The Eagles' pursuit of a safety has become an annual rite of March since Brian Dawkins departed. The signing of Malcolm Jenkins proved to be a shrewd decision last year, with Chip Kelly making a sound evaluation in a crowded safety class.

But there are two safety positions, and the spot next to Jenkins remains unsettled. The Eagles allowed Nate Allen to reach free agency for the second straight season. They re-signed him to a one-year deal last year in the second week that the market was open, and they will search for an upgrade again.

The other safeties on the roster are Earl Wolff, Chris Maragos, Chris Prosinski, Jerome Couplin, and Ed Reynolds. Free agency officially opens on Tuesday at 4 p.m.

The Eagles' top safety target appeared to be New England's Devin McCourty, who was the best one on the market - and will be paid like it. McCourty reached an agreement to return to the Patriots on Sunday, according to several reports. The deal will make him one of the highest-paid safeties in the league.

What's left is not an especially impressive group of free agents, and the Eagles will need to evaluate it correctly if they want to finally put an end to the revolving door.

"Safety is a very thin market right now in free agency," ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, a former Eagles front office executive, said last week.

Cleveland's Tashaun Gipson is one of the NFL's top young safeties, but he's a restricted free agent who received a second-round tender. That means the Browns would have the chance to match any offer, and the Eagles would need to surrender a second-round pick if they signed him. Teams are reluctant to sacrifice picks.

The best unrestricted safety remaining on the board might be Denver's Rahim Moore, who is 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds and is coming off a four-interception season. Moore has improved since he was at fault in allowing a game-winning touchdown against Baltimore in the 2012 postseason. He also recovered from compartment syndrome in his left leg in 2013. His position coach in Denver was Cory Undlin, who now holds the position with the Eagles.

If the Eagles don't mind age, they can hurt a rival by pursuing Giants safety Antrel Rolle. The three-time Pro Bowler is 32 and can play both deep safety and in the box, which is what the Eagles seek.

The Eagles don't want to play free safety and strong safety, preferring to play left and right safety and using the two interchangeably.

Two younger safeties who would fit that description are Tyvon Branch and Buffalo's Da'Norris Searcy.

Branch, 28, was released by Oakland last week. A converted cornerback with good speed and size, Branch's issue is health. He has missed all but five games during the last two seasons. Riddick said if healthy, Branch is one of the most intriguing defensive players on the market.

"This is really one of the more versatile safeties in the league who can play in the box and in the back end, who can run like crazy, and hit like a freight train," Riddick said.

Searcy, 26, became a full-time starter for the first time last season. He finished with three interceptions and showed promise as an all-around safety. Searcy is 5-11 and 207 pounds and was a fourth-round pick in 2011.

Other safeties who could intrigue the Eagles are San Diego's Marcus Gilchrist, who played at Clemson with Byron Maxwell; and Kansas City's Ron Parker, a 27-year-old who bounced among five teams before catching on as a starter.

But when the Eagles get down that far on the list, there might not be much of an upgrade over Allen. That is the evaluation the Eagles must make - and if they don't find a better one, they could be right back here next March looking to fill the spot again.

Eagles' Options at Safety

On the Roster

Player   Height Weight Age   

Malcolm Jenkins   6-0    204   27

Chris Maragos   5-10    200    28

Chris Prosinski   6-1    208    27

Jerome Couplin   6-1    215    23

Ed Reynolds   6-1    207   23

Earl Wolff    5-11   201   25    

Eagles' Free Agent

Nate Allen   6-1    210    27

Top Free Agents

Rahim Moore, Denver   6-1    195    25

Antrel Rolle, N.Y. Giants   6-0    206    32

Tyvon Branch, Oakland   6-0    210    28

Da'Norris Searcy, Buffalo   5-11    207    26

Marcus Gilchrist, San Diego   5-10    198    26