Eagles Offseason Preview: Secondary

Eagles Offseason Preview: Secondary

This is the first in a four part series counting down the Eagles' biggest personnel needs, and how they realistically can be addressed this offseason. Share your thoughts on prospects, free agents, or other moves in the comments.

Hard to believe a unit with three Pro Bowl caliber players can be considered a serious area of concern, but the Eagles are in a pickle, and they're going to be in a pickle until they find at least a reasonably talented free safety.

Replacing Brian Dawkins remains priority one in the secondary. Safety doesn't necessarily need to be an impact position, but the trio of Demps, Harris, and Jones was a total catastrophe. Too many blown assignments, missed tackles, and stupid penalties, not to mention generally feeble run support. As a result, the play of the entire unit suffered, particularly Quintin Mikell.

The popular choice to fill the void seems to be Taylor Mays, the 6-3, 230 pound safety from Southern Cal. Experts believe he would have been a top ten selection had he declared for the draft last year, but his stock has fallen and he may be available when the Eagles are on the clock. He's expected to run a 40 time around 4.4, but concerns over his ability in coverage are pushing him down the board.

Which doesn't necessarily make him a bad fit for Philadelphia. Dawkins has been largely ineffective in man-to-man for years, but Jim Johnson schemed to his many strengths. He could be a blitzer or extra man in the box, but also play the part of All Star center fielder. Mays could satisfy a similar role in McDermott's defense, which is undoubtedly why he is such a favorite. It would be difficult to pass on this safety at number 24.

There are some persons of interest in the free agent market as well. Unfortunately they all have restricted negotiating rights, and most will be retained by their current clubs. The lone exception might be O.J. Atogwe. The Rams were unable to reach a long term extension with Atogwe last year, forcing the team to slap him with the franchise tag. If the two sides are unable to agree on terms, Atogwe will earn close to $7 million on a one year tender. At 29-years-old, and coming off a dislocated shoulder that ended his season, St. Louis could be willing to part ways without a deal in place.

Then again, it might not make sense for the Eagles to seek a trade for precisely those very reasons. It's still possible Atogwe re-signs anyway. Some lesser known players could be a realistic direction, though their respective clubs are likely to hang on to their services at discount prices. The Birds will almost certainly have to look to the draft for a fix.

There is one more possible solution, unlikely as it is, and that is converting Sheldon Brown to safety. For one thing, Sheldon just completed perhaps the best season of his NFL career at corner, even with a bum hamstring down the stretch. Taking on a new position also gives him one more reason to gripe about his contract. Finally, it may fill one one hole, but simultaneously creates another. The Eagles would be left scrambling to find another corner.

Which shouldn't imply cornerback isn't already a need too. Sheldon will be 31. Samuel recently turned 29. Joselio Hanson is too small to be an every down player, and Ellis Hobbs' suffered a neck injury. The Eagles are serious about replenishing their depth at this spot, so you can bet on some type of addition to this group.

It does not appear to be a situation they can upgrade in free agency either. The best players will wind up staying put. Further complicating the matter, there's not a ton of a first round talent in the draft. After Florida's Joe Haden, a probable top ten pick, it's unclear who even checks in as the number two prospect. Boise State's Kyle Wilson is drawing rave reviews for his performance at the Senior Bowl, and may have leapt ahead of the pack and into round one.

Assuming Sheldon stays put, corner is not the immediate need safety is. The Eagles can go into next season with Brown, Samuel, and Hanson, and they'll be fine as long as they're healthy. However if they go it with any combination of Demps, Harris, and Jones, they'll continue to get inconsistent results.

And even though it's not the most critical chink in the armor, it may prove the toughest to remedy. Mays seems Taylor-made for their defense, if you'll excuse the bad pun, but the talk about his freefall may be exaggerated, and he could be long gone before the Eagles draft. Veteran movement will be severely hampered by the new rules of free agency, which makes prying a quality player like Atogwe away from their club a challenge.

If neither of those come to pass, we're potentially looking at either a massive overhaul of the secondary, or the unattractive decision to stick with what they have now, plus maybe another random veteran to compete. There doesn't need to be a star back there, but if they don't find a suitable replacement at free safety, the secondary will continue to leak.

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Unlike some other NHL teams coming off their bye week, there wasn't a spot of rust on the sleek Columbus Blue Jackets.

In their first game following a five-day break, the high-energy Blue Jackets blew out the New York Islanders 7-0 Saturday as backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo earned his first career shutout.

Josh Anderson and Nick Foligno each scored twice, and David Savard had a goal and three assists. Boone Jenner and Jack Johnson also scored to help the Blue Jackets end New York's three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Zibanejad scores in OT to help Rangers beat Devils again
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New York Rangers are finding ways to win, and the New Jersey Devils just aren't.

Moments after goaltender Antti Raanta stopped Kyle Palmieri on a breakaway, Mika Zibanejad scored 1:16 into overtime and the Rangers rallied to beat the Devils 4-3 on Saturday.

"I had to redeem myself after that letdown on the breakaway the other way," said Zibanejad, whose mistake gave Palmieri a chance to complete a hat trick. "Rants came up big and it's nice to see that puck cross the goal line once again and win the game."

The goal was Zibanejad's first in 16 games and it gave the Rangers their ninth win in 11 games (9-1-1). Struggling New Jersey got its fourth loss in five games (1-3-1) (see full recap).

Shaw's OT goal gives Canadiens 14th straight win over the Leafs
TORONTO -- Andrew Shaw scored 1:06 into overtime and the Montreal Canadiens beat Toronto 3-2 on Saturday night for their 14th consecutive victory over the Maple Leafs.

Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk had the other goals for the Canadiens, who increased their Atlantic Division lead to four points over Ottawa and five on Toronto. They are 3-7-1 in the last 11 games and 2-2-0 under new coach Claude Julien.

Carey Price stopped 32 shots for Montreal, including a breakaway by Auston Matthews in overtime. The 19-year-old Matthews scored twice to reach 30 goals in his rookie season, and Frederik Andersen was sharp with 25 saves for Toronto (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

DALLAS -- Harrison Barnes scored 19 points and Dirk Nowitzki had 18 points and nine rebounds as the Dallas Mavericks ended a three-game losing streak by beating the New Orleans Pelicans 96-83 on Saturday night.

The Pelicans fell to 0-2 since trading for DeMarcus Cousins and pairing him with Anthony Davis.

Davis had 39 points and 14 rebounds but scored only 12 in the second half. Cousins finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds.

Seth Curry scored 10 of his 13 in the fourth quarter to help Dallas pull away. His 3-pointer with 4:49 to play gave the Mavericks an 84-72 lead, and the Pelicans never got closer than six after that (see full recap).

Harden leads Rockets past Timberwolves in 142-130 shootout
HOUSTON -- James Harden had 24 points and 10 assists to lead the Houston Rockets to a 142-130 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves as both teams set season scoring highs in a Saturday night shootout.

Houston won for the sixth time in seven games, handing the Timberwolves their first road loss in more than three weeks.

Minnesota committed a season-high 25 turnovers that led to 38 points for the Rockets.

Playing against Houston's guard-heavy rotation, Minnesota went inside all night and outscored the Rockets 68-44 in the paint. Karl-Anthony Towns had 37 points and 22 rebounds, and Andrew Wiggins added 30 points (see full recap).

Bulls benefit as James sits with strep, beat Cavs 117-99
CLEVELAND -- Dwyane Wade scored 20 points and Jimmy Butler recorded a triple-double, leading the Chicago Bulls to a 117-99 victory Saturday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers, who played without LeBron James.

James missed the game with strep throat, and coach Tyronn Lue said he wasn't sure how long the Cavaliers would be without the four-time MVP. Cleveland struggled as it often does without its star - they are 4-19 without him since he returned to Cleveland in 2014, including 0-4 this season.

Chicago has won all three games against Cleveland this season. It took advantage of James' absence to win its fourth straight overall (see full recap).

George ejected, Heat stay hot with 113-95 win over Pacers
MIAMI -- Paul George had another frustrating night in Miami.

Hassan Whiteside scored 22 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, Dion Waiters added 22 points and the red-hot Miami Heat pulled away late to beat the Indiana Pacers 113-95 on Saturday night. Miami outscored Indiana 42-22 in the final 16 minutes, all with George watching from the Pacers' locker room after an ejection.

"It felt like a playoff-type game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said (see full recap).