NFL Nation: NFC East

The NFL's fame and glory machine didn't spit out DeSean Jackson this time around. It just showed him the blueprint.

Jackson is too young and too good for his ugly release last week by the Philadelphia Eagles to end his career. Regardless of anything that came out publicly (or whatever the Eagles or other teams may know privately) about the off-field detriments that undermine Jackson's wondrous on-field benefits, someone was going to pick him up.

[+] EnlargeDeSean Jackson
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAt 27, DeSean Jackson must realize that his relatively young NFL career is at risk.
The Washington Redskins didn't waste time and they didn't scrimp.

But what Jackson got to see was the manner in which the machine will spit him out if he lets it. A team can cut you, it turns out, without explaining why, and can let everyone assume it's because of the way you act and the friends you hang out with away from the field. A team can do this and have the wide NFL world nod in agreement at phrases like "doesn't fit" and "what's best for the football team."

So while the week's debate has been about whether this turn of events is good/bad for the Eagles, good/bad for the Redskins, good/bad for the Jets or any other team that may have been involved or interested, why not take a moment to debate whether this is good for the player? Is getting cut by the Eagles and signed by the Redskins going to benefit DeSean Jackson? Or is the machine determined to spit him out long before his desire and skill level dictate that it must?

I've been talking to people about Jackson for three years now, and here are a few things I believe I know:

Jackson is not an evil person. The Aaron Hernandez comparisons you may have heard or read are shameful and irresponsible. One guy is in jail on first-degree murder charges. The guy we're talking about here appears to have some childhood friends with shady connections. That's a pretty wide gulf, and it deserves to be treated as such in our analysis. We could sit here and say that someone of Jackson's fame and wealth is risking a lot if he refuses to cut ties with people who have nothing to lose. And if he's allegedly flashing gang signs after touchdowns, on his Instagram page or in his videos, as the police officers in the NJ.com story that hit last week minutes before his release say he has, then he's doing himself a disservice.

Jackson is a 27-year-old who's been famous for almost half his life, but he knows the right thing to do with his platform. He goes into schools to speak actively against bullying, talking to bullies, victims, teachers ... anyone who can help with the problem. He doesn't just throw money at his causes; he works actively to help.

But he also conveys an untethered element. He was incredibly close with his father, who died quickly and cruelly from pancreatic cancer in 2009, and people who have spent time around Jackson will tell you the past five years have been rough. I once asked a player in the Eagles' locker room about Jackson and was told, "Not a bad guy, but sometimes you shake your head." I have heard stories about him pouting in the locker room. He himself admitted to dealing poorly with his last contract year; he let it affect him on the field, and he was suspended for missed meetings. Eagles personnel have for years expressed concern about the extent to which Jackson liked to focus on making rap music, sometimes to the detriment of his football business, in their opinion.

And the NJ.com story got into his off-field associations in pretty strong detail. While the national takeaway was the uber-simplistic bit about alleged gang ties, the reasonable takeaway is that Jackson doesn't always make the best-looking choices. What I know about gang culture couldn't fill a shot glass, but I don't think DeSean Jackson is in a street gang.

The problem Jackson has now is that, right or wrong, some people who've been following this story for the past week do think he's in a gang. So the next time the NFL's fame and glory machine finds him caught in the works and tries to spit him out, there's going to be a chorus that thinks it's the right thing to do.

I wonder if he's in the right environment to succeed. The Redskins have a new, inexperienced head coach in Jay Gruden. They have a 28-year-old first-time offensive coordinator in Sean McVay. They have an attention-magnet quarterback in Robert Griffin III who's coming off a year that handed him a slate of his own problems to work out. The Redskins have lost locker-room leadership in recent years, most significantly with the retirement of London Fletcher. One of the top leaders on their offense is wide receiver Santana Moss, whose roster spot one would think is in jeopardy as a result of the Jackson signing. If Jackson is looking for another tether now that the Eagles' tether has been severed, it may be tough for him to find it in Washington.

Which makes it even more important for Jackson to realize what's happened here and work to make sure he's prepared the next time it happens. It's important for a lesson to be learned. Jackson doesn't have to change who he is or what he does away from the field if he doesn't want to. But his is now an at-risk career at the age of 27, and he needs to understand that. The next time the machine tries to spit him out, it's going to have a lot more impetus than it did this time around. Jackson's mission going forward is to fight that off -- to realize he's under a new and frightening kind of scrutiny, and to work to make sure he doesn't give anyone a reason to think he's something he's not.
So far the Philadelphia Eagles have re-signed key their own players, such as Jason Kelce, Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin and Nate Allen, and added pieces like Malcolm Jenkins and Nolan Carroll.

They have not, however, added any pieces to help the pass rush.

[+] EnlargeTrent Cole
AP Photo/Michael PerezTrent Cole led the Eagles in sacks last season, but the team's pass rush could use reinforcements.
The Eagles recorded 37 sacks in 2013, which ranked 20th in the NFL. Trent Cole led the team with eight sacks. Connor Barwin had five and three players -- DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry -- had four apiece.


"It's hard to find pass rushers, especially on the open market," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said in this Philadelphia Daily News story. "There aren't a lot of teams letting them go. And then you look at the draft and where those guys go, they go high.

"Certainly, you want to continue to add pass rushers. But we feel we have some guys we think can rush the passer and fit what we're doing at the outside linebacker position."

Philadelphia had interest in DeMarcus Ware, and the Cowboys were not keen on possibly seeing their all-time leader in sacks twice a year, but the Denver Broncos swooped in with an offer Ware could not refuse ($20 million guaranteed).

In free agency, Shaun Phillips has 3-4 experience from his time with the San Diego Chargers, but the pickings are thin.

As the Eagles move into their second year in the 3-4 scheme, they will have a better feel for what they want in an outside linebacker. Projecting a college defensive end to outside linebacker in a 3-4 is never easy, but it is something the Pittsburgh Steelers have excelled at for years.

The two best in this year's draft, Buffalo's Khalil Mack and UCLA's Anthony Barr, figure to be gone by the time the Eagles pick in the first round.

In a division with quarterbacks such as Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III, finding pass rushers is more important than pass defenders.
If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers release cornerback Darrelle Revis on Wednesday, as reported by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, that would profoundly change the free-agent market.

Schefter also identified the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots as possible destinations for the shutdown corner known as Revis Island.

[+] EnlargeDarelle Revis
AP Photo/Brian BlancoWould signing cornerback Darrelle Revis be exactly what the Eagles have been preaching against?
For the Eagles, this development creates two predicaments.

First and worst, there is the timing. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has a game plan going into free agency. Any quick-strike moves -- targeting a safety, especially -- could be derailed if Roseman is seriously interested in Revis. Committing a big slice of salary cap to Jairus Byrd (just as an example) would limit the team’s ability to meet Revis’ contract demands, which are going to be substantial even if he agrees to renegotiate.

By holding on to Revis for the first 24 hours of free agency while they try to trade him, the Bucs are seriously impeding the planning ability of interested teams.

Of course, the Eagles could trade for Revis. But that would mean giving up assets, presumably a draft choice or two, and then taking on the ridiculous contract the Bucs signed with Revis last year. That deal pays Revis $16 million a year, with all of it counting against the salary cap.

The second predicament is what we’ll call Nnamdi Reflux Syndrome. Roseman has been preaching against big free-agent splurges based on the Eagles’ disastrous 2011 spree. The centerpiece of that, of course, was cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

The Eagles paid Asomugha $25 million for two pathetic seasons, including $4 million to go away. That is significantly less money than Revis would earn -- even if the Eagles were able to renegotiate his current contract. Revis would also become the highest-paid Eagle by a wide margin, and that kind of locker-room resentment is something else Roseman has warned against.

So getting Revis would fly in the face of what Roseman has said on the subject of free agency for two years. He has also said, however, the Eagles are always willing to make exceptions for exceptional players. And that is the issue at hand with Revis.

Revis will be 29 when the season starts, 1 year younger than Asomugha was in 2011. Revis is still arguably the best cornerback in the game, although he spent 2013 playing his way back from an ACL injury. He is also a very different personality type from the laid-back Asomugha. Revis thrived playing in the New York market with the Jets.

Once upon a time, the Eagles signed a free-agent cornerback named Troy Vincent. That worked out pretty well. But then, Vincent was just 25 when the Eagles lured him from the Miami Dolphins.

Roseman and the Eagles see the 2011 debacle as an example of thinking they were one or two major moves from winning a Super Bowl. If they were to pursue Revis with that idea, it would be a mistake.

But if they see Revis as part of building a strong team for the next four years and can find a way to integrate his contract into that long-term plan, it could be a perfectly sound move.

It is certainly an interesting one to discuss.
A theory: The media-savvy NFL didn't create this three-day “legal tampering” period to facilitate negotiations between teams and pending free agents. The real reason was to create three more days of intense fan interest and fevered speculation.

Acknowledging the lack of real news, here are some thoughts pertaining to the Eagles as the actual free agency period draws near:
  • Don't get locked into the names the Eagles reportedly contacted. Yes, they almost certainly did contact the agent for Carolina safety Mike Mitchell. That information leaked out all over the place. Does that mean the Eagles have targeted Mitchell as their solution at safety? Maybe. But all it really signifies is that someone in Mitchell's camp chose to share the Eagles' interest, which could range from casual to intense. The reality is, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman is almost duty-bound to take the pulse of every free-agent safety who has one. It is that big a need for this team, and Roseman loses nothing by getting a feel for what each player is looking for. What if Jairus Byrd or Antoine Bethea really want to play for Chip Kelly and would take a slightly less-than-market deal? It isn't likely, but as long as there's a hint of a possibility, there's nothing to lose, and much to gain, by checking in with them.
  • Nothing matters until Tuesday when deals can be done. If Roseman has his eye on a particular free agent, someone he feels he has to pounce on right away with a major offer, he doesn't want to telegraph that to the rest of the league. That's why I think there has been so little reported “interest” in some of the bigger-name free agents. Having your team linked to a guy like Byrd or Seattle's Michael Bennett would serve only to give your division and conference rivals the heads-up that they may need to make a pre-emptive strike. And if you're a GM who has targeted Byrd -- just to take a random example -- it might be smart to let him spend the three-day tampering period thinking interest in him isn't that high. By Tuesday afternoon, he may be itching to take the first market deal on the table.
  • If the Eagles go after Champ Bailey -- who will be 36 when the season starts and has been hobbled by foot injuries -- it will be hard to defend their policies when they decline to risk big money on a 27-year-old Pro Bowler such as Byrd. The Denver Broncos are the definition of a team in win-now mode. They released Bailey for a reason. He may be able to keep his superb career on life support for another year or two by moving to safety, but giving him that opportunity would defy everything Roseman has said about building a team for the long term.
  • If Saints running back Darren Sproles is released, that is the kind of player the Eagles should be very interested in. Chip Kelly was very impressed with (maybe even envious of) the Saints' diverse running backs when he was preparing for the playoff game against New Orleans. Sproles is 30, but he still brings elements to an offense that complement LeSean McCoy's game and would give Kelly plenty to work with. It doesn't hurt that Sproles returns kicks -- including the one that all but won that playoff game for the Saints.
  • I'm perplexed when people say Green Bay's reported four-year, $39 million deal with Sam Shields represents a wild shift in the market for cornerbacks compared to last offseason. There just weren't any $9- to $10-million-a-year corners on the market a year ago. The Eagles signed Cary Williams from Baltimore at $17 million for three years. That's not because the market was down. Williams is solid, but he wouldn't be getting $9-million-a-year this year, either.
Scratch the Jacksonville Jaguars off Michael Vick's list of possible employers.

That was the immediate take after the Jaguars signed quarterback Chad Henne to a two-year contract Friday. The nature of the deal and, frankly, the nature of Chad Henne suggest the Jaguars plan to draft a quarterback in May and use Henne as an interim starter in 2014.

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Vick
Henne
That is not the kind of role Vick really wants, obviously. He has been a franchise quarterback, in attitude and usually in job description, for most of the years since he was drafted first overall by Atlanta in 2001. Vick's plan is to leave Philadelphia, where he was displaced by Nick Foles, and go somewhere he can start for another two or three seasons.

That place probably wasn't going to be Jacksonville. But each time a team with an obvious need at quarterback fills that need, Vick's options shrink. The list of likely possibilities includes Oakland, Minnesota, the New York Jets, Tampa Bay and Buffalo.

The other striking thing about Henne's deal is how it sets the market for veteran stopgap types. Henne will reportedly get $4.5 million guaranteed and a total of $8 million from the Jags.

Vick earned over $50 million in bonuses and salary over the past four seasons. That sounds like a lot, and it is. But he has also been dealing with the demands of the bankruptcy court, which has forced him to pay back his many creditors after his conviction on charges related to his dogfighting operation.

Vick reportedly emerged from bankruptcy only late last year. So he is surely looking for another big payday before his playing days are over. He will be 34 in June, so this is his last chance.

Did the Jaguars ever consider Vick? Did they prefer Henne because of football reasons and familiarity? Or did they figure Vick was holding out for a more prominent role than they were prepared to offer him?

The answers to those questions could provide clues about how Vick is seen around the league. The old truism that it only takes one team has never been more applicable than it is with Vick.

The Eagles were the only team willing to take a chance on him when he was reinstated by commission Roger Goodell in 2009. Will there be another team willing to give him a starting job in 2014?

It will be one of the most-watched stories in free agency. With Vick, that's the one thing you can be sure about.

Free-agency primer: Eagles

March, 7, 2014
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Key free agents: QB Michael Vick, WR Jason Avant, S Nate Allen, P Donnie Jones, S Kurt Coleman.

Where they stand: By keeping wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin off the market, the Eagles assured their starting offense would look very much as it did in 2013. There are no obvious positions of need on that side of the ball that would likely be addressed in free agency. The defensive side is another matter. That unit made fine progress in its first year with coordinator Bill Davis’ 3-4 scheme, but the Eagles need playmakers there, especially in the secondary. Having $20-25 million in salary-cap space gives them the flexibility to do whatever they choose.

What to expect: GM Howie Roseman has repeatedly said he does not want to overpay in free agency, but the Eagles might have to go that route with a safety like Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward or Chris Clemons. Going for bargains at that position just has not worked, and Roseman has acknowledged he doesn’t want to get to the draft in dire need of a safety. There isn’t a lot of depth at outside linebacker -- teams do their best to hold on to effective pass-rushers -- but Roseman could look for a second-tier guy there. It would not be surprising if the Eagles re-signed Jones and added a kicker in free agency to compete with, or flat-out replace, Alex Henery. Keep an eye on a return man, perhaps Devin Hester or Dexter McCluster.
Any list of the Eagles' needs starts with their secondary, which is understandable when a team is ranked last in the NFL in pass defense.

[+] EnlargeCary Williams
AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerCary Williams and the Eagles cornerbacks could benefit from quality play at safety.
That's why many analysts, experts and fans think the Eagles will focus on safeties and cornerbacks in free agency and the draft. And they certainly might. But there's one thing I think gets overlooked in all this.

The cornerback play may have looked worse than it actually was because of the quality of the safeties. By improving their safety performance, the Eagles may find that Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin are perfectly adequate cornerbacks.

One step further: Improve the pass rush, which virtually disappeared late in the season and in the playoff loss to the Saints, and the whole secondary would look better.

This doesn't mean the Eagles should pass on a quality cornerback in the draft, if there is one they like when they are on the clock. It is a position where you almost can't have too much talent or depth.

But Williams and Fletcher, the two starting guys on the outside, may not be as urgent a problem as some seem to believe. They were nowhere near perfect, to be sure, but pass defense is a product of cooperation and synchronization.

Williams played for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens the year before. He had Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard at safety. They were more likely to help their cornerbacks out than to leave them hanging.

After the Eagles lost to New Orleans in the wild-card round, Williams seemed especially frustrated.

"We had too many mental breakdowns in the secondary," Williams said. "We didn't put ourselves necessarily in the best situations to win. That was really the issue with me, man. It was frustrating out there -- situations that you know are coming, that you've seen over and over on film, and they don't necessarily go right. The right call isn't being made. It's frustrating. Drew Brees saw those mistakes we made and was able to capitalize on those situations."

Williams wasn't excluding himself or the other cornerbacks from his critique. But you definitely got the feeling, watching that game and those that preceded it, that the major breakdowns were at safety. That is why Nate Allen was not among the impending free agents signed to new contracts last week, and it is why Patrick Chung could well be gone before training camp.

Buffalo's Jairus Byrd, by consensus the top free-agent safety, combined for 33 interceptions and forced fumbles in his five seasons. In four years with the Eagles, Allen had a total of seven.

Signing Byrd would make the Eagles much better, obviously. But there is a lot of room between his production and Allen's that would qualify as improvement. And improvement at safety should contribute to better play from the corners.

McShay Mock 3.0 reax: Eagles

March, 6, 2014
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The name of the player ESPN’s Todd McShay has next to the Philadelphia Eagles in his third mock draft Insider is interesting. The larger point McShay makes is even more relevant.

The player: Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, a 5-foot-11, 194-pounder who ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the NFL combine last month. Roby is skipping his senior season. He’s only 21, which makes him that much more attractive as a player who can be coached to fit into a system.

[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCornerback Bradley Roby, a 5-foot-11, 194-pounder, ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
“Roby needs to be coached up,” McShay writes, “as he got burned several times this season as a result of poor discipline, but his size, speed, athleticism and playmaking ability make him capable of developing into a shutdown corner on the outside.”

In McShay’s mock, the two top safeties are not on the board when the Eagles pick. Neither are some of the more talked-about wide receivers and edge rushers.

“The best values at this spot for Philadelphia are going to be at cornerback -- outside linebacker and safety can wait until later,” McShay writes.

And that is the larger point that means more than a guess at the identity of the pick. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman might as well get a tattoo that says “Will take best player regardless of need” so he can point to it when asked. Sitting at No. 22 overall, the Eagles are going to be at the mercy of what happens in front of them.

If the best values, as McShay put it, are at cornerback, the Eagles will happily take a cornerback. McShay has Roby, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard (20th), Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller (24th), and TCU’s Jason Verrett (25th) going within six picks of each other.

A team with a pressing need at cornerback might go in that direction earlier and free up a safety or wide receiver the Eagles like. Or they could try to trade up if there is a player they especially covet sitting there in the mid-teens. There will be a lot of pro days and private workouts between now and the draft.

But if the value pick happens to be at a need position like cornerback, the Eagles will be happy to take whichever they rate as the best.
When it comes to Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles, the only thing that has changed is the date.

We are days away from the start of NFL free agency, when we will find out for sure whether (and where) Vick gets his chance to be a starting quarterback. Whatever happens, it has been clear since Jan. 6 that Vick’s time in Philadelphia is almost certainly over.

As those other Eagles sang, he's "already gone."

Nick Foles is the starter. Matt Barkley is going to be here. The team could very well draft a quarterback again this year. If coach Chip Kelly feels he needs a veteran backup, there will be several attractive options in free agency that aren’t named Vick: Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Kellen Clemens among them.

None of those names may excite your imagination, but they’re not supposed to. They’re potential backup quarterbacks. Signing any one of them would provide competition for Barkley without what we’ll call the Vick Factor -- a guy some percentage of the fans will be clamoring for the moment Foles has a bad game, or even a bad half.

Going into last season, I thought Kelly should have moved on from Vick. He judged him only on what he did in training camp and the preseason, ignoring the pre-Kelly history of injuries and turnovers. Lo and behold, Vick pulled his hamstring running out of bounds on Oct. 6.

When the Eagles were 3-5 at the midway point, and had gone two games in a row without a single offensive touchdown, Kelly explained the problem in five words: “instability at the quarterback position.”

Anyone can get hurt. Foles missed a game with a concussion. But after a firsthand experience with Vick, the walking definition of “instability at the quarterback position,” it’s hard to see Kelly bringing him back for his age-34 season, especially when he has invested serious coaching time in Barkley.

But that was obvious on Jan. 6, when Vick gave what amounted to a farewell speech to the media and posed for photos with his soon-to-be former teammates. The only reason to report that Vick isn’t coming back is that the calendar says March, and his departure is imminent.

Where will he go? It was fascinating to see Adrian Peterson tweet his interest in bringing Vick to Minnesota. That seemed like a possible fit all along, although the hiring of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator didn’t exactly line up with that. Peterson is 29 and has bounced back from a torn ACL. He wants to win now. It wouldn’t be surprising if new head coach Mike Zimmer, who waited a long time for this opportunity, feels the same.

There are a number of teams that could use Vick as a quick-fix starter and a bridge to a young quarterback.

The Eagles aren’t one of them. They’ve already crossed that bridge.
The only player evaluations that matter, as far as the Eagles are concerned, are the ones done by general manager Howie Roseman and his staff.

The media-produced rankings of potential NFL free agents may not tell us much about what the Eagles are thinking. But the wide range of evaluations can provide insight into how wildly divergent different teams' opinions can be.

Let's take a look at the safety position, which figures to be an area the Eagles try to address. Buffalo's Jairus Byrd is generally considered the best safety available, but there are dissenting opinions.

Over at NFL.com, Byrd is listed as the No. 1 free agent available regardless of position. He is the only player tagged as a “difference-maker.” On ESPN Insider, former NFL executive Bill Polian and his team have Byrd as the fourth-ranked safety. Antoine Bethea of the Colts, the only safety with an A grade, is rated the best safety on the market.

Polian has Miami's Chris Clemons as his second-ranked safety, with Cleveland's T.J. Ward third. NFL.com calls Clemons “a league-average starter,” which would still make him an upgrade for the Eagles.

Over at Pro Football Focus, Byrd is rated the top safety and No. 2 free agent overall, behind only Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett. PFF rates Ward as the second best safety (No. 8 overall), while Clemons is No. 30 overall. Bethea, the top safety and a Grade-A player for Polian, is No. 61 overall on PFF's list and No. 51 on the NFL.com list.

PFF places Byrd in the same category as Seattle safety Earl Thomas. Considering the Seahawks just won the Super Bowl with Thomas as a key defensive player, it is likely many teams will make a run at Byrd in hopes of recreating that success.

Ultimately, Roseman and his personnel staff have graded players based on their game tape and how they project players in the Eagles' scheme. Cleveland's Ward is considered a better run defender, more of a strong safety type. Byrd is better at playing deep and at coverage, which was a huge problem area for the Eagles. Their pass defense was dead last in the NFL.

Malcolm Jenkins of the Saints, a converted cornerback, might be a better fit than Ward, from the Eagles' perspective. And that's the bottom line here: The Eagles' perspective is the only one that will matter to them, and they haven't published their opinions on the Internet.
The Philadelphia Eagles will be in almost perfect position when NFL teams are allowed to open talks with unrestricted free agents Friday.

They are perceived as a team "headed in the right direction," as soon-to-be-free-agent safety Jairus Byrd said on ESPN on Tuesday. And they have enormous flexibility thanks to more than $26 million in salary-cap space, according to ESPN's Roster Management service.

The Eagles didn't have to release wide receiver Jason Avant for cap purposes. That decision was about paying the $1 million roster bonus negotiated into his contract and due on March 15. But with Avant's departure, the Eagles save another $2.5 million on their cap.

General manager Howie Roseman has set low expectations for the team to make a huge splash in free agency. He could be doing that because he simply doesn't see a free agent worth splurging on, because he wants to prevent potential fan disappointment or because he doesn't want to telegraph his real plans to other teams before the market opens.

Three of the more intriguing names disappeared from a potential wish list this week: Miami extended the contract of cornerback Brent Grimes, Washington placed the franchise tag on linebacker Brian Orakpo and Pittsburgh linebacker Jason Worilds signed his transition-tag tender.

The two top safeties, Byrd and Cleveland's T.J. Ward, are expected to hit the market. Roseman has acknowledged his preference to address the safety position in free agency so it isn't a glaring need going into the draft. But he may have his sights set on some of the less expensive players expected to be on the market.

Roseman said last week that his spree of contracts for current Eagles would not limit the Eagles' options in free agency.

"It will affect other things going forward," Roseman said. "We have some flexibility. Obviously, this affects it, the things we've done the past couple of days. But we're going to go out and try to do things that make sense for our football team."

Another thing working in the Eagles' favor is the expansion of the cap this year to $133 million and the expected continuing rise over the next couple of years. That extra cap space comes just as Roseman will have to decide on extensions for players like Nick Foles, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Boykin and Mychal Kendricks.

Foles, especially, gives the Eagles a lot of flexibility. Starting quarterbacks can eat up 12 to 15 percent of a team's salary cap. Foles' 2014 salary of $770,880 accounts for 0.65 percent of the Eagles' cap. That's about as much as backup offensive lineman Allen Barbre.

Eventually, if they're going to be successful, the Eagles will have to pay a quarterback that kind of money. For now, they can build a team and deal with Foles -- or someone else if Foles should stumble -- when the cap increases.

"It's hard to look three years out," Roseman said. "It's hard to know where you're going to be after two full seasons and after two draft classes. We do spend a lot of time on the cap next year. We try to be conservative with what the cap projections are going to be."

Finally, there's this reality: The salary cap is not nearly as onerous as it is made out to be. The Dallas Cowboys were in as tight a situation as any team in the NFL going into the new league year. By reportedly reworking quarterback Tony Romo's contract, converting salary to bonus money, the Cowboys resolved their cap issues.

So there is an escape hatch from cap purgatory. The Cowboys still probably won't have the cap space to be proactive in free agency.

The Eagles will. They are in position to do whatever they want.
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The Philadelphia Eagles have already replaced Jason Avant on the field by re-signing wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper.

It will take more than a couple of pen strokes to replace Avant in the locker room and on the practice field. The 30-year-old Avant, who was released by the Eagles on Tuesday, was the go-to guy for younger players seeking personal advice, the organizer of team Bible studies and the standard-setter for doing extra work after practice.

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“There have not been any players who have represented the Philadelphia Eagles with more class and dignity than Jason Avant,” Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement released by the team. “Whether it was in the locker room, on the playing field or in the community, he has always been a true professional, a role model and a winner every step of the way. On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Jason and his wife Stacy and their two daughters nothing but the best as he continues his fine career.”

Coach Chip Kelly marveled after the snow-globe game against Detroit that Avant came to him on the sideline and asked not for more passes to be thrown his way, but for Kelly to run the ball toward Avant’s side.

“Jason is on the sideline asking me, 'Can we run the ball my way?'" Kelly said. "I don't know how many wide receivers in this league are asking to have the ball run their way, but I think that's kind of a testament to the team we have right now."

Avant was also the guy who took young receivers and tight ends over to the JUGS Gun after practice to work on catching passes. Rookie Zach Ertz worked with Avant during the season, and Ertz wound up getting some of the playing time that was going to Avant earlier in the season.

But Kelly has said many times that a big part of leadership is being productive on the field. Avant, who caught at least 50 passes in the previous three seasons, caught just 38 balls for 447 yards and two touchdowns in 2013.

Some of that is because Kelly asked Avant to block, but clearly the Eagles are excited about what Maclin, Cooper and DeSean Jackson can do in the same three-receiver sets Kelly used so often last season.

Avant’s release was an unfortunate part of the business side of football. He was due a $1 million roster bonus on March 15, and seemed to know he would not be getting it.

“This is a business as well,” Avant said back on Jan. 6. “There are contract issues. There are so many moving parts. You want everyone to come back, but it’s just not the truth. That’s just the National Football League. To Eagles fans: I’ve had a ball here, no matter what the outcome is.”

The outcome is known now. It was inevitable, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to like it.

“There’s no question that releasing a player like Jason is one of the toughest parts of the job,” GM Howie Roseman said in the team’s official statement. “It’s a tough day when you have to say goodbye to a player who you have so much respect for. I can’t thank him enough for the leadership, the big plays and the positive impression he made on so many of his teammates.”

Offseason blueprint: Eagles

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
12:00
PM ET
PHILADELPHIA -- When it comes to knowing what the Philadelphia Eagles should do this offseason to improve on Chip Kelly's impressive debut season, we all have opinions.

This blueprint from ESPN Insider Insider compiles the thoughts of some pretty good architects -- former Eagles personnel man Louis Riddick, Matt Williamson, KC Joyner, Khaled Esayed and Mel Kiper Jr.

Joyner looks at free agency, which is the next big piece of the offseason puzzle. Like many of you, he thinks the Eagles have been there, done that with modestly priced safeties and need to invest in a difference-maker. Along with Cleveland's oft-mentioned T.J. Ward, though, Joyner also suggests Darian Stewart of the St. Louis Rams.

There’s plenty of interesting stuff here. You might not agree with all of it -- I didn’t -- but that’s part of the fun.
The Eagles’ 2011 draft has long been filed under “D” for Disaster – ever since owner Jeffrey Lurie specifically absolved general manager Howie Roseman of blame for the picks made while then-coach Andy Reid had final say on personnel decisions.

Thornton
It is the top of the draft – first-round pick Danny Watkins and second-rounder Jaiquawn Jarrett – that rightfully draws the criticism. But the Eagles found the anchor for their offensive line, center Jason Kelce, in the sixth round of that draft. Kelce signed a seven-year contract last week that will keep him with the Eagles through 2020.

On Monday, the team signed defensive end Cedric Thornton to a one-year deal. Thornton was in that 2011 class, too. He wasn’t even drafted, signing with the Eagles as a rookie free agent. Over the course of several defensive coordinators and a major scheme change, the 6-foot-4, 309-pound Thornton emerged as a reliable starter at defensive end.

Thornton was an exclusive rights player (the term “free agent” really doesn’t fit), so it was all but a foregone conclusion that he would re-up with the Eagles.

The youth and flexibility along the defensive line give the Eagles plenty of options. They have Thornton, 25; nose tackle Bennie Logan, 24; and end Fletcher Cox, 23, at the top of the depth chart. Cox, their 2012 first-round pick, is the only one making a premium salary. Clifton Geathers, Damion Square and Vinny Curry rotated in and played situationally.

Thornton drew praise all season from coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis. He was ahead of the curve in converting from the 4-3 scheme to the 3-4 that Davis brought in. Pro Football Focus ranked Thornton third in the NFL among 3-4 defense ends as a run-stopper. Only Houston’s J.J. Watt and the Jets’ Sheldon Richardson graded higher.

Thornton’s emergence gives the Eagles the luxury of addressing other areas as needed. But his relative affordability doesn’t prohibit them from upgrading at the position if their draft board dictates they should take a defensive end.

The 2011 draft didn’t go well for the Eagles, but that class provided them good players on both lines.
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.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Ward
Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsIf 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.

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