Eagles’ Free Agency: Weighing the Pros and Cons

The major waves of free agency have come and gone and it is time to let the dust settle before the draft. The Eagles were active players on the market and have a sizable list of both comings and goings to dissect. Overall, Philadelphia fans have a lot to be excited about, but there was some heartbreak as well. It can be a tough time of the year. That’s exactly why we are here to misprize and condense it all down to menial lists of good and bad.

The Pros

Youth

Going forward, we need to infuse youth in this team.

Even before the morning bells of free agency rang, Howie Roseman set out on a quest to make this team younger. Without question — for better or for worse — he was able to accomplish that feat. Superficially, it’s a major plus. The NFL is a young man’s game and despite the promising young talent shining from the gaps in the Eagles’ aging lineup, the roster as a whole was getting long in the tooth. However, the team had to bid adieu to All-Pro players like Jason Peters and Malcolm Jenkins to do so.

The reason why the off-season youth movement is a plus is that for every veteran piece the Eagles lost, they added one, or multiple, young, exciting pieces. (I think linebacker being the big exception.) Also, the draft hasn’t even happened yet. With eight picks in hand, Philadelphia will be in prime position to reduce their mean age by years.

Talent

Even with the unfortunate departure of Malcolm Jenkins, there is no question the Eagles have at least as much talent on their roster now than they did a few months ago. Whether they have more talent than if the possible ‘what ifs’ came to fruition is another question entirely.

Nevertheless, any secondary that retains their best two performers from last season and adds Darius Slay, Will Parks, and Nickell Robey-Coleman is in good sorts. For good measure, the Eagles added defensive backs coach Marquand Manuel. For the most part, Manuel was thought of as a fantastic hire. If nothing else he will bring a fresh set of eyes. Realistically, it would take an incredibly disappointing season for the secondary as a whole to get statistically worse.

The loss of Philly legend Jason Peters could be negated if Andre Dillard continues his growth. He might not be able to fill the future Hall of Famer’s shoes immediately, but showing he is a serviceable starter in his second year would be a big relief. We already know he’s a fantastic pass blocker, can he take the extra step in the run game?

The acquisition of Javon Hargrave added to what was already one of the best defensive lines in the league. He may be the most overlooked signing of the entire free agency. We saw what a healthy Tim Jernigan added to the defense. Hargrave is a more versatile player with a much better bill of health.

There also needs to be a brief aside on all the key players the Birds will have returning from injury. Malik and Desean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, and Lane Johnson will all return after missing significant time. After a 2018 season ravaged by injury, the hope was that 2019 would be a different story. A year later the same sentiment rings true. That’s why it was also immeasurably important for Howie to focus some attention on:

Depth/ Versatility

Roseman made it clear with his first signing that depth would not be overlooked this off-season. Despite losing a majority of the season to injury, Hassan Ridgeway looked every bit the part of a rotational defensive tackle in his time on the field in 2019. The Eagles struggled to live up to their impressive defensive line pedigree last season due in large part to injuries and inconsistent play from Fletcher Cox’ interior line-mate. Knowing how important the defensive line is as the engine of the defense, it makes a ton of sense that Howie made another addition at the position.

Heading into 2020, the Eagles will have a defensive tackle depth chart of Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Javon Hargrave, and Hassan Ridgeway. Read that again and let it soak in.

That’s not all Howie did to ward off injuries — including swapping the entire medical staff — but we’ll circle back to that. Another area that was overridden with injuries was the secondary. Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones, who were forced into starting minutes and game-deciding moments last season are now the 4th and 5th option on the depth chart.

Now, it would have been nice to see the Eagles add a veteran receiver or two, but there is still time and the team will undoubtedly add some receivers in the draft. I’ll speak more on this later.

For both the secondary and defensive line, Howie has been putting up defenses against injury in other ways than just adding depth players. He’s been collecting position-less, versatile talent. Jalen Mills, Avonte Maddox, Will Parks, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Sidney Jones have all played multiple positions in the secondary. The Eagles will have a lot of options if a player goes down. They will also be able to adjust to matchups, which is a nice little wrinkle for Jim Schwartz. The team can let Darius Slay nix an opponent’s top receiver while the rest of the secondary mixes and matches with down and distance.

The same can be said for the defensive line. Malik Jackson can play the 1 though 5 technique, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles mixed in some packages with him in a 7-tech. Both Javon Hargrave and Hassan Ridgeway have the size and athleticism to play both defensive tackle positions. Hargrave played nose in Pittsburgh. Brandon Graham can play anywhere; Fletch can occupy the 1 or 3 tech; Josh Sweat is strong enough to bump inside in the NASCAR package. It’s an exciting time to be a defensive line coach in Philly.

Spending Sensibly

No, the Eagles didn’t get Byron Jones. They didn’t trade for Stefon Diggs nor DeAndre Hopkins. However, they also didn’t mortgage their future. Considering Byron Jones alone, the graphic below will give you an indication of just how fortunate the Eagles were that he chose Miami.

Of course, Slay makes up a bulk of that cap hit. That’s because Philadelphia was able to reap incredible value from the rest of their secondary additions.

Rodney McLeod: 2 years, $8.65M
Jalen Mills: 1 year, $4M
Will Parks: 1 year, $1.5M
Nickell Robey-Coleman: 1 year, $1.3M

The last two items on that list were a real surprise. Will Parks was a highly sought after free agent and the Eagles were able to secure him for a small step up from the vet minimum. NRC was probably an unneeded expense, but at $1.3M it’s like getting the extra box of muffins at Costco for 50 cents.

Outside of the top two free agents (Slay and Hargrave), Howie was able to steal away a ton of talent for next to nothing. That leaves the team with a good amount of cap space that will roll over into next season. That’s important because next year will be an expensive one for the Birds with Zach Ertz and Fletcher Cox being due for updated deals and Derek Barnett’s contract up.

Scroll down to page 2 below to read the cons!

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

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