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January 15, 2020

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

As we have begun laying out in our "stay or go" series, the Philadelphia Eagles are heading into an offseason where they could see some prominent players move on from the team. 

Due to salary cap constraints the last couple of offseasons, they could not go on spending sprees like they have done in the past under Howie Roseman. In 2020, however, armed with some cap space at their disposal, and needing to plug glaring roster holes, the Eagles are primed to make some noise in free agency.

Here are three free agents I believe make sense for the Birds this offseason.

Robby Anderson (26), WR, Jets (6'3, 190)

Anderson is big play threat with 4.34 speed who has consistently averaged around 15 yards per catch over his four-year career with the Jets.

Robby Anderson Rec Yards YPC TD 
 201642 587 14.0 
 201763 941 14.9 
 201850 752 15.0 
 201952 779 15.0 
 TOTAL207 3059 14.8 20 

Those are pretty good numbers, when you consider the Jets' instability at quarterback over that time frame. Since 2016, only seven receivers have 200+ catches and 14.5 or more yards per catch. They are Julio Jones, Mike Evans, T.Y. Hilton, Tyreek Hill, Brandin Cooks, Marvin Jones, and Anderson. What might Anderson's numbers have been with a stable quarterback situation?

Here he is beating the Cowboys for a 92-yard touchdown this season:

Of course, the Eagles have had previous interest in Anderson:

In recent years, fewer and fewer young, attractive players have entered free agency coming off their rookie contracts, as teams have done a better job locking up their own guys. Anderson would be an example of that, as he will turn 27 in May, and should be entering his prime years in the NFL.

Anderson would go a long way toward fixing the Eagles' lack of speed, and hey, if DeSean Jackson can stay healthy in 2020, there's nothing wrong with employing two receivers who can stretch the field, especially in a two-TE offense.

Anderson will be expensive. The best comparison for on-field production is Sammy Watkins, who signed as a free agent with the Chiefs in 2018 for three years, $48 million, or $16 million per season. Here were Watkins' career numbers at the time vs. Anderson's last four years:

PlayerRec Yards YPC TD 
 Sammy Watkins (2014-2017)192 3052 15.9 25 
 Robby Anderson (2016-2019)207 3059 14.8 20 

Of course, Watkins had the cache of being the fourth overall pick in the 2014, while Anderson went undrafted in 2016. Still, the bet here is that Anderson's deal on the open market in a weak wide receiver free agent group won't be that far off from Watkins'.

Cory Littleton (26), LB, Rams (6'3, 228)

The Eagles haven't had a consistent playmaking linebacker since the 2016 season, when Jordan Hicks had 85 tackles (6 for loss), 5 INTs and 11 pass breakups. They have a chance to add an impact linebacker in Littleton this offseason, who would be a great fit in the Eagles' scheme, primarily as a coverage linebacker, but who can also do so many other things. There's a lot to like here:

Like Anderson above, Littleton went undrafted in 2016. He initially contributed on special teams for the Rams, and worked his way up to become a good, durable NFL starter. His last two seasons, in which he has started all 16 games:

 Cory LittletonTackles (TFL) Sacks INT-PBU FF-FR 
2018 125 (9) 3-13 0-0 
2019 134 (6) 3.5 2-9 2-4 

Littleton's 22 passes defensed over the last two seasons lead all NFL linebackers:

 Cory Littleton, Rams22 
 Tremaine Edmunds, Bills21 
 Eric Kendricks, Vikings19 
 Lorenzo Alexander, Bills18 
 Luke Kuechly, Panthers18 
 Bobby Wagner, Seahawks17 

His 259 tackles rank sixth among linebackers:

Player Tackles 
 Blake Martinez, Packers299 
 Bobby Wagner, Seahawks297 
 Darius Leonard, Colts284 
 Luke Kuechly, Panthers274 
 Jaylon Smith, Cowboys263 
 Cory Littleton, Rams259 

And oh by the way, he also has five blocked punts:

Again, like Anderson above, Littleton's agent will have a good case for his client to attract big offers. In my view, he is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. The Eagles don't prioritize the linebacker position, but this is a player who fits in so many ways and can make a big impact.

MORE: Eagles stay or go: Defensive end | Eagles have fourth best odds to win 2021 Super Bowl among NFC teams

Chris Harris (30), CB, Broncos (5'11, 199)

Harris is undersized at 5'10, 199, but stands as an example of a player who is still good on the outside despite being vertically disadvantaged. He is also the type of outside/inside versatile corner that the Eagles tend to like.

Harris has proven to be a durable player, as he has played nine seasons, and he has only missed five games over his career.

While the Eagles' focus this offseason should be on getting younger, it can't be ignored that they reportedly had interest in Harris at the trade deadline. 

I'm not sure exactly what the dopey Broncos were holding out for there, but whatever. 

The Eagles' starting secondary currently looks like this:

  1. CB Jalen Mills: UFA in 2020
  2. CB Ronald Darby: UFA in 2020
  3. S Rodney McLeod: UFA in 2020
  4. S Malcolm Jenkins: UFA in 2021, but has stated he won't play for the Eagles in 2020 on his current deal.

The Eagles need corners who can play immediately, and Harris would make some sense as a solid short-term fix.

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