's say Philly is desperate to improve the WR spot after years of swings and misses, and not only that, but sees value in signing a younger starter who can conceivably still be hitting his prime in 2022-24. They have the flexibility to be bidders, at least for one major player, even if said flexibility isn't apparent right now. [cbssports.com]
So, who are some of the options? Well, one name he mentions is someone we'll discuss again in a bit: safety John Johnson. But he also outlines a trio of wide receivers, any of whom would be an upgrade for Philly. Here's the biggest of the bunch, who would make a lot more sense if the Eagles don't plan on taking a WR with the sixth-overall pick:
Corey Davis, WR, TEN
Potential contract: Three years, $32.25 million
The Eagles are likely to address WR early in the 2021 draft, but Davis fits exactly the profile they should be looking for: He's young (26), ascending (improved numbers each year) and brings size (6-foot-3) to a smaller, inexperienced group. He's also not going to cost as much as top-of-the-market starters like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kenny Golladay. If you can back-load something like a three-year deal, it could work for both sides; you get instant help, and he gets a top 20 salary with another shot at free agency at 29. [cbssports.com]
Next up is The Athletic's Sheil Kapadia, who takes a look at a potential defensive back who could fit in Philly (and who we previously mentioned above...
John Johnson (S): Eagles
The Eagles are viewing 2021 as a rebuilding year as they try to get their cap in order, but they are not in the business of completely sitting out free agency. They’ll restructure deals on current players to free up some space to add young talent, and Johnson is a player who could appeal to them. Free safety Rodney McLeod is coming off of a season-ending knee injury and turns 31 in June. Johnson played in a split-safety scheme in Los Angeles and showed versatility with more than 250 snaps at free safety, at slot corner and in the box. At just 25 years old, the Eagles can project Johnson as a key cog for when they’re ready to be more competitive. [theathletic.com]
Another outlet, another defensive player for the Birds...
Jason Verrett, defensive back
While the Eagles struggled most significantly in man coverage last year (despite running it more than a third of the time) and Verrett comes from the zone-heavy 49ers, he can help new coordinator Jonathan Gannon transition into a more Matt Eberflus–esque zone scheme. This is going to be the Eagles’ new reality during the Wentz dead-money years. Verrett can be a very high boom in free agency, or he could struggle to fend off injury. [si.com]
We've mentioned this post before, but we think it's so good that it's worth mentioning again. Over at Bleeding Green Nation, Brandon took a look at 38 players who have direct connections to their new coaching staff. You know, the kind of guys who would have an inside track at landing a deal with the Eagles.
There are no shortage of potential fits who have ties to new head coach Nick Sirianni, but there are a pair of QBs who have a tie to offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, and that QB-OC combo is especially intriguing given both of these guys could come in to help Jalen Hurts learn the offense as they'd already have a close tie to the guy in charge of running it. Moreover, they'd both be stylistic fits — neither is a standard "pocket passer" — to mentor Hurts and help him develop his game.
QB Tyrod Taylor
Steichen started out as Taylor’s position coach in 2019 before being promoted to offensive coordinator. Taylor entered 2020 as the Chargers’ starting quarterback but was quickly supplanted by Justin Herbert. There could be a relatively competitive market for Taylor given his experience and a 24-21-1 record in 47 career starts. A team desperate for quarterback help (Washington, for example?) could throw money at him. But if Taylor has to settle for the Eagles’ offer to “compete” with Jalen Hurts for the starting job, perhaps that would interest the 31-year-old. Eagles vice president of player personnel Andy Weidl has familiarity with Taylor from overlapping in Baltimore from 2011 through 2014.
QB Geno Smith
If the Eagles want to add an inexpensive veteran who “knows the system,” then Smith makes sense. The 30-year-old has multiple connections to Philly. Steichen was his quarterbacks coach in 2018. The aforementioned Patullo was his position coach on the New York Jets in 2015 and 2016. Philly also did their homework on Smith (Lurie attended his private workout with the Eagles) once upon a time leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft. Smith surely isn’t any good (12-19 starting record, 72.9 career passer rating) but that’s OK, he’ll come cheap. Smith was on the vet minimum as Russell Wilson’s backup in Seattle last year. [bleedinggreennation.com]
So, what is the Eagles' top need in free agency? As seems to be the case almost every year, it starts on the outside for the Eagles, with upgrades at wide receiver and cornerback at the top of the list. Here's more on the former from Dave Zangaro, who says wideout is indeed the teams No. 1 need in free agency.
Could the Eagles show up to Week 1 with Travis Fulgham, Jalen Reagor and Greg Ward Jr. as their starter? I guess so. But they also need an upgrade. I’m not sure what the Eagles have in Fulgham or Reagor. They both have potential but are pretty big question marks heading into the 2021 season. And Ward is a solid player but isn’t overly explosive. The Eagles haven’t had a true No. 1 receiver in quite some time so if they have a chance to land one in the draft, it would go a long way. [nbcsports.com]
And before we go, let's take a look at the guy tasked with making the moves, Howie Roseman. Earlier this week, an in-depth story from Jeff McLane of The Inquirer outlined some troubling trends atop the Eagles power structure. It's a story that's definitely worth a read for any Eagles fan and is both revelatory and insanely frustrating at the same time.
Well, on the very same day that story came out waiting Roseman in a negative light, the Athletic dropped its rankings of the top general managers in football — and Roseman was right up there near the top, tied for second (with the Packers' Brian Gutekunst) behind only Bill Belichick.
T-2. Howie Roseman, Philadelphia Eagles
Average signing score: 1.8
If you’re surprised to see Roseman ranking this high after such a difficult six months for the Eagles, a closer look at these deals should help. For example, the initial contract with receiver Alshon Jeffery was fine as a one-year deal for $9.5 million. It’s the Eagles’ subsequent deals with Jeffery that proved regrettable. That is symbolic of the Eagles’ broader issues. They built a team that won the Super Bowl. Efforts to maintain that team backfired.
Javon Hargrave played well enough over the second half of last season to keep his signing out of Category 3. The 2017 Nick Foles signing at $5.5 million proved wondrous when he led their championship charge with 373 yards, three touchdown passes and one touchdown reception to become Super Bowl MVP. [theathletic.com]
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