I'm just waiting for the Combine now (two related round tables coming out by Friday, with a full preview to go up next week), doing research, watching players and writing up scouting reports for the draft. Feels like a good time for a round table discussion. There are plenty of deserving Eagles fans out there who want to have their voice heard, and I'm trying to accommodate as many as I can in a timely manner. Here's the next wave: Brent (@eaglesrewind / http://eaglesrewind.com/) Sean (@phllyphootball / http://phillyphootball.com/), Nate (@natemandel / http://phillyisblue.wordpress.com/) and Trent (BGN -- HawaiianGreen).
Here's what I wrote for the signup schedule article, and below that are the questions I sent to each contributor:
We talk a lot about which Eagles we hope will get cut, might as well focus on already released or potential soon-to-be-released players on other teams. Maybe someone else's "trash" can become our "treasure." Are there players out there who have been or are about to be discarded who would fit this roster? JasonB already floated the idea of a Quintin Mikell reunion if the Rams go that route.
I'll also ask your opinions on the juicy $23 million of salary cap carryover the Eagles secured thanks to a provision in the CBA. What do you want to do with $23 million? Save it? Spend it in free agency? Spend it to re-sign more core players to long-term contracts?
1) Are there any players out there on other teams who you think will be cap casualties that could be good fits on the Eagles for 2013 and beyond? Who, why, and for how much would you want to sign them?
Brent (@eaglesrewind): Before putting forward a couple names, I think it's important to remember that this likely isn't going to be a one-year project. The Eagles have a lack of talent at several positions (mainly on defense) as well as a lack of depth.
In light of that, if I were Howie and Chip, I'd be using free agency to build depth rather than try to find starters. For premier players, the team's going to have to overpay (that's how free agency works), which will quickly sap the available cap space before the Eagles are even ready to seriously contend. I'm a firm believer that "big" free agent signings should be used strategically, and mainly as a supplement to an already strong team foundation (which the Eagles are still working on).
That said, in looking at potential big names that could be cap casualties, I think two that could be a decent fit are Jay Ratliff and Dunta Robinson. Still not sure what system the team is going to run, but based on what we know these guys may help.
Before you roll your eyes (though you're probably already doing that), let me say that I'm not crazy about either player, and both players' performance declined noticeably this year. However, at a reasonable price, both could be useful additions.
Ratliff is interesting purely because the Eagles are going to need a NT if they want to transition to a 3-4 defense. If Star Lotulelei isn't available at the #4 pick, I don't see them locking down a starter for that position in the draft. Therefore, signing Ratliff for 1-2 years could give the Eagles a serviceable NT while the team either develops a draft choice, or finds a longer-term solution next offseason. Ratliff's age, his decline in production, injury problems, and his off-field issues (DUI) should lead to little demand, hence a reasonable price. I may be way off here, but I can't see any team rushing to give him more than $2-$3 million a year, and it's quite possible he can be signed for a lot less than that depending on how other roster cuts shape up. For a 1-2 year deal, at a low-risk price, it'd make some sense.
Dunta Robinson is a little more complicated. He didn't play up to expectations this year, but it's tough to tell if it's a one-year aberration or if he's starting a serious decline. Additionally, since CB is a premium position, if available, he's going to get some decent offers. This also depends on what type of system the Eagles want to run, but if Robinson is a fit, then the Eagles could look to him to help replace Nnamdi and DRC (though I think the Eagles should keep DRC). The trouble is projecting what Robinson is worth, since teams generally overpay corners. At the very least, Robinson shouldn't get a raise over his $5 million from last year. If that ends up being $4.5 mil or less for 3 years max, he could be worth a shot.
The key with these two players is expectations. Both are fairly big names, but neither should be expected to perform anywhere close to their peaks. However, as serviceable starters, Ratliff and Robinson fill a couple needs and give the Eagles time to address talent gaps at other positions.
Sean (@phllyphootball): I want to focus on defense because I believe that is the side of the ball that requires the most change, specifically the secondary. I really think that at least one of, if not both, DRC and Asomugha will be gone in 2013, which will leave a hole in the secondary. The most common solution is to address this in the draft, but I would argue that the Eagles have one of the youngest teams in the league and, maybe, having a little more veteran leadership around the locker room wouldn't be such a bad thing.
It looks like veteran cornerback Chris Gamble may become available shortly, as the Panthers are currently $14 million over the cap. Gamble is a solid player all around. He is long and strong enough to play press coverage, as well as quick and fluid enough to turn and run with the receiver. Gamble is also a decent tackler, which will be important in the 4-3 Under as the corners often have "force" responsibility, meaning they are responsible for outside containment and forcing the runner back inside. Gamble will likely be somewhat expensive, but if Roseman can get him for $6-6.5 million for 2-3 years, I think it would be a bargain.
Another player flying under the radar is Calvin Pace. As of right now, the Eagles don't have a prototypical SAM linebacker for the 4-3 Under. Pace is 32 years old and his production has dropped somewhat in the last two years, but he is a solid player who can bring veteran leadership and knows the position. In 2007, after a disappointing start to his career, Pace had an outstanding year playing SAM linebacker in the 4-3 Under in Arizona. He said later that he credited linebacker coach Billy Davis for reviving his career that year. I know Pace is old, but I think he would come relatively cheap and could serve as a bridge until the Eagles find the SAM of the future. At the very least, he could provide veteran leadership to someone like Vinny Curry and other youngsters/rookies.
Note: The next contributors answered this question as it relates to upcoming free agents instead of possible impending cap casualties.
Nate (@natemandel): The Eagles need to embrace this new era of reconstruction and target guys who have yet to reach their primes. These aren't going to be household names, but ideally they are players coming off of their rookie contracts, on teams that have built winning environments, but might be too strapped for cash to re-sign a player who already has a capable veteran starter ahead of him. A guy like Ricky Jean-Francois, 26-year-old NT for the Niners, would be a great fit on a 4-year, $12 million deal. He could be plugged in as the Eagles starting nose tackle, allowing them to look elsewhere with the #4 overall pick.
Keenan Lewis is a fantastic young cornerback for the Steelers who is also coming off of his rookie contract. The Steelers rarely let good players they like walk away in free agency, but Pittsburgh is also dealing with a less than ideal cap situation. Lewis, 26, was the anchor of the Steelers' elite pass defense last season and is reportedly looking for at least $30 million. If the Eagles could outbid the Steelers with a 5-year, $35 million, back-loaded deal, Asomugha and his $11 million in unguaranteed salary could be taken off the books. The Eagles secondary would become cheaper, younger, and arguably more skilled in one fell swoop.
Glover Quin is also a very capable safety coming off of his rookie contract with the Texans. He is likely to command a 4- or 5-year deal worth close to $30 million, with at least a third of that coming in the form of guaranteed money. Still, the safety market is thin, and Quin should have his best years ahead of him; he's a player the Eagles could build around if the Texans can't sign him back on a long-term deal.
Trent (BGN -- HawaiianGreen):
LaRon Landry, S, New York Jets: $23 million over the cap
Laron Landry had a very strong comeback 2012 after a disappointing two previous seasons with the Washington Redskins. He was a major presence on defense with stout physical play like usual, but with improved coverage ability, and stayed health all season long -- something he didn't do with the Redskins. He was an x-factor, and one of the only few bright spots for a depressing Jets team this season. They won't be able to retain him, and he'll be one of the top free agent safeties available.
Now, if I'm Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly fusion combo, I ask myself: How confident am I with Nate Allen? If I'm confident with Nate Allen, will I be able to get a good safety in the draft? If I feel that the former second round pick still has high potential, he's relatively cheap with a $1.23 million cap hit. If I retain Allen, can I find a replacement for Kurt Coleman? The replacement will have to be a stud because Nate Allen hasn't proven himself to be a high quality player either, at least not consistently since returning from a torn patellar tendon. While I like the idea of Kurt Coleman on special teams, I'll always fear he might accidentally hit another Eagle and boom, seven points the other way. I feel better about drafting a young guy than signing a FA, but Landry would be my 1b to Atlanta's William Moore, who's slated to become an unrestricted FA.
Contract offer to Landry: 4 yrs, $21 mil with team option before second year of the deal.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: $13.8 million over the cap
Mike Wallace might be the Steelers biggest name WR, but teammate Emmanuel Sanders might be a better option if the Eagles want some more speed in Chip Kelly's new offense. Sanders, a restricted FA, is quick and fast, but has shown the ability to be an effective route runner and over the middle catcher, even better than Wallace. I'd wait to see what tender they slap on him. If it's a 4th round pick, I'd be willing to go after him. A 3rd rounder might be a little much, but I'd part ways with a 4th pretty easily with the hope that Sanders could be a better fit than Maclin for our offense moving forward.
Contract Offer: 3 yrs, $15 mil
2) Given the news about the Eagles and the $23m cap credit carryover for 2013, how do you think that money should be spent? Re-sign current core players (if yes, tell me who, why, and for how much)? Sign upcoming unrestricted free agents (who, why, how much)?
Brent (@eaglesrewind): Though it'd be nice to lock up current foundation players, there really aren't any key players that aren't signed long-term. The closest is Jeremy Maclin, whose deal expires after this upcoming season. However, I'd rather have Maclin play it out in the new offense for a year to see just how much value he has to the team. I just don't see many scenarios where Maclin's value goes up appreciably this year, so why sign him now?
Regarding UFAs, the Eagles need to be very careful. If any young impact players are available, the team should certainly take a look, but they need to avoid another "Dream Team" scenario and not sign players just because they've got cap space.
If someone like Ryan Clady or Jairus Byrd is available, then make a bid, but I expect most players of that caliber (and these two in particular) to be re-signed or hit with the franchise tag.
The Eagles are making a big transition, and this year the strategy should be mostly about fit, making sure they bring in players that can do what Chip Kelly needs. Without knowing exactly what Kelly wants to do, it's tough to point to individual players. In general I'd rather see the team sign a handful of lesser players to upgrade the overall depth of the roster while conserving cap space for the future, as opposed to taking a couple big swings at impact players.
If the Eagles were 1 or 2 players away from contending for the Super Bowl, I'd say go for it; but for a rebuilding team, it is best to conserve cap space and make offers based on value rather than talent. Hopefully, the team can use the draft to find impact players (where the value for top players is a lot more attractive than in free agency).
Sean (@phllyphootball): I am currently holding out hope -- although it seems unlikely -- that Jairus Byrd somehow makes it to free agency without resigning or being franchise tagged. Byrd would be a perfect free safety in the 4-3 Under defense. One of the major reasons that Seattle's defense is so good is because of Earl Thomas (typing that name makes me cringe). Thomas's ability to cover the field allows the Seahawks to bring their strong safety into the box, or anywhere on the field, while leaving Thomas as the single high safety. It opens up so many options for the defense. Byrd is a little bigger but very similar to Thomas physically and, at 26, is just hitting the prime of his career. The one additional factor that could help the Eagles if he hits free agency is that Byrd played at Oregon in 2007-08 while Kelly was offensive coordinator. Byrd would likely demand top dollar on the market but, after the last few years I don't think you will find anyone complaining about having another playmaking safety in Philadelphia.
There is also a lot of Alex Smith hype out there based on his last two successful years in San Francisco. I've written before about the prospects of various free agent QB's (including Smith) coming to Philly, and while I wouldn't be opposed to bringing Smith in, I don't think he is the long term answer. I think the 49ers offensive system really played a huge role in his success by limiting him and not allowing him to make mistakes. Simply stated, I think Smith is an above average game manager (an expensive one), which I can't imagine excites the aggressive Chip Kelly. Overall, if Byrd doesn't work out for the Birds (pun Intended), I think they should focus on finding "system" players that can bring a new attitude and maybe work on extending Jason Kelce if he is able to come back strong from his injury. Luckily, Kelce is a great match for Kelly's style which, similar to Howard Mudd's, puts more emphasis on quick, agile lineman.
Nate (@natemandel): The $23 million in extra cap space is a tantalizing treat, but any desires to make a splash acquisition should again be tempered by the context of rebuilding. The Eagles need to build their future core through the draft and take a few "fliers" on the defensive side in order to identify who will best fit their new schemes. Let's say the Eagles take Luke Joeckel at #4 overall. They'll have two elite, bookend tackles and explosive playmakers at wide receiver and running back. I believe Kelly can mastermind away some of the Eagles' worst, most fundamental offensive flaws right off the bat with this group. Rounds 2 through 5 of the draft, however, should be spent on defensive players who fit the 3-4/new defensive scheme. Use the extra money to sign these guys to 3- or 4-year deals so that there's time to identify whether there is a core starter (or two, God-willing) amongst them.
It's also my understanding that this $23M won't carry over into extra cap space for 2014, so the Eagles would be wise to reward current players who are due to be free agents but have proven that they "bleed green" for Philly. Howie Roseman admitted that a lack of chemistry over the past two seasons really doomed the Reid regime. Roseman knows that he has to return to some of the successful roster-building ideologies of the early 2000's. With guys like Brian Dawkins and Jeremiah Trotter, we had a core group of leaders who inspired passion in their teammates and left everything on the field. Colt Anderson is clearly a guy who plays his butt off on special teams and stepped in admirably at safety toward the end of the year. He may not be a long-term solution, but the Eagles can afford to invest in bringing back players with blue-collar attitudes like his. Free agents Jon Dorenbos, Darryl Tapp, and Derek Landri could all fit this bill if the coaching staff deems them compatible with the system and with the team culture that they're trying to instill.
Trent (BGN -- HawaiianGreen): There isn't anyone really worth an investment in terms of re-signing. DRC's talent and potential are limitless, but he doesn't give the effort nearly enough or show any toughness. I'd also look to create more room by releasing Nnamdi Asomugha and asking Cullen Jenkins to restructure. Other than that, re-signing Maclin would be a prudent move to accomplish now if the Eagles think he's worth keeping beyond this season.Then I'd look to add a veteran via Free Agency. I'd look to sign these following players:
Dashon Goldson, S, 49ers. Tough, hitting safety that is confortable in coverage and still in his prime. Although this goes back to my two points earlier about Nate Allen, as well as do the 49ers let him walk? They are $49,000 over the cap, which could easily be fixed with a couple of restructured deals and/or cuts. But to sign Goldson would take top dollar. 4 yrs, $28 mil.
Derek Cox, CB, Jaguars. I'd love to get him on our team. Cox is young and has a large frame at 6'1", with real potential and starter ability. 3 yrs, $12 mil.
Sam Baker, T, Atlanta. Has been good, but not close to his second round grade the Falcons spent on him. Baker would be a great depth option and possible starter at a reasonable price -- the best bang for our buck. 2 yrs, $6 mil.
Manny Lawson, OLB, Bengals. I don't think it's likely Lawson leaves Cincinnati with the team on the rise and tons of cap room, but he is much better in a 3-4 than a 4-3, and could be a great addition to our new defense. 2 yrs, $12 mil.
3) Is there a free agent on the Eagles roster who you'd like to see get the franchise tag?
Brent (@eaglesrewind): I sense I'm in the minority here, and I don't think the Eagles will do it, but I'd actually like to see them franchise DRC.
This really comes down to two factors:
1. The Eagles have plenty of cap space. Judging by his performance this year, DRC isn't worth anywhere close to the franchise tag price ($10-$11 million I think), but it's only a 1-year deal, and the Eagles aren't going to need that space this year anyway.
2. DRC has a lot of talent, and finding corners that can match up with big receivers is difficult. Also, with Nnamdi likely leaving, the team already has one starting CB spot to fill, which is tough enough. Finding two starting CBs in one offseason without killing the cap situation is really difficult.
Tagging DRC gives the team a chance to focus on the other starting CB spot, while also giving DRC a chance to see if he can flourish under a new coaching regime.
Worst-case scenario, he doesn't improve his consistency and you let him go after next year. By then, hopefully you've filled the other spot, making it easier to find a replacement for DRC. I'm a little puzzled as to why the Eagles don't appear to be considering this option, it's pretty much the definition of a low-risk/high-reward proposition.
Short Answer: No. There are a few key special teams players on the roster who I think should definitely be re-signed to smaller contracts. They would be Akeem Jordan, Colt Anderson and, the magician, Jon Dorenbos. The value of these key special teams players cannot be overstated, as we learned in Week 4 when the Giants accumulated 217 yards on kickoff returns with Anderson and Jordan both injured. None of these players would be considered for the franchise tag, though. The only player that I even thought about was DRC. However, when I learned that the cornerback franchise tag number would be approximately $10 million, I quickly shut that thought down. There is no way he should be paid that kind of money.
Nate (@natemandel): The franchise tag can be tough to swallow when you're not in a win-now mode. With the franchise tag, you're basically paying a player top dollar to find out what he can do, or to delay giving him a lucrative, long-term deal. One of the few players on the Eagles who is likely to garner franchise tag speculation is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Because he is young and because his motivation and focus have occasionally come into question during the chaos of the past two seasons, there is reason to believe we haven't seen his best days as an Eagle as of yet. We likely had high hopes after his Week 1 INT fest against the Browns, but as the defense collapsed around him, DRC's play slipped. His age, speed, experience, and ball skills are enough, I believe, to invest in for at least one more year. At the same time, it's tough to justify anyone making $10 million next year, given the rebuilding circumstances (i.e. ideally you want to be spreading out your resources, not concentrating them). If the Eagles really believe DRC can help them win a Super Bowl, they should franchise him on what will end up being a "prove-it" year. You don't want to see him regain his Pro Bowl ways with a fat contract on another team. I personally think DRC is worth tagging, especially with that extra $23M hanging around, to see if he can regain his form under a new staff. If not, at least we wouldn't be on the hook for another four or five years of top-dollar CB money.
Trent (BGN -- HawaiianGreen): No, but I would like to see the Eagles get most of the veterans that have high cap hits, like Trent Cole and Cullen Jenkins to renegotiate their contracts (Editor's note: Good luck with that). I'd also like to see them keep Akeem Jordan as a possible ILB in a 3-4. If the Eagles re-sign more FA's, they should be more camp bodies or backups with spot-starter ability.