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February 11, 2020

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

As we laid 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.

In case you missed versions 1.0 and 2.0:

Version 1.0: Robby Anderson, WR, Jets; Cory Littleton, LB, Rams; and Chris Harris, CB, Broncos

Version 2.0: Breshad Perriman, WR, Buccaneers; Byron Jones, CB, Cowboys; and Nick Kwiatkoski, LB, Bears

To note, in version 3.0, and likely in future versions, the players are less splashy, as the more high-profile guys who I think make sense have already been covered.

Demarcus Robinson (25), WR, Chiefs (6'1, 203)

Robinson was suspended four times during his college career at Florida, but he has seemingly kept out of trouble in his first four years in the NFL. Back in 2016, the Eagles brought in Robinson for a pre-draft visit, but the Chiefs snagged him in the fourth round of that draft. Of course, the Eagles had a limited number of early picks in that draft, as a result of trading up to grab Carson Wentz.

Robinson's NFL numbers through four seasons: 

 Demarcus RobinsonRec Yards YPC TD 
 201721 212 10.1 
 201822 288 13.1 
 201932 449 14.0 

Playing in an offense with Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Mecole Hardman, Robinson has not had many starting opportunities, but he still managed to carve out a role as yet another playmaker for Patrick Mahomes. While Robinson only ran a 4.59 at the 2016 Combine, he was thought of as a prospect with good speed, and that has shown up at the next level. A highlight reel: 

At just 25 years of age, Robinson is an ascending player, and his best years could lie ahead.

Trae Waynes (27), CB, Vikings (6'0, 190)

Waynes was the 11th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and his career to date has been something of a disappointment, as he has not become the star corner the Vikings hoped he would be. However, he is still a perfectly competent starting cornerback, and arguably the Vikings' best corner in 2019, with Xavier Rhodes' play falling off dramatically.

Waynes went 11th overall because he ran a blistering 4.31 40 at the 2015 NFL Combine. Obviously, he would instantaneously become the Eagles' fastest corner, if they were to bring him in, taking that title away from Ronald Darby, who the Eagles are likely to move on from this offseason. Unlike Darby, however, Waynes can/will tackle.

Over five seasons, Waynes' "meh" numbers include 247 tackles, 7 career INTs, and 2 forced fumbles. However, he has been durable (6 career games missed), and he can actually run with the league's faster receivers, which is more than what can be said for the Eagles' current corners.

Jimmie Ward (28), S, 49ers (5'11, 193)

On Sunday, we published a story about the Eagles' big plays allowed in 2019, showing all 16 of the 40-plus yard pass plays they surrendered, as well as some other big plays that went for a hair under 40 yards. While it was easy to see how bad the corners were all season long, the exercise of putting video of all of those plays in one place really shined a light on the number of times that Rodney McLeod was at least partly culpable. 

That has to change in 2020, especially if Jim Schwartz wants to continue to play a large number of single-high looks.

Ward played free safety for the Niners in 2019, usually as the last line of defense. San Francisco gave up just 5 pass plays of 40-plus yards (second-best in the NFL), and 34 pass plays of 20-plus yards (tied for best in the NFL). Certainly, the Niners' stellar pass rush contributed to that, but Ward was also very good in his own right in keeping big plays in check.

He can also lay the wood when big hit opportunities are presented:

He checks a couple of other boxes for Schwartz-style safeties:

  1. He's only 5'11, which isn't a selling point, of course, but a lack of height does not seem to bother Schwartz, seeing as McLeod (5'10) was a high-priced Eagles acquisition four years ago.
  2. He has NFL cornerback experience in his background, which is almost a Schwartz prerequisite. 

Of course, the biggest concern with Ward is his lengthy injury history, via Sports Injury Predictor

  1. March, 2014: Ward had surgery prior to the 2014 NFL Draft to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot.
  2. October, 2014: Ward missed 1 game with a quad injury.
  3. November, 2014: Ward needed surgery to replace the screw in his foot that was handling the Jones fracture he suffered earlier in the year. He missed the final 7 games of the season.
  4. September, 2016: Ward missed 3 games with a quad injury.
  5. November, 2016: Ward sustained a concussion but was cleared by the following game.
  6. December, 2016: Ward missed the final 2 games of the season with a broken collarbone.
  7. July, 2017: Ward missed the first 3 weeks of training camp with a hamstring injury and didn't play Week 1.
  8. November, 2018: Ward missed the final 8 games of the season with a fractured forearm.
  9. May, 2019: Ward suffered a broken collarbone, which required surgery.
  10. September, 2019: A broken finger kept Ward sidelined for the first three games of the regular season.

Yeesh. Great fit, but a big risk.

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