If you clicked this article thinking that big names like Jairus Byrd or Brian Orakpo were going to be profiled, apologies in advance. The following three players are more of the "prudent spending" variety, but could fill smaller roles on the team. We'll profile more players leading up to free agency, so don't be alarmed by the absence of a safety. These just happen to be three players that stood out for various reasons.
The Eagles' biggest need this offseason (not to be confused with their most glaring hole) is a stud edge rusher. Rob Jackson is not that guy. However, he is a player with good size who is very good in coverage, plays decent run defense, has a knack for making big plays, and while certainly not a stud rusher, he does have some rush skills.
Jackson will turn 29 in November, but has low mileage. For his 6 year career, 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 2012 NFC East Championship Game.
As noted, Jackson is not the stud edge rusher the Eagles need. However, it's not as if he can't get to the passer. Here he is against the Eagles in 2012 (King Dunlap sighting!). Jackson is lined up at ROLB.
Jackson smacks Dunlap's hand down...
Then the left hand goes up under King's outside arm for leverage...
From there, it's just closing speed, and note that Jackson tries to punch down on Foles' throwing arm as he makes his hit.
That's nicely done.
One negative about Jackson is a suspension he served last season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. The Eagles place a high value on character, so the suspension could be a concern.
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. Jackson could be a great fit, and could come at a reasonable cost. Oh, and it never hurts to weaken a division rival, especially one with so little talent on defense to begin with.
LaFell is viewed as a disappointment by many who follow the Panthers, because he was a 3rd round pick who has never eclipsed 700 receiving yards. However, the Eagles traded for Arrelious Benn last season, and the two receivers have many similarities.
• LaFell: 6'2, 210, 4.58 40, 6.81 3-cone drill.
• Benn: 6'2, 220, 4.57 40, 6.78 3-cone drill.
If you'll note, they have similar size, speed, and agility traits, and both receivers are regarded as very good blockers in the run game.
One knock on LaFell is that he drops too many passes. According to ProFootball Focus, he had 8 on the season. By comparison, DeSean Jackson led the Eagles with 5 drops, but had 36 more targets than LaFell.
The NFL draft is absolutely loaded with quality WR talent this year, and there are some decent names in free agency as well. Free agent wide receivers could find that there isn't a great market for their services. A soft WR market could make LaFell a nice bargain play for WR depth, which the Eagles may need.
Last offseason, the Eagles signed 6'2, 330 pound Isaac Sopoaga away from the 49ers. At the time, Sopoaga was 31. That move did not pan out, as the Eagles wound up trading Sopoaga after paying his signing bonus of $2.75 million in full, in addition to half of his $1 million contract. In other words, they paid Sopoaga $3.25 million for 8 games of ineffective play.
This offseason, another large human being will likely hit the market. That would be 6'4, 340 pound Dolphins NT Paul Soliai, who just turned 30 in December. Soliai is a much better player than Sopoaga, and could help bolster the Eagles' run defense, which was exposed to some degree by the Saints in the playoffs.
Over the last two years, opposing offenses have had much better success running to the edges than they have running in Soliai's neighborhood. The following is a chart showing yards per carry when opposing offenses ran left, when they ran anywhere from guard to guard, and when they ran right.
Obviously, as you can see, opposing offenses had the least amount of success running near Soliai.