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NFL Free Agency Targets: 38 players with connections to the Eagles

Looking at names that will likely be on Philadelphia’s radar.

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

2021’s NFL free agency start date is less than one week away! The curiously-named “legal tampering window” will open on Monday, March 15 before the new league year officially begins at 4:00 PM Eastern on Wednesday, March 17.

As we all know, the Philadelphia Eagles aren’t expected to be major players in this year’s signing period. The team simply doesn’t have ample cap space to make big splashes. Over The Cap currently has the Eagles at $35 million in the hole.

Of course, that figure doesn’t account for all the contract restructures that have happened (still waiting on exact details) and have yet to come. The Eagles will ultimately clear enough space to sign some players in free agency. It’s just that they’ll have to be patient while looking for the bargain bin deals.

And so we might have to wait a bit for the Eagles to officially make some signings. In the meantime, we can use some clues to hone in on their potential targets.

As evidenced by Howie Roseman’s “cohabitation matrix,” the Eagles are very big on the concept of familiarity (and sometimes to a fault). With that in mind, let’s take a look at some connections the Eagles have to this year’s crop of free agents.

NICK SIRIANNI - HEAD COACH

QB Jacoby Brissett

Brissett was the Colts’ starting quarterback in 2019 after Andrew Luck unexpectedly retired shortly before the season. He went 7-8 in 15 starts and posted an 88.0 passer rating with Sirianni as his offensive coordinator. Not overly impressive but, all things considered, it could’ve been worse. Brissett returned to being a backup in 2020 with the Colts bringing in Philip Rivers. Now a free agent, Brissett might have an opportunity to compete for a starting job somewhere. There’s some thought that the Eagles could sign Brissett, who turns 29 in December, to push Jalen Hurts. It sure wouldn’t be the first time a first-year Philly head coach added a veteran quarterback familiar with his system. There was Doug Pederson (the player) with Andy Reid, Dennis Dixon with Chip Kelly, and Chase Daniel with Pederson. But are the Eagles really going to spend their limited cap space on a superfluous piece like Brissett? What do the Eagles really stand to gain in 2021 from him either 1) starting games for them or 2) being an expensive backup? But while we can debate “should,” the focus of this post is about likelihood. And there’s a non-zero chance of Brissett reuniting with Sirianni in Philly. [NOTE: The preceding was written before ESPN reported Jeffrey Lurie doesn’t want competition for Hurts. We’ll see if that ends up being the case.]

WR T.Y. Hilton

The four-time Pro Bowler is coming off his second-lowest yardage total (762) and third-lowest yards per reception mark (13.6) of his career. Hilton, who turns 32 in November, has also missed nine games over the last three seasons. These warts could theoretically make his price tag affordable for the Eagles. But Hilton might just re-sign with the Colts, who own the fifth-most cap space in the NFL. Even if he makes it to the market, one would think he’ll be looking to sign with more of a “win now” team. Hilton’s age doesn’t make him an ideal free agent target for the Eagles, who should be thinking beyond 2021. Then again, maybe not the worst idea to give Hurts a veteran target to work with since it’s an otherwise young receiver room.

WR Zach Pascal

Pascal is a restricted free agent and Colts general manager Chris Ballard said he anticipates Indy retaining him. If he somehow goes untendered, though, the Eagles could have interest in the 26-year-old. Eagles passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo was his position coach in 2018 and 2019. As an added bonus, Pascal played with Travis Fulgham at Old Dominion.

SHANE STEICHEN - OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR

QB Tyrod Taylor

Steichen started out as Taylor’s position coach in 2019 before being promoted to offensive coordinator. Taylor entered 2020 as the Chargers’ starting quarterback but was quickly supplanted by Justin Herbert. There could be a relatively competitive market for Taylor given his experience and a 24-21-1 record in 47 career starts. A team desperate for quarterback help (Washington, for example?) could throw money at him. But if Taylor has to settle for the Eagles’ offer to “compete” with Jalen Hurts for the starting job, perhaps that would interest the 31-year-old. Eagles vice president of player personnel Andy Weidl has familiarity with Taylor from overlapping in Baltimore from 2011 through 2014.

QB Geno Smith

If the Eagles want to add an inexpensive veteran who “knows the system,” then Smith makes sense. The 30-year-old has multiple connections to Philly. Steichen was his quarterbacks coach in 2018. The aforementioned Patullo was his position coach on the New York Jets in 2015 and 2016. Philly also did their homework on Smith (Lurie attended his private workout with the Eagles) once upon a time leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft. Smith surely isn’t any good (12-19 starting record, 72.9 career passer rating) but that’s OK, he’ll come cheap. Smith was on the vet minimum as Russell Wilson’s backup in Seattle last year.

JEMAL SINGLETON - ASSISTANT HEAD COACH/RUNNING BACKS COACH

RB Marlon Mack

Mack might find a limited market this offseason despite only recently turning 25 and having a good track record of production. The 2017 fourth-round pick (taken ahead of Donnel Pumphrey, natch) is coming off an Achilles injury that limited him to just four carries in 2020. Mack is an intriguing buy-low candidate since he boasts 4.5 yards per attempt on 572 career carries. Miles Sanders and Mack could form a nice backfield duo. Singleton knows the latter from spending the 2017 season as Indy’s running backs coach. The guess here is Mack finds more opportunity elsewhere.

RB Samaje Perine

It was a small sample size (63 carries) but Perine posted a career-high 4.8 yards per attempt last season in Cincy with Singleton as his position coach. Perine is only 25 and he profiles as a bigger back at 5-11, 240 pounds. He could be the new ‘Thunder’ in the Jordan Howard role to Sanders’ ‘Lightning.’ Should come cheap.

AARON MOOREHEAD - WIDE RECEIVERS COACH

WR Josh Reynolds

Moorehead was Reynolds’ position coach at Texas A&M in 2015 and 2016. The 2017 fourth-round pick averaged 28.25 receptions, 362.5 yards, and 2.25 touchdowns per year in four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. Could be worth taking a shot on the 26-year-old if they believe he’s an ascending and undervalued talent. Might command more money than the Eagles can offer, though.

JASON MICHAEL - TIGHT ENDS COACH

TE Mo Alie-Cox

Cox is set to be a restricted free agent unless the Colts don’t tender him, which they probably will. If the former college basketball player shakes free, the Eagles could make a run at him. Alie-Cox had a career-high 394 yards working under Michael last year. Probably won’t happen, though.

TE Darrell Daniels

Michael and Double D overlapped briefly on the Arizona Cardinals towards the end of the 2018 season. Daniels, 26, only has 122 career receiving yards to his name and is probably just a replacement-level player at best. But he could be worth signing to the minimum if the Eagles aren’t able to retain Richard Rodgers in free agency. Need some more depth behind Dallas Goedert with Zach Ertz expected to be traded or cut.

JONATHAN GANNON - DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR

LB Anthony Walker Jr.

Not sure if the Eagles will be able to afford Walker. The 25-year-old might draw some interest on the market given how he’s produced 343 tackles, 11 passes defensed, and three interceptions in 48 career starts. If he’s within their price range, adding Walker obviously makes sense since the Eagles need linebacker help. Walker has experience manning the middle and can be brought in to help install and lead Gannon’s new defense.

S Malik Hooker

The Colts’ 2017 first-round pick seems bound to leave Indy this offseason. The team declined his 2021 fifth-year option last year before he suffered an Achilles injury in September. Hooker is the type of buy-low free agent the Eagles should be taking a chance on. He only turns 25 next month and he has some production to his name with seven interceptions and 11 passes defensed in 35 career starts. Gannon used to work with the Colts’ defensive backs so there’s an obvious relationship here.

CB Mackensie Alexander

Gannon was Alexander’s assistant position coach on the Minnesota Vikings in 2016 and 2017. Most of Alexander’s NFL career has been spent playing the slot despite his interest in playing on the outside. With Avonte Maddox likely moving to the nickel role, the Eagles can offer Alexander a chance to play across from Darius Slay. The 27-year-old Alexander allowed just an 82.3 passer rating when targeted last year, per Pro Football Reference.

DE Al-Quadin Muhammad

This North Jersey native turns 26 later this month. AQM has logged five career sacks and 17 quarterback hits in limited playing time. He’s on the slender side for a defensive end at 6-4, 250 pounds (for context, Genard Avery was playing edge at 6-0, 250 pounds). If the Colts don’t keep him, AQM could be a bargain bin addition to give the Eagles more defensive end depth. Especially if Derek Barnett isn’t retained.

CB Xavier Rhodes

Rhodes, who turns 31 in June, doesn’t really fit the profile of the free agent the Eagles should be looking to add. He’s not going to be a long-term piece. And, outside of a relationship with Gannon that stems back to Minnesota, I don’t know that he wants to play for a “retooling” team like Philly. But if the Eagles opt for a stop-gap for some reason, Rhodes could be in play. Colts general manager Chris Ballard specifically credited Gannon with how Rhodes bounced back for a nice season with Indy last year.

CB T.J. Carrie

Carrie, who turns 31 in July, also doesn’t really fit what the Eagles should be looking for. But if they want a more affordable stop-gap option than Rhodes, they could sign Carrie to be their new Leodis McKelvin (shoutout to a legend).

S Tavon Wilson

With Jalen Mills potentially walking in free agency and Rodney McLeod coming off an ACL injury, the Eagles are looking thin at safety. If they want to add a stop-gap veteran, Wilson offers experience with 45 career starts in 125 games. The 31-year-old isn’t a long-term solution, though.

S George Odum

Odum has seen limited defensive playing time (511 career snaps) but the 27-year-old made first-team All-Pro last year for his special teams contributions. The Colts will likely retain him as a restricted free agent. If he makes it to the market, though, could be worth a shot if the Eagles feel like he can handle a bigger defensive role.

NICK RALLIS - LINEBACKERS COACH

LB Eric Wilson

Rallis spent time as Wilson’s assistant position coach for the last three seasons in Minny. It wasn’t until last year that Wilson, who turns 27 in September, became a full-time starter for the Vikings. He filled the stat sheet with 122 tackles, 8 passes defensed, three interceptions, and one forced fumble. Wilson might command more money than the Eagles will be able to afford but he should be on their radar given their need for linebacker help.

LB Hardy Nickerson Jr.

Nickerson, 27, played about 9.5% of the Vikings’ defensive snaps last year while mainly contributing on special teams. Maybe Rallis feels like he has some upside? He certainly should come cheap.

LB De’Vondre Campbell

Campbell has an unusual connection to his would-be position coach in Philly in that Rallis and he played college football together at Minnesota from 2013 through 2015 (hat tip to Zach Berman on Birds With Friends). Campbell drew positive reviews for early season success in Arizona before injuries slowed him down later in the year. The Eagles could offer Campbell, who turns 28 in July, a starting opportunity that others might not be as eager to give to a player on his third team in three years.

HOWIE ROSEMAN - EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT/GENERAL MANAGER

RB LeSean McCoy

Only for a 1-day contract to retire as an Eagle.

RB Frank Gore

When are the Eagles finally going to right a wrong and bring Gore back home? Sure, it was Chip Kelly who originally wanted to sign him back in 2015, but Roseman reportedly had interest in trading for him back in 2017. We should also note that Singleton was his position coach on the Colts for two seasons! Now, I don’t actually think the Eagles should or will be signing a soon-to-be 38-year-old running back ... but it would be a little funny if they finally got Gore for real.

WR Nelson Agholor

I don’t see this one happening. Nelly had a nice season with the Raiders and he’ll be looking to cash in after only making $1 million last year.

TE Trey Burton

The Philly Special thrower had Michael as his position coach last year and could return to Philly to provide depth behind Goedert. But Carson Wentz seemed to really like Burton and I imagine he’ll want his old buddy retained in Indy.

LB Kamu Grugier-Hill

There seemed to be a falling out with Kamu after he originally lied about a concussion he suffered during the 2019 season. Not sure if the beef was limited to the coaching staff or beyond that. If it’s just the former, maybe the 26-year-old would be open to returning to Philly under a new staff. Regardless, the Eagles should probably just move in a different direction.

CB Sidney Jones

There’s this perception out there that Jones was a great pickup for the Jacksonville Jaguars after the Eagles cut him last year. The reality is that Jones continued to be plagued by injury issues (has been available to play in just 31 of 70 possible games) and allowed a 103.2 passer rating when targeted. I do not think the Eagles will be re-signing their 2017 second-round pick.

CB Rasul Douglas

There’s this perception out there that Douglas was a great pickup for the Carolina Panthers after the Eagles cut him last year. The reality is that Douglas had zero interceptions and a 108.5 passer rating when targeted. I think Douglas, who turns 26 in August, can be an acceptable low-end starter. The Eagles should be trying out new options instead of just looking to the past, though.

CB Ronald Darby

Finally able to stay healthy in Washington last year, Darby had a productive season for the Football Team with 16 passes defensed and just a 81.0 passer rating allowed. He’s expected to be one of the better corner options on the market so he’ll probably be out of the Eagles’ price range.

ANDY WEIDL - VICE PRESIDENT OF PLAYER PERSONNEL

WR Chris Moore

Really scraping the bottom of the barrel here but Moore was a 2016 fourth-round pick by the Ravens when Weidl was still in Baltimore. With just 511 receiving yards over five seasons, Moore is probably Just A Guy at best. But if the Eagles want to bring in a cheap veteran to camp to help push the young guys, Moore fits the bill.

RUMORED INTEREST

QB Marcus Mariota

One league source told The Athletic to “keep an eye on” the Eagles acquiring Mariota. The feeling here is that Mariota — assuming he’s cut — will draw a higher price tag than the Eagles can afford. But it’s at least worth noting that the Eagles have Mariota’s former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on their staff in Jason Michael.

WR John Ross

The Eagles showed A LOT of interest in Ross, who only turns 26 in November, leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft. As previously noted:

The Eagles had an official meeting with Ross at the NFL Combine, they attended his pro day, they put him through a private workout, and they brought him to Philadelphia for one of their top 30 prospects visits. In addition to all of this, there was a rumor that Ross was one of the five players the Eagles were targeting with the No. 14 overall pick. Ross was also one of the eight receiver prospects that the Eagles told Wentz to watch and give feedback on.

DE Ifeadi Odenigbo

The Eagles reportedly tried to sign Odenigbo off the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad during the 2018 season. He’s going to be a restricted free agent this offseason so Minny will probably keep him. If he shakes free and the Eagles don’t re-sign Barnett, though, he could be a nice signing. Had seven sacks in 2019 and actually drew the fifth-highest rate of double teams among edge rushers last year.

CB Gareon Conley

Conley was also one of the five players the Eagles were targeting with the No. 14 overall pick in 2017. Jimmy Kempski, my BGN Radio co-host and PhillyVoice writer, said he heard that the Eagles would’ve selected Conley instead of Barnett if not for the allegations that emerged about the former shortly before the draft. The Raiders gave up on Conley in 2019, trading him to the Houston Texans for a third-round pick. He then missed the entire 2020 season due to an ankle injury that never healed properly. The Eagles are in position to take a flier on the 25-year-old.

CB Ahkello Witherspoon

The 6-2, 195 pound Witherspoon went through some ups and downs with the San Francisco 49ers. He flashed potential at times as a starter with decent ball production (four interceptions, 24 passes defensed). He also struggled with injuries and got benched for performance issues. The Eagles might be willing to take a chance on this soon-to-be 26-year-old considering they showed some interest in him (pre-draft visit) leading up to the 2017 NFL Drat.

CB Kevin King

King is yet another cornerback the Eagles showed interest in leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft. The Birds hosted him on a pre-draft visit in addition to using a formal meeting on him at the NFL Combine. King, 25, seems like he’s going to be out of the Eagles’ price range to me. If his market is less competitive than expected, Philly could look to swoop in.

S DeAndre Houston-Carson

The Eagles reportedly tried to sign DHC off the Chicago Bears’ practice squad during the 2017 season. He’s mostly been a special teams player (think: Chris Maragos) but maybe the Eagles could see him taking on a bigger defensive role? Probably not.

S Damontae Kazee

The Eagles brought Kazee to Philly for a pre-draft visit in 2017 after previously speaking with him at the Senior Bowl. Kazee, 27, has been pretty productive for the Atlanta Falcons with 10 (!) interceptions, 13 passes defensed, and five forced fumbles in 34 starts over 52 games. What could hurt Kazee’s value is that he’s coming off an Achilles tear. Still might be too expensive for the Eagles to afford.