A Look at the Top Free Agent Defensive Targets for the Eagles
After missing the playoffs with a 10-6 record, the panic button has almost been pushed on the Eagles organization. While the Eagles do have plenty of holes to fill, they can take fill many of their needs this offseason.
Which positions should the Eagles target in free agency and the draft? Who are some ideal fits? I'll give you some names to watch as the Eagles need help in a few key areas: cornerback, safety, offensive line depth, play-making wide out, quarterback, and inside linebacker.
How do you fix the Eagles, what's the biggest issue on the the team?
Well the first answer about 99% of Eagles fans would give is replace Bradley Fletcher - which is obvious, its time to move on, they need a better cover guy on the outside.
The next spot the Eagles will most likely look to fix is the safety spot next to Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins was good, not great this season, making 79 tackles and three interceptions in his first year in Philly. As the season went on teams realized that Jenkins could be beat over-the-top and teams began taking more shots down-the-field. However, he is a better player than Nate Allen, who signed a one-year deal last offseason to return to the ream. While he wasn't awful, Allen just isn't the playmaking safety the Eagles were hoping for when they took him in the second round of the 2010 draft.
While the Eagles were one of the top teams in the NFL with 49 sacks this season, they could use a more consistent pass rush. With a more consistent pass rush, that could help their secondary, which is average to begin with. To many games they went silent round the QB, the birds had nine sacks on Monday night against a banged up Carolina team but followed that up by getting to Aaron Rodgers just once the next week. In week eight the Eagles didn't sack Cardinals QB Carson Palmer one time, the very next week they harassed Ryan Fitzpatrick all day and sacked him four times.
If the Eagles can fix these issues on defense they could be in the mix for a deep playoff run.
One interesting offseason question will be what will the Eagles do with Brandon Graham. The former 13th overall pick in the draft is a free agent and will be entering his fifth year in the league.
Is he the right fit for a full-time 3-4 defense? My guess is Graham will get a better offer elsewhere and fly the coup.
Trent Cole has a big cap number this year, he is getting older, meaning the Eagles might have to elect to go outside of the organization to find a 3-4 rush linebacker, three names stick out to me.
1. Justin Houston, KC Chiefs
2. Jerry Hughes, Buffalo Bills
3. Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins
Both Houston and Orakpo have played in the 3-4 hybrid style of defense, Houston is coming off a 22 sack season and will commend huge money from a team looking for his services. Houston and Orakpo are good cover guys and at getting to the quarterback and would be interesting additions opposite of Connor Barwin.
If the Eagles can land one of these pass rushing specialist, they don't have to break the bank on adding defensive back help. At Safety, the Eagles have Malcom Jenkins returning, he had a good, not great season next to Nate Allen who is a free agent.
I would assume Allen will not be brought back, so the question is who will they play next to Jenkins in 2015? Here are my top three guys in free agency:
1. Devin McCourty, New England
2. Ron Parker, KC Chiefs
3. Will Hill, Baltimore Ravens
McCouty is an interesting guy here, he is a free safety who might have been under the radar until yesterday. The Patriots do have a lot of guys they need to make decisions on in free agency so he might walk. The 27th pick of the 2010 draft, McCourty was drafted as a corner out of Rutgers but moved to safety full-time during the 2012 season and has been starring at the position ever since, grading out as the top safety in 2013. Parker is a similar player to McCourty, he also started his career as a corner, but moved to safety last season. He could come a little bit cheaper then McCourty, both are good cover guys. Hill served a six-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Hill has had all sort of issues since entering the NFL in 2012. He's been suspended three times, but has been a stand-out safety when on the field.
All three of these guys can cover and tackle and would be a significant upgrade to the Eagles secondary.
Over at corner, sure they need to replace Bradley Fletcher, but there isn't a home run possibility in free agency or the draft. However, there are some intriguing names in the free agent class:
1. Buster Skrine, Cleveland Browns
2. Byron Maxwell, Seattle Seahawks
3. Kareem Jackson, Houston Texans
Skrine is a name you might not be familiar with be he has a really good year in Cleveland opposite Joe Haden and is a very good man-to-man cover guy, but at just 5-9 he might be to small for Chip Kelly's liking. Maxwell is a guy a lot of people like because he plays in Seattle, opposite Richard Sherman. He is long, can jam at the line of scrimmage, he might be similar to the Eagles adding Cary Williams - getting a good player from a great team. Jackson has been an under-the-radar guy in Houston. Jackson can both play outside and cover the slot in sub-packages, but the Eagles need help on the outside mostly.
All three of these guys would be an upgrade of Fletcher, but one issue with Skrine and Jackson is that they are smaller than Fletcher.
We'll learn a lot about Chip the GM this offseason, starting with how he goes about helping the defense.