If recent Eagles history has revealed anything about Howie Roseman’s ventures into free agency, it’s that the remnants of the Nnamdi Asomugha signing have influenced his decision making in the decade since that ill-fated decision.
The general manager will rarely bid on top free agents and instead target the secondary market in the early going before waiting out the less- attractive options.
There have been exceptions to this rule, but Roseman by and large offers long-term deals to players on their second contracts (see: Rodney McLeod) or at premium positions (Javon Hargrave) and shorter ones to over-30 veterans (Chris Long) or ones at secondary positions (LeGarrette Blount).
Salary cap restrictions, some of them self-inflicted, have tightened the purse strings in recent years. But the Eagles have about $21 million to spend when free agency officially opens at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Some of that money will be allocated to their draft picks, but the cap wizards at the NovaCare Complex have creative ways to stretch a buck.
Two years ago, Roseman actually dipped his toes into signing Byron Jones, then the top cornerback on the market. But he stuck to his guns, adjusted, and traded for Darius Slay, which proved to be the better acquisition. No current GM has made as many trades on a per-year basis.
But Roseman is likely to initially focus on free agents who meet specifications in age, value and, ultimately, price. And then after the first and second waves pass, he’ll pick off players who have no other option but to sign one-year “prove-it” deals.
With those parameters set, here’s a one-stop guide to Eagles free agency and the players they could make offers to, and the positions most likely to be addressed, once “legal tampering” opens Monday at noon:
With Derek Barnett’s tenure in Philadelphia probably over, and 34-year-old Brandon Graham returning from an Achilles tendon rupture, the Eagles’ greatest need this offseason is at edge rusher. It also happens to be a position in which they historically devote significant resources.
But they may be priced out of the top available guys, even though the first two are over 30: Von Miller (33) and Chandler Jones (32). Roseman has signed older edge rushers, but Miller and Jones are still hot commodities. Haason Reddick (27) and Emmanuel Ogbah (28) make more sense for the Eagles, especially the latter in terms of scheme versatility. But edge rushers go like hot cakes, and this class of free agents isn’t deep.
Roseman is thus likely to turn his attention to some names that might not be as identifiable for Eagles fans. They would be edge rushers with potential upside for myriad reasons, from lack of experience to scheme usage, from injuries to just needing a change of scenery.
Of course, the same could be said for any of the team’s other targeted positions. The draft is expected to offer a number of quality edge rushers, and with three first-rounders, Roseman can pour resources into that avenue. But he doesn’t want to go into the draft pushing needs either, so it would be a surprise if he didn’t add one edge rusher via free agency (or trade).
Prediction: Uchenna Nwosu (25)
The Chargers doubled his playing time last season and Nwosu delivered with a career-high five sacks and 17 quarterback hits. They’re likely to let him walk after trading for Khalil Mack to line up opposite Joey Bosa. Nwosu’s versatility – he dropped into coverage 56 times – could be appealing to Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
He could play strong-side linebacker in 3-4 base personnel and rush from the edge on pass downs.
Others: Arden Key (25). After three underwhelming seasons, the Raiders released Key last offseason. The 49ers scooped him up on a one-year contract and the defensive end notched career highs in sacks (6½) and hits (17). Key can rush from inside, but he would have to stay on the outside in base. Kemoko Turay (26). The Colts edge rusher has been plagued by injury, most notably the ankle he broke and dislocated in 2019, since being drafted in the second round four years ago. But he flashed as a rookie and looked explosive at times last season. Gannon would also have institutional knowledge on his character, having shared time in Indianapolis. Lorenzo Carter (26). The New York Jets end returned from a 2020 Achilles rupture and recorded 31 pressures in 296 pass rushes, per Pro Football Focus.
Anthony Harris and McLeod are over-30 free agents and it’s not as if either made a strong claim to return. The latter’s leadership may be enough for an eventual return, and Marcus Epps improved last season and is still under contract, but the Eagles seem poised to make a splash at a position that offers a number of options in free agency.
Jessie Bates was set to become the top safety on the market, but the Bengals franchise-tagged him Tuesday. Marcus Williams (25) was tagged a year ago, but the Saints appear ready to allow him to walk. He is likely to set the bar on safety contracts. Williams would seemingly be an ideal fit for Gannon’s deep zone coverages. His range would also allow for the coordinator to utilize more single-high looks. But Williams may break the bank.
The Bucs’ Jordan Whitehead (24) and Washington’s Landon Collins (28), recently released, are notable names, but they have spent the majority of their time closer to the box, and Gannon would at least want some versatility. There are several other starting cover safeties, though, who wouldn’t cost as much as Williams, and a crowded field could allow for Roseman to pick his spot.
Prediction: Justin Reid (25)
Reid turned 25 just last month. His play has slipped in recent years, but that could be a product of the Texans’ overall dysfunction. He has the tools to excel in a Cover-2-based system and is young enough to undergo a makeover.
Drafted in the third round out of Stanford, Reid has started since his rookie season and has shown that he has the range to cover in the post. He hasn’t been as sure-handed a tackler in recent seasons, but the last time the Eagles took a flier on a safety who had been labeled as slipping in the open field, they found Malcolm Jenkins.
Others: Terrell Edmunds (25). The Steelers declined to exercise the former first-rounder’s fifth-year option a year ago. Their primary reason was likely because they opted to pick up fellow safety Minkah Fitzpatrick’s fifth-year option. Edmunds was more the strong safety than the free in his first three seasons, but his role expanded in 2021. He has the athleticism to pretty much play anywhere on the field. Marcus Maye (28). The Jets are expected to let Maye, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury on Nov. 9, enter free agency. Last season was forgettable across the board, but he was one of the better NFL safeties in the three seasons before that. Roseman could likely land him with a one-year show-me deal. Tracy Walker (27). The Lions safety played his most snaps last season and spent most of his time in the post, which could explain his relatively tame interception total (one) and pass breakups (six). He has a likely supporter on the Eagles in Slay, a second cousin. Xavier Woods (26). He was forced to take a one-year deal a year ago. He essentially replaced Harris with the Vikings. The Eagles weren’t interested, but Woods played every snap last season and finished with career highs in interceptions (three) and passes defensed (ten).
The Eagles need receiver help, and apparently they agree after it was reported by Fox Sports that a trade for Calvin Ridley was in the works before a one-year gambling suspension killed the possible exchange with the Falcons. Ridley, who took a “mental health” leave early last season, would have qualified as a marquee move.
The former first rounder lined up mostly on the outside, which could indicate the Eagles’ positional preference, but they still would have had a year with him on his rookie contract. I’m not sure Roseman wants to expend big dollars on the top receivers left on the market, especially after Devante Adams and Chris Godwin were tagged and Mike Williams signed an extension.
The Bears’ Allen Robinson (28) and the Jaguars’ D.J. Chark (25) could be out of reach even though they put up regressive numbers in 2021. I think the Eagles may get better value with the higher number of slot receivers available, aside from Christian Kirk (25), who could set the table for the rest of the group.
Prediction: JuJu Smith-Schuster (25)
In 2018, Smith-Schuster caught 111 passes for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns and was arguably the best slot receiver in the NFL. His numbers have steadily declined since, although he missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. He’s healthy now and would qualify as a likely affordable free agent with upside.
Smith-Schuster has good size (6-foot-1, 217 pounds) for the battles inside and would allow for Quez Watkins to move outside opposite No. 1 receiver DeVonta Smith.
Others: Russell Gage (26). Atlanta may retain Gage after the Ridley news. They have tight end Kyle Pitts, who’s better than most inside receivers, and could just focus their efforts on finding an outside replacement. Gage may be a more natural slot than Watkins, but he has similar size. Cedric Wilson (27). The Cowboys seemed poised to re-sign Michael Gallup and release Amari Cooper. If Cooper goes, it’s hard to see them parting with another receiver, although they also have CeeDee Lamb. Wilson came out of nowhere to catch 45 passes for 602 yards and six touchdowns last season. Zach Pascal (27). A Nick Sirianni favorite in Indy, Pascal saw his production drop the last two seasons. He’s an inexpensive option, though, and it’s not as if there won’t be receiver talent in the draft.
The Eagles’ neglect of the linebacker position was further exposed early last season with Gannon’s new scheme. Some of the struggles there had to do with the errant free-agent signing of Eric Wilson, but deep cover zones added more responsibility to the off-ball linebackers. The unit improved once T.J. Edwards became the No. 1 linebacker.
He’s signed through 2022, and Davion Taylor will return for his third season. But there are opportunities to upgrade or at least add competition for the top two spots. I think it’s still unlikely, though, that Roseman goes after some of the bigger names like De’Vondre Campbell (28), Foyesade Oluokun (26), or future Hall of Famer Bobby Wagner (31), who was released by the Seahawks on Wednesday.
Campbell was a one-year contract guy in each of the prior two offseasons, but he’s coming off a first-team all-pro season for the Packers. The Eagles will probably scour the bargain outlets, although they aren’t the only team in the league to undervalue linebackers.
Prediction: Kyzir White (25)
The Eagles have long invested in converting safeties to linebackers, so it would make sense to focus on free agents who have that background. White played safety in college at West Virginia, but the Chargers moved him to linebacker almost upon his arrival. He became an every-down player last season and thrived in that role, collecting 144 total tackles.
He’s not large at 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, but that’s kind of the point. The Eagles want linebackers who can run with athletic tight ends in man coverage or close space in zone. White may end up out of the Eagles’ price range, and they may still believe that Taylor has a similar ceiling, but he would add instant help at the second level.
Others: Jayon Brown (27). The Titans linebacker isn’t a former safety, but he would qualify as a cost-effective free agent because of injury. He missed 20 games in the last two seasons. Nicholas Morrow (26). Signed by the Raiders as an undrafted rookie in 2017, Morrow is a kind of poor man’s White in that he’s a converted safety, but should come at low cost after missing all of last season after suffering an ankle injury in training camp. He was ascending pre-injury and allowed only 5 yards per target in coverage, per PFF, in 2020. Anthony Barr (29). He isn’t exactly young, but he has familiarity with Gannon and would seamlessly step into the strong-side role that he filled for years in Minnesota. I’m not sure if Gannon wants his Sam to be an every-down linebacker, but Barr – when healthy – can be a stud. The healthy part, of course, has been a problem of late. He played in only 13 games over the last two seasons. Anthony Walker (26). He’s a bit of a thumper at 6-0, 242 pounds, but he can drop and play the hook and could be had for another one-year deal after signing with the Browns last offseason.
The Eagles, for the first time in a long time, received above-average play from their trio of cornerbacks. Slay justified the trade and was one of the best at his position in the league. Steven Nelson had his shaky moments, and Gannon’s scheme placed less pressure on the boundary corners, but he mostly held his own. Avonte Maddox returned to form after a return to the slot.
Zech McPhearson could be in line to step into Nelson’s expected vacancy, but I can’t see the Eagles forcing the second-year corner into that role. If Roseman likes the cornerback depth in the coming draft, an older, stop-gap corner could be the play in free agency. Stephon Gilmore (31), Patrick Peterson (32), Joe Haden (32), Darious Williams (28), and Kyle Fuller (30) – all former No. 1 talents – might be attainable.
My guess is that the Eagles won’t be able to meet their demands, even if they can get only one-year contracts. Younger options like J.C. Jackson (26), Carlton Davis (25), Charvarius Ward (25), and Donte Jackson (26) are likely to get the largest deals, and with so many subpar teams with cap space to burn, Roseman will surely bow out.
Prediction: Levi Wallace (26)
He’s not especially fast, which is probably why he settled for a one-year, $1.75 million contract last season, but in the right zone scheme, Wallace can be a decent No. 2 corner. He played nearly every snap last season, more than he ever had previously, which should make him more attractive. But teams aren’t exactly throwing boatloads of cash at off corners.
The 31-year-old Slay isn’t getting younger either. It’s hard to see Roseman entering the last day of the draft without selecting a cornerback in the first three rounds in April. Wallace, though, is on the younger side, and if he produces, could be re-upped with a longer deal next offseason.
Others: Desmond King (27). He fared better in the slot earlier in his career, but you can never have enough versatile defensive backs. D.J. Reed (25). The Eagles used to be obsessed about getting longer on the outside, but I don’t think it means as much to them anymore. Reed is only 5-9, but he’s sticky and had a very good 2021 for the Seahawks. Anthony Averett (27). He’s another corner who was given more opportunity in his fourth season because of injuries. He’s quick, but didn’t make many plays on the ball. He just may need more snaps. Xavier Rhodes (31). He would be like Barr, an experienced option who spent time with Gannon in Minnesota. He would qualify as the older, stop-gap variable. Rasul Douglas (26). I’m not sure Roseman would do it, but Douglas had a great season for the Packers and probably is a better fit for this Eagles’ new system than he was in Jim Schwartz’s.
Fletcher Cox’s future could dictate whether the Eagles are just scraping from the bottom of the defensive tackle barrel. He was available before the trade deadline in October and is likely expendable for the right offer this offseason. Javon Hargrave had his best campaign and rookie Milton Williams showed promise by the end of last season.
But parting with Cox, despite his regression, would leave a hole in the middle of the Eagles’ D-line. Akiem Hicks (32) has that kind of cache, but he’s older than Cox and more injury-prone. Larry Ogunjobi (27) played on a one-year deal last year, and he’s coming off a foot injury, but he set career marks in sacks (seven), tackles for losses (12), and hits (16). He should get paid.
If Cox goes, D.J. Jones (27), and Sebastian Joseph-Day (26) could be alternatives so that Williams isn’t forced into a starting spot. But I can’t see Roseman emphasizing run-stoppers. There are some appealing prospects in the draft, particularly Georgia’s Jordan Davis in the first round. But the Eagles will want at least one answer before heading into the draft.
Prediction: Bilal Nichols (25)
The Bears defensive tackle makes sense only if Cox leaves. He’s trending upward and recorded eight sacks and 22 hits in his last two seasons. Cox, by comparison, had 10 sacks and 22 hits over the same period despite having 200 more pass rush attempts.
Nichols is long at 6-4, and should be able to handle the multiple responsibilities that Cox complained about having in Gannon’s system early last season.
Others: Quinton Jefferson (28) and William Gholston (30). They would qualify as older, interior rushers who are reliable whom Roseman could get once the dust settles on the top free agents. They still may cost too much. Taven Bryan (25) and Tim Settle (24). They have been rotational reserves for their respective teams, the Jaguars and Commanders, and might be targets if Cox does return. And maybe even if he doesn’t.