Like it or not, the Eagles have pretty much neared the checkout line of the free-agent shopping spree. And not even one full week has passed since the doors opened for the NFL’s version of Black Friday.
Even with ample money, the Eagles balked at Saks Fifth Ave. and took a stroll to the local strip mall, reeling in safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Maragos, cornerback Nolan Carroll, linebacker Bryan Braman, trading for running back/return specialist Darren Sproles and then re-signing safety Nate Allen.
Jenkins might be the only addition locked into a starting job. Competition will decide whether Allen or Earl Wolff (and maybe a draft pick) gets the spot opposite him. Maragos and Braman are basically special teams contributors, and Sproles brings yet another dimension to an already-explosive offense.
With their cart just about full, the Eagles head for the exit having addressed their NFL-worst pass defense and padded their special teams and offense.
So, what now?
It’s no secret they could use help in the pass-rush department and find a kicker who can actually boot the ball out of the end zone, indoors, in late-season games.
Problem is, the shelves weren’t stocked with the brand of free agents the Eagles were seeking.
Unlike this year’s safety stockpile, there wasn’t an abundance of pass rushers to pick and choose from, and certainly none at negotiable prices that fit into the team’s plans. The two most obvious, Brian Orakpo and Jason Worilds, were tagged by their respective teams and never reached free agency.
The Bears overpaid for Lamarr Houston, who has just 16.5 sacks in four years, and the Eagles weren’t interested in renting DeMarcus Ware or Julius Peppers for one or two years at top dollar. They’re a young, building team following a carefully crafted blueprint, not going for broke like the Saints and Broncos are doing in the twilight years of their franchise quarterbacks.
As for kickers, there were several options in free agency that the Eagles passed up. It appears they’re comfortable going into 2014 with Alex Henery -- a decision they might ultimately regret.
So, this is it? Jenkins and Sproles are the headliners of Chip Kelly’s second offseason?
Two years ago, general manager Howie Roseman spiced up an overly vanilla offseason when he traded for DeMeco Ryans, surrendering a measly fourth-round pick to Houston (and swapping third-rounders) in exchange for the Pro Bowl linebacker. Ryans has since emerged as the team’s defensive leader.
Roseman’s trigger finger is one of the league’s itchiest, and he’s almost certainly scanning rosters around the league to see if he can swing another deal. But unlike inside linebackers, pass rushers aren’t easily tradeable commodities. Teams don’t look to unload guys who routinely hit quarterbacks, they seek to add as many as possible.
Ryans (and his salary) became expendable because of Brian Cushing’s increased role in Wade Phillips’ defense. Pass rushers generally don’t become expendable until their production drops off, and if their production dips, why would the Eagles be interested?
The hunch here is that Roseman will have to wait for the draft to find another pass rusher, and probably not in the first two rounds. The two best ones, Jadaveon Clowney and Khalil Mack, should be gone long before the Eagles pick at 22.
The real good ones come off the board quickly and Roseman is insistent on taking the best player available, regardless of need.
It looks more likely that Trent Cole and Connor Barwin will man the outside linebacker spots again in 2014, with Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry coming off the bench to provide more rush. Graham and Curry provide more pressure than they’re given credit for, so maybe Kelly gets them more involved in the defense going forward.
When you hear Kelly refer to Braman, who has one-half sack in three years, as a potential situational pass rusher, you know he’s already sketching out various ways to generate more pressure without a double-digit sack guy on the roster.
Earlier this offseason Roseman spoke about the challenge of finding pass-rushing outside linebackers for 3-4 schemes, saying they’re not “growing on trees.”
If they were, he’d probably still be bargain shopping right now instead of heading for the checkout lane.