With free agency set to start at 4 p.m. Tuesday, now seems like a good time to pick apart what's going on around the league and offer some thoughts on the Eagles' potential plans.
Let's start with the Birds' biggest offseason priority: Linebacker.
Two of the most talked-about inside linebackers expected to hit the market are Atlanta's Curtis Lofton and Detroit's Stephen Tulloch. The Falcons made a move over the weekend, signing veteran linebacker Lofa Tatupu. The buzz in Atlanta is that he'll compete for the starting job with second-year player Akeem Dent, and the Falcons will let Lofton walk.
Lofton is 25, finished fifth in the league with 147 tackles last season and was a team captain. So why would the Falcons let him go? According to Len Pasquarelli of CBSSports.com, some within the organization believe he's "deficient" in coverage. I still need to take a look at some of Lofton's games from last year, but if the Eagles aren't 100 percent sold on him being a three-down player, I can't see them going after Lofton.
As for Tulloch, he remains un-signed, but the Lions recently restructured several contracts (Ndamukong Suh, Matthew Stafford and Nate Burleson) to open up some cap space, according to Fox Sports Detroit. My question, as it relates to the Eagles, is this: If they view Tulloch as a valuable player, why didn't they sign him last offseason when he inked a one-year, $3.25M deal with Detroit?
Surely, the Eagles could have afforded to bring him in for a season. Did they really think Casey Matthews would be a better option? And if they didn't have a high opinion of Tulloch before 2011, have their views really changed that much after his performance in one season with the Lions? Maybe they have. But Tulloch is only 27. He clearly agreed to a one-year deal last offseason with the idea of cashing in this time around. We'll see if that happens with the Eagles.
Other linebackers who have been mentioned are Carolina's Dan Connor and Seattle's David Hawthorne. Connor has never been a three-down player and served a situational role for the Panthers last year. According to Pro Football Focus, he played only about 49 percent of Carolina's snaps. The majority of Connor's playing time (68 percent) came against the run. If the Eagles were to bring him aboard, it would likely be in a situational role.
Ideally, the Eagles would add a three-down linebacker. But based on the end of last season, they believe Matthews (and perhaps Keenan Clayton as well) can be effective players in coverage. It seems possible that they could settle on a linebacker who is good against the run and once again go with a linebacker-by-committee approach.
Hawthorne, meanwhile, was a three-down player with the Seahawks, having played 94.4 percent of the team's defensive snaps last season, per PFF. According to Michael C. Wright of ESPN Chicago, the Bears have interest in Hawthorne, who turns 27 in May.
As for the Eagles' own free agents, it'll be interesting to see what the interest is for Evan Mathis if he reaches the open market. Remember, Mathis started just 22 games in six NFL seasons before joining the Eagles in 2011. He's talked about being frustrated with a lack of playing time in previous stops and excelled here under Howard Mudd. I'm sure Mathis wants to get paid, but he'll turn 31 in November, and staying with the Eagles means a guaranteed starting spot in a system he's comfortable in. For those reasons, I'd be somewhat surprised if he's not back in 2012, although we'll have to see how the market plays out.
The beat writers have indicated that the Eagles are unlikely to make a big splash in free agency. But if they do make a significant move other than linebacker, my guess is it'll be along the defensive line. As we've discussed in the past, Jim Washburn uses eight defensive linemen in his rotation. The Eagles look like they have four defensive ends in place with Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Darryl Tapp and Brandon Graham. But if they think they can upgrade from Tapp, would they consider it? Or maybe they move Graham inside?
At defensive tackle, Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins will be back as the starters. And the Eagles have to make decisions on Antonio Dixon (restricted), Derek Landri (unrestricted) and Trevor Laws (unrestricted). It's conceivable that they choose against re-signing their own guys here and add a player to rotate in with Patterson and Jenkins.
I wouldn't expect the Eagles to add a starting-caliber safety. Maybe the final four games were fool's gold, but Nate Allen's performance might be the most encouraging thing to take from the end of last season. Signing a safety would indicate major questions about last year's second-round pick, Jaiquawn Jarrett. More likely, I'd expect the team to sell the notion that Jarrett just needs a full offseason and emphasize that they still envision him being a contributor going forward.
Having said that, Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports reports that the Eagles "appear interested" in LaRon Landry. Landry has missed 15 games over the past two seasons and suffered an Achilles' injury in 2011. I'm not sure it makes sense to take a risk on the hard-hitting safety at this point.
As for DeSean Jackson, it's going to be very interesting to see how the wide receiver market plays out. I wrote a piece for SI.com about some of the top names expected to be available. Reports have linked the Bears, Bucs and Redskins to Vincent Jackson. He is the only true No. 1 wide receiver on the market, and I'd expect him to get a monster deal. The rest of the receivers have questions, but if teams spend big on unproven commodities like Pierre Garcon and Robert Meachem, DeSean's camp will be less likely to bring its asking price down.
And finally, this note from SI.com's Peter King caught my eye, in regards to Robert Griffin III:
Washington was joined in the pursuit for the pick by Cleveland (who owns the fourth overall pick in the draft) and Miami (picking eighth overall) -- and two teams beyond the 10th overall pick. Those two teams couldn't be identified late Friday night, but with the fervent interest Philadelphia showed in both Andrew Luck and Griffin, the two top quarterbacks in this draft, it wouldn't be surprising if Philadelphia wanted to move up to take either a quarterback or another top prospect.
That would have made this past weekend pretty interesting, huh?
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