First things first.
Yes, if the NFLPA finally ratifies the new labor agreement today, the league year and free agency should start on Saturday, which is when the Eagles apparently would be free to trade Kevin Kolb.
But before you get too wrapped up in the merits of the Eagles signing cornerback Johnathan Joseph vs., say, defensive end Charles Johnson, remember this: Teams will have 72 hours to sign their own free agents before the jamboree begins. There is no way of knowing exactly who will still be available at the end of that period. In fact, Cincinnati would like to bring back Joseph, and it seems very likely that Carolina will sign Johnson to a new deal, according to various reports.
Also, the Eagles’ strategy is likely to be affected by what they get in the widely anticipated trade of Kolb. If that deal includes Arizona corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, then obviously, corner goes from the Birds’ top free-agent priority to pretty much off the list.
The first order of business, other than the signing of undrafted rookies, which usually happens right after the draft in April, will be moving to sign some of the 15 free agents who were on the Eagles roster at the end of last season. The only Eagles restricted free agent, under the new rules, is running back Eldra Buckley, on whom they placed an “exclusive rights” tender before the lockout.
Here are the remaining 15, with an assessment of each player’s chances of remaining an Eagle.
David Akers, kicker
The Eagles can’t use the franchise tag (Mike Vick) and the transition tag (Akers) in the same year now, so just about all doubt is removed. The franchise’s all-time leading scorer, and certainly its best kicker, is moving on.
Stewart Bradley, linebacker
Probably the most interesting dilemma. Didn’t have the kind of season, post-ACL, he was projected to have in 2010. Eagles drafted linebackers, and they like 2010 rookie Jamar Chaney, who has had a monster offseason in terms of conditioning. But Bradley is a decent player who might be better another year removed from surgery. Eagles do have interest in bringing him back.
Nick Cole, center/guard
Team is moving on without big Nick, who had chances but never established himself as more than a fill-in.
Omar Gaither, linebacker
Great guy, hard worker, fine special teams player, too small to do much for you at linebacker. Moving on.
Antoine Harris, safety
Went to IR early last year, kept him from getting cut. Not coming back.
Jerome Harrison, running back
The Eagles would keep him if they could. Not sure that is possible, given that a larger role elsewhere might be available. But they’ll take a shot.
Ellis Hobbs, cornerback/kick returner
Hasn’t retired after second serious neck surgery, but won’t be playing again.
Max Jean-Gilles, guard
Outside chance he sticks around. Apparently, he has lost even more weight. But it’s more likely, if Eagles like their rookies, he moves on.
Akeem Jordan, linebacker
Never quite grabbed the brass ring. Draftees, possible free-agent signings would seem to make him expendable. But if Bradley won’t sign here, the Eagles might give him another shot.
Bobby McCray, defensive end
Spent the final weeks of his career here last winter. Not coming back.
Quintin Mikell, safety
I would bring him back just to provide leadership, even if he doesn’t start, but the Eagles don’t seem inclined to do that. One of the best undrafted free-agent investments in franchise history, from 2003. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Carolina with Sean McDermott.
Dimitri Patterson, cornerback
Special teams ace way overmatched as emergency starting corner. Will be moving on.
Sav Rocca, punter
I would think, given eveything that’s unsettled, signing Sav would be a priority. Eagles were clear draft weekend they had no plans for Alex Henery to punt. Shocked if signing Sav turns out to be difficult.
Ernie Sims, linebacker
The shark fin is receding in the distance. Too small for his fly-around style to be consistently effective. Subpar instincts.
Reggie Wells, guard
Only the NovaCare cafeteria workers will mourn his absence. Might have to lay off staff.