After the draft last weekend, Andy Reid acknowledged that the Eagles still had some work to do on their roster. ``It’s not a finished product until you finish up with free agency,’’ Reid said. ``We have a pretty good plan for free agency when it happens.’’
The Eagles got a ready-to-play offensive lineman in the first round in Danny Watkins. The rest of their 11 draftees? Maybe second-round safety Jaiquawn Jarrett competes for a starting spot, but the best-case scenario for most of the rookies is that they make an impact on Bobby April’s special teams.
Which means the Eagles will head into free agency still needing to fill a couple of important holes if they hope to make a Super Bowl run, assuming there is a Super Bowl to make a run at. They still need a starting right corner and still need pass-rushing help.
Here’s the problem. If the owners and players had settled their differences and agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement, it likely would’ve included a free agency system much like the one prior to 2010, in which players needed just four years of service to become unrestricted free agents. If that had been the case, we’d be looking at a talent-rich UFA class of nearly 600 players. Filling needs would be no problem.
If the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals doesn’t grant the league’s request to stay Judge Susan Nelson’s decision to lift the lockout, the NFL will have to open its doors and create workplace rules, including rules for free agency. In all likelihood, the owners will implement last year’s free agency rules, which would require 6 years of service to become an unrestricted free agent rather than 4.
If that occurs, free agency is going to lose a lot of its luster and it’s not going to be nearly so easy to fill needs. The UFA talent pool will shrink to about 220, and there are not a lot of marquee names.
Take cornerback. No matter what free agency system is in place, Nnamdi Asomugha is the pick of the litter. The Eagles are expected to make a run at him, but so are at least 6 or 7 other teams, including the Eagles’ NFC East neighbors, Washington and Dallas.
If the Eagles fail to land Asomugha, there aren’t a lot of other free agent corners with 6 years of service that would really help them at right corner. There’s the Steelers’ Ike Taylor. There’s maybe the Ravens’ Chris Carr and the Redskins’ Carlos Rogers. After that, there’s nobody that’s going to make your heart race.
NFL.com’s Jason LaConfora put together a list of potential free agents with 6 or more years of service. After Asomugha, Taylor, Carr and Rogers, here’s what you got: Phillip Buchanon (Redskins), Travis Daniels (Chiefs), Drayton Florence (Bills), Karl Paymah (Texans), Keiwan Ratliff (Bengals), Frank Walker (Vikings), Fabian Washington (Ravens), Brian Williams (Falcons) and ex-Eagles Lito Sheppard, Rod Hood and Will James.
The cream of the unrestricted free agent crop at defensive end is topped by ex-Eagle Jason Babin, who the Eagles didn’t even attempt to sign him after the ’09 season. He ended up going to Tennessee, where he was tutored by the Eagles’ new defensive line coach, Jim Washburn, and ended up with 12 ½ sacks and a Pro Bowl invitation.
Another of Washburn’s former pass-rushers in Tennessee, Dave Ball, also will be a UFA. He had 7 sacks in 11 games last season before a hip injury and concussion put him on injured reserve..
The other defensive ends that would be UFAs if the 2010 free agency rules were used: Raheem Brock (Seahawks), Jacques Cesaire (Chargers), Jared DeVries (Lions), Nick Eason (Steelers), Shaun Ellis (Jets), Demitric Evans (49ers), Jonathan Fanene (Bengals), Jarvis Green (Texans), Cullen Jenkins (Packers), Travis Johnson (Chargers), Trevor Price (Jets), Robaire Smith (Browns), Shaun Smith (Chiefs), Marcus Spears (Cowboys) and Gerard Warren (Patriots).