The Eagles sat out of the pass rusher shopping spree last offseason, waiting until the first round of the draft to address the position with Marcus Smith. They knew that one year later, Trent Cole would be older and more expensive, and Brandon Graham would become a free agent.
The Eagles are now at the one-year-later mark. They released Cole and have not re-signed Graham. The depth chart at right outside linebacker thinned, although Smith's unproductive rookie season leaves the Eagles searching for more help at the position.
Armed with nearly $50 million in salary-cap space, the Eagles might be players for the top 3-4 outside linebackers on the market. The problem is pass rushers are seldom available on the discount rack. If they want a good one, they'll need to pay a premium. Unrestricted free agents are free to sign with teams on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
The best fit might be Pittsburgh's Jason Worilds, whom the Eagles could not pursue last season because the Steelers placed the transition tag on him. Worilds, 27, started all 16 games in 2014 and totaled 71/2 sacks. He had eight sacks in 11 starts in 2013. He is 6-foot-2 and 263 pounds, so his size similar is to Graham's. But he has more experience playing in the 3-4 defense, spending his five-year NFL career in Dick LeBeau's system.
The pass rusher who might earn the most money is Buffalo's Jerry Hughes, 26, who finished with 10 sacks in each of the last two seasons. The 2013 season came in a 3-4 defense and he played in a 4-3 last season. Hughes, 6-foot-2 and 254 pounds, is a former first-round pick in Indianapolis who struggled early in his career before blossoming after a trade to the Bills. Two reports Sunday indicated that Hughes is close to a deal to stay with Buffalo.
The Eagles can look to Tennessee's Derrick Morgan, who is from Coatesville. Morgan, 26, was selected three picks after Graham in the first round in 2010, and has followed a similar career arc. He dealt with an injury early in his career, and then transitioned to a 3-4 defense last season. But he impressed as an outside linebacker, registering 61/2 sacks and ranking as top player at his position in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. Morgan has the size that the Eagles like - he is 6-3 and 261 pounds with long arms, which is an important attribute.
"Long levers are strong levers," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said after drafting Smith. "You know our motto."
Other options could include Washington's Brian Orakpo, a three-time Pro Bowler who has missed 24 games the last three seasons; Houston's Brooks Reed, who has played both inside and outside linebacker and started 52 games in four years; Cleveland's Jabaal Sheard, a 25-year-old whose most production came when he played for Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and defensive coordinator Bill Davis in Cleveland; and New England's Akeem Ayers, a versatile 25-year old who thrived after an in-season trade from the Titans to the Patriots.
Both Cole and Graham will generate a market, too, with Cole already making visits. They might be better suited to play in a 4-3 defensive front than in Davis' defense in Philadelphia.
The early rounds of the draft are deep with edge rushers, so the Eagles could wait for the spring, as they did last season. But with the possibility of trading up to select Marcus Mariota, the Eagles might not have picks to use on a player who could step in right away.
The Eagles will need to address the position at some point. The demand would not be as high if Smith showed more promise as a rookie. Smith could still blossom in his second year, and what the Eagles do in free agency might determine whether he gets the chance.
On the roster
Player Height Weight Age
Connor Barwin 6-4 264 28
Marcus Smith 6-3 251 22
Bryan Braman 6-5 241 27
Travis Long 6-4 255 23
Eagles' free agent
Brandon Graham 6-2 265 26
Top free agents
e Jason Worilds 6-2 262 27
Jerry Hughes 6-2 254 26
Derrick Morgan 6-3 261 26
Brian Orakpo 6-4 257 28
Brooks Reed 6-3 254 28
Jabaal Sheard 6-3 264 25
Akeem Ayers 6-3 255 25