Thursday, October 31, 2013
Midseason look at Eagles' free agents
By Phil Sheridan
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles signed a handful of free agents last offseason. The departure of one of them, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, combined with the midway point of the season makes this a good time to see how general manager Howie Roseman fared.
"I think everything is an inexact science," coach Chip Kelly said. "Sometimes you miss on a draft pick. It's just what's available, what have you got to do, you've got to get your roster together. You always analyze at the end of the year. If this guy isn't exactly what we thought he was, why is that, and evaluate the whole process."
For perspective's sake, remember that the Eagles felt burned by free agency after the horrendous "Dream Team" crop -- led by Nnamdi Asomugha -- contributed to a 12-20 record in Andy Reid's final two seasons. And remember that Roseman was trying to stock a fairly empty cupboard on the defensive side of the ball without overpaying a la Asomugha and without a real feel for what coordinator Bill Davis was looking for.
• Safety Kenny Phillips was released in training camp after nagging injuries kept him from staking a claim to a roster spot. It speaks volumes that the former New York Giants' first-round pick, who was coming back from microfracture surgery, hasn't hooked on anywhere else.
Good deal, bad deal: Neither really. Phillips was a low-risk gamble that didn't work out. This one move was not an issue. The issue is the Eagles' inability to find good safeties over the previous four years.
• Sopoaga made a few million dollars because the Eagles had no one who could play the nose as they made the switch to a 3-4 defense. He was a solid veteran presence who, by all accounts, helped coach up the younger linemen on the team. Those linemen made him expendable, and the Eagles traded Sopoaga to New England this week for virtually nothing.
Good deal, bad deal: Bad deal, made worse when the Eagles drafted Bennie Logan in the third round out of LSU. If you're going young, go young. If they needed a vet, they could have hung on to Cullen Jenkins, who signed and is playing well with the Giants.
• Safety Patrick Chung has been a mixed bag. The former Patriots defensive back earned a starting job (against a relatively weak field, to be sure) but injured his shoulder in the third game of the season. Chung tried to come back too soon and has missed a total of four games. Meanwhile, rookie Earl Wolff has given the coaches a reason to believe he's the eventual starter.
Good deal, bad deal: For $3 million? Bad deal. There's no way to anticipate injuries, of course, but Chung hasn't given the Eagles much they couldn't have gotten from Kurt Coleman while Wolff was learning on the job.
• Tight end James Casey was the only significant free agent pickup on the offensive side of the ball. His three-year, $12-million deal made sense when it appeared Roseman was stockpiling versatile weapons for Kelly's offense. After eight games, in which Casey caught 2 passes for 23 yards, and was on the field for just 5 percent of offensive plays, the deal makes much less sense.
Good deal, bad deal: Bad deal, as much for Casey as anyone. You could also say that drafting tight end Zach Ertz in the second round was a mistake after spending so much on Casey. Either way, Roseman expended more capital than was wise on a position Kelly hasn't really utilized.
• Cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams feel like a single entry. After parting ways with Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (the right move, regardless of DRC's play in Denver), Roseman needed somebody who could line up across from opposing wide receivers. He got the fire-and-ice duo of Williams, a mercurial ex-Raven, and Fletcher, a softspoken former Ram. Grading on a curve because of the overall inconsistency of a defense in transition, they have been better than expected. Or maybe competent play at the position just looks so good after two years with those other guys.
Good deals, bad deals: Good deals. Roseman paid more for Williams, who was coming off a Super Bowl title with the Ravens, but got a terrific bargain with Fletcher.
• Outside linebacker Connor Barwin was an intriguing signing. He had a huge 2011 season, with 11.5 sacks for the Houston Texans. He had only three in 2012, though, purportedly because he was used differently by coordinator Wade Phillips. As with Sopoaga, the Eagles really needed someone with the demonstrated ability to play OLB in the 3-4, and Roseman got Barwin for six years, $36 million. Unlike Sopoaga, they are getting production as well as a bell-cow for younger players to follow.
Good deal, bad deal: Good deal. The money sounds like a lot, but the majority of it ($23 million) comes after the third season and is not guaranteed. Barwin is earning his money.