The Eagles pulled off a minor miracle in securing Brandon Graham and bringing the linebacker back into the fold, but they lost a potential free agent acquisition Monday when running back Frank Gore backed out of an agreement, an NFL source said.
Graham had all but signed with the New York Giants, but the Eagles swooped in, sweetened the offer and the free agent decided to return to Philadelphia instead. The 26-year old signed a four-year contract worth $26 million with $14 million guaranteed and will be penciled in as the starting outside linebacker opposite Connor Barwin.
"Happy to be back family! #Eagles," Graham said on Twitter.
But the Eagles lost Gore - unless he reverses himself again. The former 49er changed his mind after agreeing on a three-year deal on Sunday and is now considering an offer from the Colts, the source said.
NFL Network initially reported the Gore news. It was the first example of a potential free agent who changed his mind after agreeing to terms during the three-day "legal tampering" period before the official start of free agency on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
So the Eagles have to go back to the drawing board and find a running back to help offset the loss of LeSean McCoy. They could ultimately find someone to work alongside Darren Sproles and Chris Polk in the draft, but coach Chip Kelly may want to address the need beforehand in free agency.
The Eagles aren't likely to be in on the DeMarco Murray sweepstakes if the Cowboys running back leaves Dallas, but the Bills' C.J. Spiller, the Chargers' Ryan Mathews, the Ravens' Justin Forsett, the Redskins' Roy Helu and the Saints' Pierre Thomas are some stopgap options.
Kelly is expected to have about $35 million in salary-cap space to spend in free agency, even after cornerback Byron Maxwell signs a six-year deal Tuesday - provided that he, too, doesn't reconsider.
But Kelly saved himself from having to dip his toes into an edge rusher market that wasn't very deep. The Eagles had lukewarm interest in Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds even before Graham returned, and he is expected to sign with another team, a source close to the situation said.
Darnell McPhee set the edge rushers' market when he agreed to a five-year, $40 million contract with the Bears on Monday. Some industry observers expected the former Ravens linebacker to get more, but his payday likely lowered Graham's expectations.
Graham had made it clear last season that he expected to sign as a defensive end with a team that employs a 4-3 defense. He was drafted to play that position, but he also adjusted in Kelly's 3-4 and by last season had become one of the Eagles' more consistent defenders.
Graham notched 51/2 sacks, 131/2 tackles for loss and 18 quarterback hurries in mostly part-time duty playing behind Barwin and Trent Cole. He had also become one of the better players on special teams. He did, though, struggle in his one start against the Redskins in the penultimate game of last season.
But with Cole's release last week it was Graham's job to lose and the expectation is that with more opportunities - he played 36 percent of the snaps in 2014 - he will put up better numbers. Although he was the Eagles' first-round draft pick in 2010, he never got the opportunity to be a full-time starter.
He suffered a season-ending knee injury in his rookie season, which nearly wiped out his entire second season, and when he got healthy in 2012, defensive line coach Jim Washburn buried him on the depth chart.
Kelly's arrival brought a change in scheme, but Graham adapted by season two, and while he'll never be great at dropping into coverage, he was decent at it last season and improved at setting the edge against the run.
With Graham, Maxwell and the trade for linebacker Kiko Alonso, the Eagles defense is rounding into shape. They still need another cornerback and safety. Darrelle Revis is set to hit the market, but the Patriots or New York Jets appear to be the only suitors. Chris Culliver, Tramon Williams and Walter Thurmond haven't been linked to one team.
The Chargers' Marcus Gilchrist has emerged as a potential safety target, while the Broncos' Rahim Moore is still available.
On the other side of the ball, aside from running back, the Eagles have some work to do at wide receiver after Jeremy Maclin accepted Andy Reid and the Chiefs' offer. Maclin wanted $11 million and got it over five years, a source close to the situation said. The Eagles wouldn't budge over $10 million.
The receiver market isn't especially attractive. The Texans officially released Andre Johnson on Monday, and the 6-foot-3 33-year old could intrigue Kelly. Percy Harvin, Michael Crabtree, Stevie Johnson and Cecil Shorts could be cheaper options but have various knocks against them.
The Eagles also may want to address the vacancy at right guard after Todd Herremans was released two weeks ago.
They don't have to worry about finding a backup quarterback. Of course, there is still question as to who is the backup after Mark Sanchez signed a two-year deal on Sunday. As it stands now, Sanchez and Nick Foles will compete for the starting spot, according to sources close to the situation.
A year after he was deemed by some to be the Eagles' franchise quarterback solution, Foles finds himself back where he was two years ago - competing for a job. That is, unless Kelly trades him and moves up to select Marcus Mariota in the draft.