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February 25, 2022

What they're saying about the Eagles: JuJu? A-Rob? Williams? Houston? It's a free agent frenzy

The Eagles could be players for several household name free agents...

Eagles NFL

The new league year begins in the NFL in about three weeks time, and the Eagles will probably be connected to, rumored to, or implored to sign nearly every single top free agent between now and then.

The Eagles do have a little bit of cap space, but not enough to sign more than a few pieces and certainly not enough to bring in multiple big ticket items. Luckily, they have 10 picks in the upcoming draft and the always feisty Howie Roseman running the show. The team could make a splash, and if it does, it seems apparent that wide receiver, safety or edge rusher are the places at which they'd most like to bring in a veteran.

Here's a look at some of the more interesting Eagles free agent rumors, projections or predictions of the last few days:

Best WR fit

Zach Berman | The Athletic

We'll start at wideout, where the writing appears to be on the wall that the Eagles are going to need to bring in some kind of veteran presence after going with a completely unproven and early-20s wide receivers room in 2021. Jalen Hurts (or whoever is the QB) will need more than just DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert to throw to, and the market is full of experienced receivers who would be perfect compliments for Smith in the pass game. Here's a look at a few suggestions from Berman's most recent Eagles mailbag:

I would go the free-agency route to address this need. This is similar to 2017, when the Eagles could benefit from an established wide receiver considering the amount of young players they have on the roster. And I’m bullish on DeVonta Smith, so it’s reasonable to consider how that receiver complements Smith’s skill set. The ideal fit would be a big-bodied “X” receiver who can play opposite Smith. I’d keep Quez Watkins in the slot.

The best fit would be the Chargers’ Mike Williams, who has a background with the Eagles’ coaching staff, but my guess is the Eagles will be priced out of that market. Allen Robinson would make sense in the Alshon Jeffery situation from 2017, when the Bears’ No. 1 receiver signed a one-year deal to reset his value. I’d be intrigued by Jacksonville’s DJ Chark, who broke his ankle last season but had 73 catches for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019 and is only 25. [The Athletic]

That good JuJu

Tim McManus | ESPN.com

Another vet who might also be a good fit for the Eagles, but would similarly be a reclamation project just like Robinson or Chark above. ESPN's McManus spoke with NFL analyst Matt Bowen, who suggested JuJu Smith-Schuster from the Steelers would be the appropriate new weapon for Nick Sirianni's offense. He could be gettable for a one-year prove it deal after missing most of 2021 due to injury.

Wide receiver

Free agent: JuJu Smith-Schuster (25), Pittsburgh Steelers

2021 stats: 15 catches, 129 yards in five games

Bowen: "I think you need a bigger slot receiver [Schuster is 6-foot-1, 215 pounds], someone who is physical, with catch-and-run traits. Someone who can work the middle of the field and has enough lower-body explosiveness to create after the catch. ... I think he would fit what Sirianni wants in the middle of the field. He's tough, he's physical, he's a detailed route runner, and he'll compete inside the numbers." [ESPN]

Bowen also recommends the Eagles target former Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward, former Dolphins defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, Saints former safety Marcus Williams, and former Packers linebacker De'Vondre Campbell.

Playing it safe

Bill Barnwell | ESPN.com

One more from the worldwide leader, as Barnwell whips around the NFC to try and pinpoint each team's biggest offseason need. And when he came to the Eagles, the safety spot was his biggest concern. He also said it was the Cowboys' biggest soon-to-be issue. Here's a look at why and how he expects the Birds to address the issue:

Anthony Harris and Rodney McLeod are both free agents, and while the Eagles could turn to Marcus Epps or 2020 fourth-rounder K'Von Wallace for more snaps in 2022, this is a position in which defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon will probably want two new starters.

Unlike the Cowboys, though, the Eagles have the resources to make a more significant splash at the position. They will need to address wide receiver, edge rusher and possibly the interior of their offensive line this offseason if center Jason Kelce doesn't come back, but they have three first-round picks and ample cap space to take a swing at one of the top options in free agency.

The safety class could include Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Maye, Marcus Williams, Quandre Diggs, Terrell Edmunds, Justin Reid and even Bengals standout Jessie Bates, although I'd be shocked if Cincinnati didn't franchise him. The Eagles have made significant investments at safety under general manager Howie Roseman in the past, and I would expect them to sign one of the top players available at the position. [ESPN]

Living on the edge

Arjun Menon | Pro Football Focus

Over at Pro Football Focus, their analyst Menon wrote about where each of the NFL's top 50 free agents were likely to sign and they had the Eagles missing out on all the top receivers. But they do have Philly cashing in on two of the top 50, both on the defensive side. Here's a look:

37. EDGE JUSTIN HOUSTON, BALTIMORE RAVENS

Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles — One year, $7 million (fully guaranteed)

Houston is one of those edge rushers who is better than the public’s perception. After sitting out for most of the offseason, he signed a one-year deal with the Ravens and turned in a solid season. Even at 32 years old, he recorded 45 pressures and 4.5 sacks. Given that pressures are more stable from year to year than sacks, we can expect him to produce this same type of performance in 2022 with a little more sack luck heading his way.

The Eagles make a lot of sense for Houston, as they are an analytically-minded team that probably understands the value of pressure numbers. Houston’s pressures are usually above average for his position. Houston can provide quality depth as a rotational pass-rusher.

...

48. CB D.J. REED JR., SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles – Three years, $24 million ($13.5 million guaranteed)

After getting cut by the 49ers, Reed went to the division-rival Seahawks and immediately flourished. In 2021, Reed finished with a 78.6 PFF grade, sixth-best in the NFL. He’s primarily spent time in zone-heavy schemes, which is why the Eagles make a lot of sense as a landing spot. Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon runs a relatively basic scheme that plays a lot of zone coverage. This can help to mask some of Reed’s weaknesses, which includes his lack of height (5-foot-9). [Pro Football Focus]

Houston on a one-year deal sounds fine. Having Reed replace Steven Nelson — whom PFF has going to the Falcons — seems like a good enough replacement there too. These two free agent signings would total $13 million of the Eagles $23 million in cap space, giving them some room to find some bargain pickups as the offseason goes on.

Getting better

John Stolnis | Bleeding Green Nation

We'll end on a homegrown player note. Obviously, the Eagles will need to see some leaps forward from their current crop of young players, and Stolnis at BGN tried to predict five such guys who could show big improvement or have bigger roles in 2022. He expects three offensive players — Hurts, Quez Watkins and Kenny Gainwell — to be better this coming fall. 

He also thinks two guys on defense might become real contributors. The first is Milton Williams, who was better than you might have thought in his rookie year. The second is cornerback Zech McPhearson, who could get more playing time as the secondary will likely get younger this season:

ZECH MCPHEARSON

McPhearson didn’t see a lot of time in Jonathan Gannon’s defense, perhaps not overly surprising for a rookie 4th-round pick, although he was a star special teams player for the Eagles. He played 325 special teams snaps, the most on the team and made his mark as perhaps the team’s best gunner on punts.

Darius Slay and Maddox are obviously locked in at cornerback, and the team will likely draft a cornerback early or sign a free agent to be the team’s No. 2. That said, because of his outstanding special teams play, McPhearson could get a shot as the team’s 4th corner and, after that, who knows? He’s not the most likely candidate for “most improved,” but he also starts with the least amount of NFL production as his base, so it wouldn’t require much! [Bleeding Green Nation]


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