Friday, February 21, 2014
At safety, a 'stopgap' or a long-term fix?
By Phil Sheridan
PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles could wind up settling for a “stopgap” at safety in free agency, general manager Howie Roseman told reporters at the combine in Indianapolis.
Well, that would keep their streak alive. Roseman signed veterans Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips last offseason. They followed in the soft footsteps of Jarrad Page, Marlin Jackson, Sean Jones and all the other stopgap safeties that have passed through Philadelphia in recent years.
It would seem like a good time to try the other way, especially with some very good safeties scheduled to hit free agency. Pro Football Focus published its top-10 free agent safeties Friday. It must be noted that Nate Allen, who started every game for the Eagles in 2013, is not on it at all.
PFF rates Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd ahead of Cleveland’s T.J. Ward. Frankly, I’d lean toward Ward if both players actually get to the market. He seems like the perfect blend of intimidating run stopper and solid pass defender. Byrd has a rep as more of a big play guy, but Ward would immediately be the best Eagles safety since Brian Dawkins left.
Chip Kelly happens to know both Byrd and Ward personally, since they played at Oregon when he was there.
Donte Whitner is third on the PFF list, but it is considered very unlikely Whitner will leave San Francisco. If he hits the market, he would likely be looking for the kind of bank-busting contract the Eagles are reluctant to hand out.
PFF’s No. 4-ranked safety, Miami’s Chris Clemons, personifies the risk/reward of settling for bargain-priced stopgaps. Clemons was available last year. He signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins when no market developed for his services. It is safe to say he would have been a better signing than Chung, who lost his starting job early in the season, or Phillips, who was released during training camp.
If the Eagles do go with the stopgap type, veterans Bernard Pollard and Antoine Bethea could be options. They’re the types who could help develop a rookie taken in the draft -- unfortunately, the Eagles won’t know until May whether such a rookie exists.
Of course, if they’re looking for a stopgap, there’s always Allen.