Eagles Free Agency 2024: Which defensive players should the Birds keep?

Note: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links, Schneps Media may earn a commission.
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (91) celebrates a sack during the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Philadelphia Eagles on September 27, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Eagles have a total of 17 players currently set to hit the open market upon the start of the new league year. With some tricky decisions to make, Howie Roseman is likely already had at work planning what the 2024 roster will look like. The first question the Eagles’ GM needs to answer is ‘how many of those pending free agents should be re-signed?’

We’ll examine the defensive side of things in this article, projecting what Howie Roseman might decide to do.

A year of disappointing defense for the Eagles

The free agents on the defensive line, a position that Howie and the Eagles highly prioritize, include two of the best who have ever worn an Eagles jersey. Most of the linebackers in 2023 were cheap free-agent pickups over the summer and they played like it. This position needs an overhaul. The defensive backs went from the number 1 best pass defense in the league to 31st. One of the starting corners regressed to the point that he should not have been starting and the other has started to face injuries.

Deciding on who to retain, trade, or release is key to the Eagles being able to return to the top of the league next season or facing mediocrity. 

Eagles’ Defensive Line Free Agents:

Fletcher Cox

If the Eagles are trying to run it back one more time, maybe he is going to come back for another season. If, presumably, a new DC runs a different scheme and wants to infuse youth into the defense, he will be gone.

Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (91) reacts after the Dallas Cowboys turnover on downs during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

It is expected he wants to continue playing, and he was the most reliable DL this season. On one hand, it would be surprising for him to sign a team-friendly deal again, on the other, he has one reason that could sway him to do so. His best friend on the team, BG.

Verdict: Go

Brandon Graham

Brandon stated after the Eagles Wild Card loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that he wants to play one more season, on a farewell tour. I think Howie will accommodate his first-ever draft pick.

Verdict: Stay


Zach Cunningham

The Eagles might have the worst linebacking core in the NFL. Initially, I thought they should keep Zach as he performed better than any of the others in this position, but they can not run it back with anyone from this group. They should prefer to have zero ties to all of them.

Verdict: Go

Nick Morrow

Cut before the season started, then brought back, I believe his release lasts this time for every reason I mentioned with Zach.

Verdict: Go

49ers vs. Vikings eagles
Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) fumbles the ball in front of Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Mario Goodrich (31) and Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Nicholas Morrow (41) during the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Philadelphia. The play was negated by a penalty on the Eagles. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Shaun Bradley

 Shaun getting injured in the pre-season was a blow to their depth and the special teams. He is a high-energy player that the staff and players love, but I am sticking with the decision to clean house and start anew.

Verdict: Go

Shaq Leonard

Brought in as some emergency help, the veteran linebacker rolled back the years one week before playing like a player cut midseason by a team in the playoff hunt the next. If the Eagles do bring in a new defensive coordinator, Leonard isn’t a player you’d want in the heart of a rebuild, although his leadership and experience may provoke a different response from Roseman.

Verdict: Go

Defensive Backs

Kevin Byard

Kevin has an option on his contract for next season, but it comes with a large price tag. He is the only player the Eagles have that they can cut pre June 1st that would significantly reduce their 2024 salary cap.

I did not think the Eagles would keep him prior to the Sydney Browns injury, due to the $14M cap hit and his age. However, the Birds do not have any depth or defined starters at safety. Howie and the front office will have to make a very tough decision in regard to keeping Byard knowing that Sydney will start the year on PUP. Extending Kevin to lower the cap hit would also seem like a mistake due to his age.

Verdict: Go

James Bradberry

No, he is not a free agent, but he could be off the roster with a post-June first cut, or via letting him and his agent seek a trade. Either way, it would be a surprise if he was back.

Verdict: Go

Avonte Maddox

See Bradberry. Not technically a free agent, but they can reduce the payroll by allowing his agent to find a trade partner or by releasing him as a post-June 1 casualty. I love the player when healthy, but he is just too injury-prone to continue to rely on. The only other alternative would be if the Eagles wanted to try him at safety if they let Byard go.

Verdict: Go

Bradley Roby

The defensive back position is starting to feel like the LBers. The Eagles’ defense and their pass defenders were so porous this season that a fresh start with young players in a new defensive system seems to be best for almost everyone involved.

Verdict: Go

Justin Evans

The recurring theme with these defensive backs is injuries. If he is recovering on schedule he may be the lone free agent from this group to return. Sydney Brown will likely be starting the season on PUP and it could force the Eagles into bringing back Byard or Evans.

Justin was signed for a very minimal contract this season and is a lot more affordable than anyone else on this list. Even if signed, he could be released or relegated to a backup later if they fill the spot via draft, trade, or free agency. The 2024 free-agent safety class might be the strongest of all of the positions. 

Verdict: Stay

Special Teams

P Braden Mann

Braden was very good in 2023 and made everyone in Philly stop talking about the need for a punter after a couple of disastrous seasons in that regard. Bringing him back seems like a no-brainer.

Verdict: Stay

LS Rick Lovato

You never hear his name, which a a great thing, it means he does his job perfectly week in and out. The Eagles have had Jon Dorenbos and Lovato manning this position for over 15 years and not a single bad snap or play. There is a value to that type of consistency.

Verdict: Stay

As always, thank you for reading.

Follow me on X @PHLEagleNews 

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire