Stay or Go? Ranking the Importance of the Eagles’ Free Agents
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - One of the unintended consequences of winning the Super Bowl is that others start coveting what you have in a copycat league, be it coaching, talent or scheme.
In the week after taking Super Bowl LII from the New England Patriots, the Eagles already lost two highly-regarded coaches: former Carson Wentz mentor John DeFilippo, who is the new offensive coordinator in Minnesota, and Doug Pederson's right-hand man, former OC Frank Reich, who now sits in the big chair in Indianapolis.
The brain drain is sure to be followed by a talent one as other organizations focus in on some of the players who helped bring the Lombardi Trophy back to the NovaCare Complex in advance of NFL free agency, which begins on March 14.
Here's a list of the 13 unrestricted free agents the Eagles have from the least important (veteran swing tackle Will Beatty) to the most important (linebacker Nigel Bradham):
13 - OT Will Beatty - Beatty was brought in as the backup swing tackle in November but was never needed as Halapoulivaati Vaitai got incrementally better as the injury replacement for Jason Peters while Lane Johnson proved to be the best right tackle in football. Beatty's only action was in the meaningless Week 17 finale against Dallas and the Eagles will let him walk, hoping to get better depth at the position, perhaps with the No. 32 overall selection in the first round of the draft.
12. - MLB Dannell Ellerbe - Ellerbe was brought in as a sub-package middle linebacker in November after Jordan Hicks tore his Achilles and Joe Walker had trouble as the third LB behind Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks, ultimately being shut down with a stinger. At 32, Ellerbe proved to be competent in a very limited role but Philadelphia will look to improve its depth and get younger.
11 - PK Caleb Sturgis - It's not that Sturgis isn't a solid NFL kicker, it's just that he got Wally Pipp-ed by rookie Jake Elliott, signed off the Cincinnati practice squad once Sturgis went down with an injury. Elliott's 61-yard walk-off game-winner against the New York Giants arguably ignited the Eagles' run toward Minneapolis and his leg strength sets him apart. More consistency is needed with PATs but Elliott's ceiling is just too high to even consider going back to Sturgis.
10. - ST Bryan Braman - With Dave Fipp needing a dash of energy for his special teams units late in the season, the Eagles brought Braman back in December and the veteran delivered. You would always prefer to have younger, inexpensive players helping on special teams but bringing the 30-year-old Braman back on a on a one-year deal as insurance makes sense from both sides.
9. - RB/KR Kenjon Barner - Another in-season addition, Barner was brought back when Darren Sproles was injured and did yeoman work as the team's primary returner and fourth option in what was an effective running back-by-committee approach. With Donnel Pumphrey set to return from a redshirt rookie year and perhaps Sproles also returning, bringing back Barner is not really necessary.
8. - LB Najee Goode - Goode is a solid special-teams player and versatile LB who can play all three positions in a pinch. Another one-year deal at the veteran minimum is likely.
7. - RB Darren Sproles - At 34 and out of contract there is little doubt Sproles would have retired coming off a Super Bowl win but he felt like he didn't go out on his own terms after tearing his ACL early in the season. As a punt returner and third-down back Sproles would still have significant value but the number has to be right for a cash-strapped team.
6. - RB LeGarrette Blount - Blount delivered on a one-year, prove-it deal on the wrong side of 30, rushing for 766 yards in the regular season and dominating his old team in the Super Bowl, gouging the Patriots for 90 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. His touches went south, however, once the Eagles acquired Jay Ajayi at the trade deadline and Ajayi and Corey Clement are penciled in as the top backs come 2018.
5. - DB Corey Graham - Graham was far more valuable than most understand and ended up being a big part of Jim Schwartz's defense as the third safety, allowing the unit to play quite a bit of big nickel and dime with Malcolm Jenkins in the slot or the box. Graham ended up playing 36 percent of the team's defensive snaps overall and Schwartz's trust in him resulted in a much more varied scheme which often gave opposing offenses headaches. Jaylen Watkins, a restricted free agent doesn't offer the same kind comfort as Graham. The veteran will turn 33 in July meaning another one-year deal could make sense.
4. - DT Beau Allen - A big part of the Eagles' deep and talented defensive front, Allen will be tough to keep because others will see him as a starting-caliber player and Philadelphia obviously has Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan tying up significant assets on the interior. With Allen likely getting a big deal elsewhere, Destiny Vaeao and/or Elijah Qualls will need to step up quickly.
3. - TE Trey Burton - Burton is another tough one to bring back because it's difficult to play him and Zach Ertz at the same time for significant snaps because neither is a strong blocker. That means Burton's playing time would continue to be limited here and others are likely to offer a far more significant role as well as a starting-level salary.
2. - NB Patrick Robinson - Robinson was arguably the best nickel back in the NFL on a one-year, $775K deal, putting the veteran in line for a big raise. Conventional wisdom says that Sidney Jones and will be healthy and Rasul Douglas showed enough as a rookie that you just pencil them in with Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby at cornerback. But, that's a fundamental misunderstanding between outside corners and slot corners. At 30 and with a history of injuries, re-upping Robinson for significant money is maybe the most difficult free-agency decision Howie Roseman must make but letting Robinson walk and expecting to get similar play from someone else in the slot in 2018 is folly.
1. - LB Nigel Bradham - Bradham excelled as a three-down linebacker and took over the communication aspect on defense from Hicks seamlessly. The good news is Bradham understands he has played the best ball of his career in Schwartz's defense and will likely want to stay in it. The bad news is that Bradham is probably in line for over $6 million a season and it's hard to imagine paying significant money to both Bradham and Kendricks even as Hicks remains on his rookie deal.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen