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Offseason outlook: Safeties

Note: This is the final part of a 10-part series looking at the Eagles' roster entering free agency and the draft. The first part was quarterbacks, the second part was running backs, and the third part was wide receivers. the fourth part was offensive line, the fifth part was tight ends and specialists, the sixth part was defensive linemen, the seventh part was inside linebackers, the eighth part was outside linebackers, and the ninth part was cornerbacks.

Offseason outlook: Safeties

Cleveland Browns strong safety T.J. Ward during an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, in Cleveland. Jacksonville won 32-28. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Cleveland Browns strong safety T.J. Ward during an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, in Cleveland. Jacksonville won 32-28. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Note: This is the final part of a 10-part series looking at the Eagles' roster entering free agency and the draft. The first part was quarterbacks, the second part was running backs, and the third part was wide receivers. the fourth part was offensive line, the fifth part was tight ends and specialists, the sixth part was defensive linemen, the seventh part was inside linebackers,  the eighth part was outside linebackers, and the ninth part was cornerbacks.

SAFETIES

ON THE ROSTER

Under contract: Patrick Chung, Earl Wolff, Keelan Johnson

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Free agents: Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson

Outlook: This is the team’s biggest need entering the offseason. That was obvious when watching the team last season, and is even more clear in postseason discussions.

Nate Allen was the only regular starter in the group last season. He is an unrestricted free agent. The 2010 second-round pick finally stayed healthy in 2013 and had his best season as a pro. He played 16 games for the first time in his career. He is a good athlete and a diligent worker. Allen is still only 26, although he’s a veteran now. The Eagles must determine if Allen can be consistently reliable, and whether his upside is more than a solid player.

Patrick Chung was signed last March from the Patriots, but he never excelled in an Eagles uniform. Chung was set back by injuries early in the season before Earl Wolff started to eat into his playing time. Due $3.25 million in 2014, it’s unlikely Chung will return next season.

Wolff, a 2013 fifth-round pick, has potential that intrigues the Eagles. Wolff has good range in the defensive backfield and is a willing hitter. He started six games before a knee injury stunted his season in November. Wolff has a chance to start in 2014, but he must prove he can stay healthy.

Kurt Coleman had a nice run in Philadelphia, starting for parts of three season after being selected in the seventh round in 2010. He was a special teams contributor last season. Don’t expect him to return to Philadelphia; a change of scenery could benefit both parties.

Colt Anderson has carved a career as a special teams player, and he could return in that role. However, the older he gets, the more expensive he becomes, and that’s a job that the Eagles could fill with a rookie player.

Keelan Johnson was promoted from practice squad last December. He spurned an offer to sign on an active roster elsewhere earlier in the season because he wanted to stay in Philadelphia, thinking he had a chance to stick around 2014. Johnson will get that opportunity, but there will be competition for roster spots from newcomers.

 OFFSEASON PLANS

Expect the Eagles to be active in this area during the next three months. That includes free agency and the draft. The Eagles will have decisions to make on Allen, Coleman, and Anderson, but none of those players will keep them from being aggressive in trying to fix the safety issues.

I wrote about the team’s free-agent philosophy, with a focus on safeties. Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd and Cleveland’s T.J. Ward are the two top safeties on the market. Both are second-team All-Pros who are 27 who played college football at Oregon. The problem is they might get the franchise tag from their respective teams, and if not, they could command salaries that the Eagles deem too burdensome. Dashon Goldson received a five-year, $41.5-million deal last season, and both players should get paid more than that. The Eagles would need to really be in love to pay $9 million on a safety who has not yet played their system. San Francisco’s Donte Whitner will be 29 next season, and the money he’ll command, plus his age, does not make him an ideal fit for the Eagles.

The next tier of safeties could be whom the Eagles target. One player to watch is New Orleans’ Malcolm Jenkins, who is 26 and is a converted cornerback. Jenkins has started for the Saints during the past four seasons, and his size (6-0, 204 pounds), speed, and playmaking potential could intrigue the Eagles.

Miami’s Chris Clemons will be 29 in September. At 6-foot-1 and 214 pounds, he has good size and played strong safety in Miami. Clemons started the past two seasons, and has been solid, albeit unspectacular. The Eagles didn’t make a push for him last season, and the age and skill set do not necessarily make it an ideal fit.

The Lions cut Louis Delmas last week. Delmas is only 26, but the Lions moved on from his $6.5 million cap number. He’s had knee issues, yet still played 16 games last season. Carolina’s Mike Mitchell will be 27 next season and played well in a starting role with the Panthers last season after spending his first four seasons in Oakland.

Roseman hinted that the Eagles might go with a stopgap option at safety, so a short-term deal to a mid-level player might be in store.

The two top safeties in the draft are Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. If one of them fell to No. 22, the Eagles could go that route. Pryor is 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds who is a big hitter with good instincts. Clinton-Dix (6-0, 210 pounds) played more in deep coverage. Both might be off the board by the time the Eagles are on the clock.

Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner is a cornerback/safety hybrid who is only 5-foot-8, but was incredibly productive for the national championship. Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward is a versatile player who had seven interceptions last season.

There is not as much depth in the draft class as there was last season, but still some appealing options. Pay attention to Stanford’s Ed Reynolds (6-2, 206), who has good size and skills, and was productive as a two-year starter before forgoing his senior season. Washington State’s Deonne Bucannon has all the measurements (6-1, 216, 78-inch wingspan) and was a first-team all-American. Florida State’s Terrence Brooks will be on their radar, and LSU’s Craig Loston is a big, physical player.

The Eagles could add 2-3 safeties during free agency and draft. They're bound to sign at least one, and the draft will be another avenue.

zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm 

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Birds' Eye View is the Inquirer's blog covering all things Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

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