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Story of the Philadelphia Eagles 2013 Defense: Free Agent Busts?

Cary Williams, Isaac Sopoaga, and Connor Barwin are free agent additions to the Eagles defense. How much of an impact will they have?


Now that we're in the NFL dead zone where there's nothing to talk about, I'll bring out a topic I've been holding onto for a rainy day.

Evan Silva (Rotoworld), while doing a Q&A session on Twitter a while back, tweeted that he thought a few of the Eagles newly signed free agents will bust. For context, here's the full tweet:

Only time will tell how it all plays out. There are factors, such as scheme fit, that make free agent additions difficult to project. Call it the Nnamdi effect. For example, the combination of Oakland's scheme and the lack of targets made Nnamdi appear to be a great player, and that simply wasn't the case by the time he reached Philadelphia. That's a negative outlook, but it's certainly possible a player looks worse on their old squad and then improves on a new team.

CB Cary Williams - Let's start off with perhaps the Eagles most controversial 2013 free agent signing. Put all of the off-the-field nonsense aside. Cary Williams performance won't be based on whether or not he missed practice to look at sconces with his wife. Focus on what he does on the field.

Williams is known for playing too far off the ball. He's among the bottom ranked in TD and yards allowed. PFF doesn't grade him well. On the plus side, you may have heard Williams is a great tackler. He's tough and willing to make sound tackles, which is something Eagles fans aren't used to from their CBs. Looking at you, Nnamdi Asomugha/Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (and hell, even Asante Samuel). Tackling is great and all but I'm not sure how much it means if a CB can't cover, and that's a legitimate concern with Williams.Cary might easily be a bust for the Eagles in 2013. It's likely he will be a starter. I expect him to be a solid tackler but struggle in coverage at times.

Interesting note: Williams wasn't the Eagles first choice. According to reports, the Eagles had their eye on Steelers FA CB Keenan Lewis. The Eagles offered him more money than the Saints did, but Lewis turned th offer down because he wanted to play in his hometown of New Orleans. Tough luck. Something to keep in mind if/when Williams fails. It's important to remember that the Eagles needed a CB, though, with the departure of Nnamdi/DRC.

NT Isaac Sopoaga (aka "Spooky)" - If you're unaware, the awesome nickname comes from an autocorrect mistake in a Howard Eskin tweet.

In the limited time Spooky played last year (335 snaps) he graded out poorly as both a pass rusher and a run stopper according to PFF. 49ers fan wouldn't argue with that grade; they weren't sad to see him go.

I find it hard to believe that a guy playing around ~30% of the team's snaps at most can be considered that big of a "bust". Tom Gamble, Eagles VP of Player Personnel, is familiar with Spooky from their time together in San Fran. I'm sure Gamble recommended bringing Spooky in as a cheap veteran guy who can be relied upon to fill his role. No one is asking Spooky to have a major impact. It made sense for the Eagles to sign him considering they didn't have a real NT on their roster prior to his arrival.

DE/OLB Connor Barwin - I almost dislike talking about the Eagles front seven because we're dealing with a lot of unknowns here until we actually see it in action. We know DC Bill Davis won't return a pure 4-3, which is what Eagles fans were used to under the Reid era, and instead it will be some element of the 3-4. Therefore it doesn't hurt to have players who are experienced in the 3-4.

Enter Barwin. He's another player that PFF doesn't grade favorably (ranked 32 out of 34 3-4 OLBs). I'm a bigger fan of him than I should be after seeing that grading, but he may end up being "just a guy".And hat's not a terrible thing to ask for.

Plus he's got a strong social media game, if you're into that kind of thing.

* * *

Once again, each of these signings fit a need on the Eagles defense. These players weren't signed with the expectations that they would be dynamic playmakers who would spark the Eagles defense into a top ranked unit. They weren't intended to be long-term solutions. If they work out to be that way, great, but it's not the end of the world if they don't. It shouldn't even be assumed that they're guaranteed starters. Curtis Marsh could challenge Williams, an in-shape Antonio Dixon will push Spooky, and it remains to be seen how Brandon Graham and Trent Cole will fit as OLBs.

Remember, bust is a relative term. If you're expecting great things out of these players, I'd recommend lowering your expectations. But that doesn't mean these players can't be meaningful contributors. The real story of the Eagles defense in 2013 is probably that of a team in transition.

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