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March 09, 2023

Three free agents who make sense for the Eagles, version 3.0

The Eagles could look to fortify their running back committee, secondary and backup quarterback spot in free agency.

Eagles NFL
102722DavidMontgomery David Banks/USA TODAY Sports

Bears RB David Montgomery

NFL free agency is just around the corner, and the focus — or fear — for many Philadelphia Eagles fans will be how many good players the Birds will lose this offseason to other teams. And make no mistake, they will be losing players.

The Eagles aren't expected to be big spenders in free agency this offseason, as they are tight against the cap and have a contract extension for Jalen Hurts on the horizon. But they also won't sit out free agency completely. Here are some presumably low-cost players who could fit within their limited budget.

You can find version 1.0 here, version 2.0 here.

Marcus Mariota, QB, released by the Falcons (6'4, 222)

After (fortunately) whiffing on the the Deshaun Watson "sweepstakes" last offseason, the Atlanta Falcons settled on Marcus Mariota for their starting quarterback job. They got out to a 5-8 start and benched Mariota, who then said, cool, k bye I'm out. Rookie Desmond Ridder finished out the final four games as Atlanta's starter, and Mariota was predictably released.

With backup Gardner Minshew likely to look for a new team this offseason, the Eagles will need a new No. 2, and Mariota makes some sense, in that he is a running quarterback who can do some of the same things that Jalen Hurts can do with his legs. Should Hurts go down, the Eagles wouldn't have to throw out huge chunks of their playbook, particularly in their RPO attack, like they did with Minshew.

The Falcons were the second-most run-heavy team in the NFL in 2022, with Mariota carrying 85 times for 438 yards (5.2 YPC) and 4 TDs. His signature win of the season came against the San Francisco 49ers in a game in which he completed 13 of 14 passes for 129 yards and 2 TDs, while rushing 6 times for 50 yards and 1 TD. Highlights of that game here.

On the downside — and this is kind of a big one — Mariota's downfield accuracy in 2022 was atrocious.

The Eagles are a shot play passing offense, and for good reason when they employ A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert. It's worth noting that Brown played with Mariota in Tennessee when he was a rookie in 2019, and he played his best ball that season after the Titans made the switch from Mariota to Ryan Tannehill. The Eagles would have to feel comfortable that they can unlock Mariota's ability to at least give their star receivers chances to make plays on the football down the field.

Because Mariota was released, he won't count toward the compensatory pick formula, meaning that if the Eagles sign him he won't cancel out a qualifying compensatory free agent lost. He should also be a relatively cheap option for a quarterback who is still only 29 years old (10 months younger than Carson Wentz!) and has 74 career starts.

David Montgomery, RB, Bears (5'11, 224)

Montgomery's appeal to the Eagles should be pretty straightforward if Miles Sanders moves on in free agency, as is expected. He is a tough between-the-tackles runner in the same mold of Jordan Howard, but with more speed and receiving ability, and less mileage.

Montgomery's stats are not particularly impressive:

David Montgomery Rush Yards YPC TD 
2019 242 889 3.7 
2020 247 1070 4.3 
2021 225 849 3.8 
2022 201 801 4.0 
TOTAL 915 3609 3.9 26 

However, it should be noted that he has played behind a horrid Bears offensive line since he came into the league. There's little doubt that he would find more success behind the Eagles' stellar run-blocking line.

Montgomery would give the Eagles a power complement to Kenny Gainwell who can help close games in the fourth quarter. He would also be more of a weapon in the passing game than Sanders, both in pass protection and as a receiver:

Receiving stats (2020-2022) Rec Yards YPC TD 
Miles Sanders, Eagles  74 433 5.9 
David Montgomery, Bears  130 1055 8.1 

On a side note, it's hilarious to me that Montgomery made the NFL's Top 100 list last offseason, while Lane Johnson did not. But whatever. 

Montgomery could be a cheap committee back option in free agency in a stacked running back class.

Jimmie Ward, S, 49ers (5'11, 195)

In the aftermath of the Eagles' dominant blowout win over San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game, many of the 49ers' players revealed themselves to be crybabies. Ward was one of them, vowing to enact revenge on A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith in future matchups.

That's nothing new for Ward. Last offseason he publicly talked about hurting DK Metcalf. 

So, OK, you'd rather have players that just make plays on the field instead of talking about them off of it while playing video games, but Ward would actually be a pretty good fit for the Eagles if/when they lose C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

Like CJGJ, Ward has spent time both as a slot corner and safety, which is especially important for the Eagles, given Avonte Maddox's injury history. He is an outstanding tackler, as he has just 10 missed tackles the last five years vs. 289 tackles, for an absolutely stellar missed tackle rate of just 3.3 percent, per ProFootballReference. He also has man-to-man cover skills.

In 2020, Ward signed a three-year contract worth $28.5 million. He probably shouldn't cost more than $7 million APY at age 32, which is about half of what Gardner-Johnson is probably about to make in free agency.

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