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Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Eagles sign four defensive players

By Dan Graziano

The four defensive players whose signings the Philadelphia Eagles announced Tuesday night are not the big names of which Eagles fans may have been dreaming. But the Eagles need bodies on defense, and they sure did get them. They announced a two-year deal with former Rams cornerback Bradley Fletcher, a three-year deal with former Patriots safety Patrick Chung, a two-year deal for former Ravens and Panthers linebacker Jason Phillips and a three-year deal for former 49ers nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga.

Sopoaga likely projects as the nose tackle the Eagles will need when they line up in a 3-4 alignment on defense. The Eagles appear to be planning some sort of hybrid defense, which might mean they won't need him on the field every down. But when they do line up as a 3-4, they will need a big nose tackle to occupy blockers in the middle of the line. Sopoaga did that for the NFC champions and was one of few true experienced nose tackles on the free-agent market. The Eagles also are planning a visit for Sopoaga's former 49ers teammate, Ricky Jean-Francois, who would play defensive end in those 3-4 sets.

Fletcher is an experienced cornerback who turns 26 in June and should at least compete for a starting job in the Eagles' secondary. He's the kind of free agent smart teams like to sign -- still young, with some experience, possibly ascending -- and the Eagles' coaching staff is likely trying to create as much competition as possible at several positions on defense.

Chung and Phillips likely were signed with the idea that they'll help on special teams, but in Chung's case, especially, there's a chance of competing for a starting job as well, depending on what else the Eagles do from here at safety.

The Eagles are a team with more than $40 million in cap room, so there's no reason to think this is anything but the beginning of what they'll do in free agency. None of it is eye-popping, but you're starting to get a sense of what the new regime is looking for and what their priorities are. It's entirely possible all of these guys will make an impact on the Eagles' defense in 2013. Possible that only one of them will. But this Eagles defense is something that's going to take a while to take shape. It's only now beginning.