Potential free agents that the Eagles could target on offense is widely believed to be determined by head coach Doug Pederson and his staff more so than it is by vice president of personnel Howie Roseman.
Pederson has already said that he intends on keeping his play-calling duties, and it is more than reasonable to believe that Roseman can’t effectively evaluate talent that can play in Pederson’s system because he hasn’t seen the strengths and weaknesses of Pederson’s offensive game plan, and how it utilizes the roster.
So Pederson and newly hired offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, will most likely have the first crack at creating a list of guys to target. (Click here my opinion on what that list could look like)
On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will have a good chance to make a list of his own to fit the style of defense that he wants to play, which most likely will be a 4-3 base defense. Given that the Eagles have played a 3-4 base defense the past three years, it is possible that Pederson and Schwartz will have a tough time teaching the particular style of defense that they wish to play after sifting through the roster with a fine-tooth comb.
Luckily, the Eagles already have a number of players who already have experience playing a 4-3 base defense, so the transition period should not be as excruciating as when Chip Kelly and Billy Davis tried their 3-4 experiment.
Here is where Roseman gets to earn his money and prove his worth though.
Roseman knows what it takes to run a successful 4-3 defense and it is very possible that he could find more comfort scouting out defensive talent for the team that he would for offense. In fact, not that he would ever release it, Roseman could create his own list of guys that he thinks would be a great addition to this team, and cross-reference that list with Pederson and his staff. These are some of the guys that could find themselves on this list but don’t be surprised to see a few familiar names.
- Vinny Curry, 4-3 DE
This shouldn’t surprise anyone. As soon as Schwartz was hired as the defensive coordinator, Curry’s agent must have called Roseman immediately to begin negotiations. Curry has been miscast in Chip Kelly’s defense for the past 3 years, and his production was still outstanding in part-time pass rushing duties. Bringing him back to play in the defense he was born to play in would benefit everyone involved. However, Curry gained weight during his time in Kelly’s defense so that he could play in a 3-4 system. It would be difficult to ask him to now lose weight, and return to his optimum condition in a single offseason, but if he can do it, everyone wins. Curry is such a beast that he could challenge Brandon Graham and Conner Barwin for a potential starting role next season. Re-signing him will be almost as important as getting Fletcher Cox locked up, which basically means that Roseman will almost assuredly find a way to keep Curry in town.
- Darryl Tapp, 4-3 DE
Tapp isn’t the fan favorite, or the special talent that some other players are on the market, but he is a pretty good option to bring back to Philadelphia for a rotational role. Tapp hasn’t had much starting experience in the last five seasons but his price tag could be what ultimately brings him onto Roseman’s radar. The Eagles have a number of positions to fill and defensive end is going to have three premium valued talents on the roster if Curry is brought back. Tapp isn’t a great pass rusher, or a great run defender, but he does both adequately, and would not be a liability by any stretch. Even if Tapp himself isn’t brought to Philadelphia, expect a player that fits this talent level to be signed or drafted. A veteran like Tapp could be the likely answer though.
- Dwight Freeney, 3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE
Just like Tapp could represent a cheap option to fit into the rotation without significant talent drop-off, Freeney could represent a blatant attempt by the Eagles to stack the deck on the defensive line. Cox will constantly command double teams in a Schwartz defense, and Freeney, even at the end of his career, is still no pushover. Last offseason, the Cardinals stole Freeney off the market with a one-year contract worth $970,000, and he posted nine sacks in limited playing time. If Freeney decides he is not finished in the NFL, the Eagles should have the clout and finances to sway a nice incentive-laden contract his way and throw him into a stacked defensive rotation featuring Graham, Barwin, and Cox. With that kind of talent on the Eagles defensive line, imagine game-planning for the Eagles defense WITHOUT Schwartz’s blitzing nature. It could happen people.
- Cullen Jenkins, 4-3 DT
Jenkins is another player that would need to convince himself he has another year left in the NFL before entering free agency, but his return to Philadelphia after playing productive snaps for the Giants would be a great fit across from Fletcher Cox. Jenkins still has the uncanny ability to penetrate a backfield effectively in pass rushing duties, and holds his gaps well in the run game. He will also be in a rotation that could feature Cox, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, and Beau Allen. Sounds like a deep effective rotation to me.
- Kevin Williams, 4-3 DT
Williams has not been the dominant defensive terror that he was on the Vikings for a number of years now. That being said, he has still been a good tackle, and the Eagles could seek his services for cheap as well. Williams has played with the Seahawks and the Saints the last couple seasons, and has produced highly in limited duties. He also only signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal to play for the Saints. Roseman could definitely find cash like that to bring Williams aboard and for a man with his financial savvy, it wouldn’t be very difficult at all.
- Mason Foster, 4-3 MLB or 4-3 OLB
Foster disappointed many when he underperformed in Tampa Bay, and got hit with the injury bug at some of the worst times. A change in scenery did not necessarily help him, as he switched schemes and positions on the Redskins defense. Still, Foster still has the youth and the talent that could attract the eye of Schwartz and Roseman because of how small the market is for 4-3 base outside linebackers. The Eagles also have to find a way to evaluate and place Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso on the depth chart since two inside linebackers will no longer be necessary on the field, and Demeco Ryans does not have the ability to play another position as well. Having Foster could soften the blow of having to fill two positions, which will allow for better competition and depth at the linebacker position.
- Mark Barron, 4-3 OLB or SS
This signing would take some thinking outside of the box. Deone Bucannon had a highly productive and effective season playing inside linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals this past season after he was drafted as a safety. Barron’s ability to play physically, and cover adequately on the second level could make him a commodity in 4-3 base defenses. Like Bucannon, Barron is definitely undersized to be a linebacker, but he has already proved that he can make the position switch after playing OLB for the Rams. He also posted 116 tackles and three forced fumbles. I think he is worth a look from Roseman.
- Morris Claiborne, CB
Eagles fans may not be impressed with this pick, but if Claiborne hits the market, please believe he will peak the interest of many NFL teams. Claiborne may not have lived up to the expectations of the Cowboys, but he still retains his first round grade and he still has the physical ability you look for in top flight corners. A change of scenery could be great for Claiborne, and competition with Eric Rowe would benefit both young players. Roseman simply must consider going after him if the Cowboys decide to go in another direction.
- Nolan Carroll, CB
The second half of the season was rough for Carroll and the whole Philadelphia defense, especially after starting out the season as the backbone of the team. Carroll’s pay grade also took a hit with the drop in play, but he will still command a nice salary because cornerback, like quarterback, is a premium position. He played well, and proved he can hold his own in a number of situations. Starting caliber players also don’t leave the free agent market without being overpaid at those positions, and he will be no different. If the Eagles have a chance to bring Carroll back at a price that is reasonable, considering how much money they recently gave Byron Maxwell, then they should make it a top priority to do so. However, this is a player that the Eagles should allow to be overpaid by someone else. If you asked Roseman whether or not he wanted Carroll to return, then he wouldn’t, and shouldn’t hesitate to show his support. However, if the market price the Eagles out of the market, the draft and other options should take priority over getting another over priced player at corner.
- Tyvon Branch, SS
Branch did not start for the Chiefs this past season, but he certainly has the skills and resume to start elsewhere. With the imminent departure, and unlikely re-signing of Walter Thurmond, the Eagles could attempt to scoop Branch up as the starting safety option opposite Malcolm Jenkins. Branch’s ability to cover is very strange in a league where safeties are so important. His talents will not come cheap, but he definitely will not break the bank either. Unfortunately, Andy Reid has a great eye for talent, and it would not be surprising if he made it a high priority to bring Branch back to the Chiefs. Lets hope the Eagles have the fortune of Branch hitting the market so Roseman can get him into a meeting room.