Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC East [Print without images]

Monday, March 3, 2014
Deals done, Eagles turn toward free agency

By Phil Sheridan

PHILADELPHIA -- Late Friday afternoon, after completing a flurry of four contract negotiations with Eagles players, general manager Howie Roseman did a conference call with reporters.

Coming off the scouting combine and the deals for Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, Roseman was planning on a quiet weekend. The first part of the Eagles' offseason plan was complete.

T.J. Ward
If T.J. Ward doesn't get the franchise tag from the Browns, the Eagles might be interested.
“We're going to take a deep breath,” Roseman said. “We'll catch up on Monday. We'll take stock of where we are and where we're hopeful to be.”

The Eagles certainly have ideas about what comes next. They can begin talking to free agents on Friday, and can actually sign players beginning March 11. But they can't be entirely sure what the market will look like until some decisions are made in other NFL cities.

The deadline for applying franchise and transition tags, which passes Monday at 4 p.m., will add some clarity. There are reports that the Buffalo Bills are unlikely to tag safety Jairus Byrd, one of the elite players at the Eagles' most glaring position of need. Cleveland safety T.J. Ward has also avoided a tag up until now.

Byrd and Ward both played at Oregon, so Chip Kelly has some insight into them as players and as people. That helps the Eagles avoid the pitfalls of a "forced marriage" -- Roseman's term to describe bad free-agency fits such as Nnamdi Asomugha -- with either player.

Roseman is also reluctant to pay good players like great players, another common result of free agency. Byrd has reportedly turned down a deal that would make him one of the five highest-paid safeties in the NFL. That, combined with the fact he held out of training camp last year because he was unhappy with the franchise tag, suggests Byrd may be pricier than the Eagles want to go.

Ward's situation is different. With all the apparent disorder in Cleveland, he may be even more motivated to leave. The Browns surprisingly released his teammate, veteran linebacker and leader D'Qwell Jackson, last week. With Kelly, former Browns head coach Pat Shurmur and defensive assistant Bill Davis, the Eagles can offer Ward familiarity as well as a lucrative deal.

Another tag situation is in Washington, where outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is waiting to find out his status. Orakpo has been linked to the Eagles only in media speculation, but there is logic in it. Orakpo is exactly the kind of versatile outside linebacker the Eagles need, and signing him would have the added appeal of weakening a division rival.

The Eagles have a working game plan for the offseason, but it has some either/or elements in it. This week, they'll get answers to those questions and can prepare accordingly for the start of free agency.