Tuesday, July 29, 2014
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Free agency 'best bets,' defense edition

On Saturday, we looked at the 'best bets' in free agency at each position on the offensive side of the ball. Today, we'll look at the 'best bets' for each position on the defense.

Free agency 'best bets,' defense edition

On Saturday, we looked at the 'best bets' in free agency at each position on the offensive side of the ball. Today, we'll look at the 'best bets' for each position on the defense.

Safety: Malcolm Jenkins (6'0, 204, turns 27 in December)

Current team: Saints

Jairus Byrd would be a good fit for the Eagles defense as a ballhawking centerfielder. However, if the Eagles were to sign him, that would likely make Byrd the highest paid player on the team, and that doesn't seem like a prudent investment. My guess is that the Eagles will have interest, but at what cost?

A more salary cap friendly option could be the Saints' Malcolm Jenkins. Last season, the Eagles often insisted on staying in their base 3-4 against 3-WR sets, dropping a safety down into the box to cover the slot receiver. This was not a role that Patrick Chung could handle, and probably shouldn't have been asked to handle in the first place. Jenkins is a more accomplished man-to-man cover guy who can do more of the things the Eagles ask of their safeties.

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But another aspect of a players' fits with the Eagles will be their receptiveness to Chip Kelly's ideas. For example, Chip Kelly believes that an athlete should have 10-12 hours per sleep per night. That idea, and others in that same vein, won't have to be sold to Jenkins.

The Eagles are also reportedly interested in Panthers safety Mike Mitchell:

 

 

Cornerback: Corey Graham (6'0, 196, turns 29 in July)

Former team: Ravens

The cornerback market looks like it's going to be very pricey this year. As of Sunday morning, here is what CBs have been paid so far, keeping in mind that these guys didn't even make it to free agency:

Those players aren't exactly world beaters, and they got paid. The ideal method of acquiring corners, and this can be said for every team, is through the draft, where they are far less expensive.

The Eagles aren't starving for starters at CB, as Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are good enough in the short term, with Brandon Boykin emerging as a stellar slot corner. However, they are desperate for depth.

One player who can play a number of roles and be a valuable jack of all trades is Corey Graham of the Ravens. Graham has the versatility to play both on the outside and in the slot, and he made the Pro Bowl after the 2011 season with the Bears as a standout special teamer.

Graham would be a tremendous addition, however, he may see himself as a starter in the NFL, thus making Philly a tough sell.

On a side note, Graham and Chip Kelly were together at the University of New Hampshire for 3 years from 2004-2006. Kelly coached at New Hampshire from 1994-2006, while Graham was a 4 year starter at CB from 2004-2007.

Outside Linebacker: Rob Jackson (6'4, 266, turns 29 in November)

Former team: Redskins

It would be nice if there were some stud edge rushers for the Eagles to choose from in free agency, but that simply isn't the case. Is it worth ponying up significant dollars for a player like the Packers' Mike Neal, who is not a slam dunk upgrade over Trent Cole? Probably not, and so, you do the next best thing... Bring in depth.

Rob Jackson will turn 29 in November, but has low mileage. For his 6 year career in Washington, Jackson has only played 1060 snaps. By comparison, Connor Barwin played 1158 snaps last season.

In 2012, starting ROLB Brian Orakpo went down with a torn pectoral muscle in Week 2 against the Rams, and Jackson became the starter. Jackson, in a way, was the opposite of Orakpo, and on the whole, it really wasn't a drastic downgrade. What the Redskins were losing in terms of a legit pass rushing talent, they were gaining in versatility and coverage ability.

In his only season with significant playing time (610 snaps), Jackson had 37 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, 4 INTs (including a pick 6), 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 6 passes defensed, and a batted pass. He was also the guy who sealed the win with an INT of Tony Romo in the 2012 "NFC East Championship Game" that seems to occur every year.

The Eagles faced 71.9 plays per game on defense last season, so they'll need depth, and that's not something they have much of at OLB, especially if they find a way to trade Brandon Graham. Jackson could be a great fit, and could come at a reasonable cost.

Inside Linebacker: Wesley Woodyard (6'0, 233, turns 28 in July)

Current team: Broncos

If you think there isn't much at OLB, there are even fewer attractive options at ILB. The one player that stands out as an intriguing option is Wesley Woodyard of the Broncos. Woodyard played well early in the season in 2013, but suffered a stinger Week 5, missed a few games, and was never the same.

If you can look past the end of his 2013 campaign, Woodyard had a very good season in 2012, when he had 117 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 3 INTs, and 6 passes defensed.

If his price tag is right, Woodyard would improve the Eagles' team speed and give them flexibility to consider DeMeco Ryans' contract, which will count for $6.9 million against the cap in 2014. However, Woodyard would gve the Eagles two very short ILBs, and getting smaller on defense probably isn't the direction they'd like to go. But again, this is a positional group without much to offer in free agency this year, so I'll admit this is a reach.

Defensive Line: Tony McDaniel (6'7, 305, turned 29 in January)

Current team: Seahawks

Speaking during the lead up to the Super Bowl, McDaniel talked about the difference between a 1-gap and 2-gap scheme. "My body type is fit to be a 3-4 defensive end," said McDaniel. "They're normally bigger, more rangy guys. I'm a prototype DE for a 3-4. Any defensive lineman would want to play one gap, because responsibility is slim to none. But 2-gapping, I feel like I have a body type for that, because I have long arms and (can shed blockers), and handle 2 gaps."

The Eagles were good against the run last season, but as we saw in the playoffs, there is absolutely room for improvement in short yardage situations. McDaniel is thought of as an excellent run stopper, and would be a nice fit as depth in the Eagles' 2-gap scheme.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski

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