NFC East: ricky jean-francois

There's a scene in a later "Sopranos" season, after Tony's come back from getting shot by Uncle Junior and nearly dying, where he's in Dr. Melfi's office talking about how dull his life has become and he utters the memorable line, "I keep saying every day's a gift, but does it have to be a pair of socks?"

I thought of this scene late Wednesday night, when I surveyed the day in the NFC East and realized that, on the second day of the NFL's much-ballyhooed free-agent signing period, the only player who had signed to play in our division was new Giants kicker Josh Brown. No offense, Josh. I'm not calling you a pair of socks. But I think even you'd have to admit this division hasn't exactly been a hot zone of free-agent activity to this point.

This is what happens when two of your teams had their cap space taken away and the other two don't seem to want to sign big-name guys. You wait. And you think of things to write and talk about. And you look for links. Like these.

Washington Redskins

Lorenzo Alexander says that the Redskins couldn't offer what the Arizona Cardinals offered in terms of guaranteed money or a chance at more playing time. This is why Alexander is an Arizona Cardinal today.

The Redskins are bringing in former Tampa Bay tackle Jeremy Trueblood for a visit this weekend. Not exactly the top end of the free-agent tackle class there, but that's where the Redskins are right now. They need to take a chance on someone who can outperform a make-good contract. We'll see whether they decide Trueblood can be that guy.

New York Giants

Free-agent linebacker Jasper Brinkley was in New York to visit the Giants on Wednesday. He left without a deal, but so did Cullen Jenkins a week or so ago and they still signed him. The Giants need linebacker help, and these early visits do tend to offer a clue or two about the kinds of guys they're after to fill their needs.

And the New York Daily News reported that Steelers free-agent safety Ryan Mundy will visit the Giants on Thursday. I kind of like Mundy as a safety option, and I know we've talked about him for a couple of NFC East teams. He's an under-the-radar guy who played a bit role in Pittsburgh but likely could handle more. The Giants' starting safeties right now appear to be Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown, but in spite of all of the interceptions I don't think the Giants are ultra-comfortable going with Brown as a full-time starter just yet.

Dallas Cowboys

Remember how upset so many of you were last year when the Cowboys lost Laurent Robinson to free agency after his one big year? Yeah, well, the Jaguars cut him Wednesday, so you can have him back if you want him. But do you? He obviously didn't do much in Jacksonville, and the concussion issues appear to be a significant problem. I don't see wide receiver as a major need right now for the Cowboys, especially compared to others, and I think we've all learned our lesson here that sometimes the receiver is special and sometimes the system and the quarterback make the receiver.

Randy Galloway thinks Tony Romo could have helped himself in the public perception department if he'd given a little in contract negotiations with the Cowboys and helped them clear some cap room in advance of free agency. But as Randy notes early in his column, I don't think Romo cares that much about public perception. And in the NFL, you get your money while you can get your money. Not everybody's got UGGs deals and is married to a famous Victoria's Secret model, after all.

Philadelphia Eagles

Ricky Jean Francois left Philadelphia without a contract Wednesday, though it remains possible the Eagles could sign the free-agent 49ers defensive lineman. Jean Francois is a versatile lineman who can play any of the three spots on a 3-4 defensive line, but he's not a full-time starter and could be looking for someone who thinks he is. Part of free agency is, after all, finding out what people think you're worth.

And Eagles brass isn't offering too many clues about what it was doing in West Virginia the other day checking out top quarterback prospect Geno Smith. I don't expect execs to offer many, either. Could be they were just doing due diligence and making sure they don't overlook any options with that No. 4 pick. Could be they've done a turnaround on their opinion of Smith and are going to shake up their whole quarterback plan. Could be anything in between. But I feel pretty confident saying they don't want us or any of their competitors to know the answer. Nothing wrong with a little gamesmanship when you have something as valuable as the No. 4 pick in the draft.
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.

An early look at the Eagles' plan

March, 12, 2013
With more than $40 million in salary cap room, the Philadelphia Eagles can do pretty much whatever they want to do in free agency. So the news that has come out about them in the first hour since the free-agent signing period began offers some clues as to what they want to do. Here's a bit of a rundown of what we know or have heard so far:

According to league sources, the Eagles are closing in on an agreement with former Texans fullback James Casey. This is interesting because there's a popular perception around the league that Casey was misused in Houston and that he's better off as a tight end or H-back. He caught a career-high 34 passes in 2012 and would likely be used as a passing-game weapon -- either at the tight end position, out of the backfield or both -- for Michael Vick. Early reports indicated extensive interest in Casey from many teams, so signing him this early would constitute a good get for the Eagles.

The rebuilding process on defense appears more likely to start up front than in the needy secondary. As the market floods with defensive backs, the names connected with the Eagles are former 49ers defensive linemen Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois.

Jean-Francois is a versatile lineman who has played nose tackle and end in the 49ers' 3-4 alignment and likely would be a depth signing. Sopoaga, though, is a big, 330-pound nose tackle, and the Eagles' interest in him is maybe the clearest indication yet that they're transitioning to a 3-4 scheme that will require someone who can eat up blockers inside.

One note on Sopoaga, just because I have it: We did a video feature at the Super Bowl on "Who's the best athlete on your team?" and a couple of the 49ers named Sopoaga, a former rugby player they claimed could throw a football 75 yards. Doesn't mean a whole lot, but I thought it'd be a fun fact for Eagles fans to know in case they end up signing the guy.

And I don't think this means the Eagles aren't pursuing help at cornerback or safety. I'm certain they will. But with so many defensive backs hitting the market in the past couple of days (including Nnamdi Asomugha, who was released today by the Eagles), there's reason to believe they can wait on secondary help while they work on the front seven. Again, they have a ton of cap room to play with.