Whenever the NFL lockout ends, the
Eagles will be thrust into a bloated free agent market, while they
attempt to take care of unsettled situations for many of their own
players. In this two-part look, we predict what steps the front office
will take once it's time to get back to work.
See part one of what the Eagles could do once lockout ends here.
It was a busy first week for our hypothetical post-lockout Eagles, trading Kevin Kolb, extending DeSean Jackson, and signing two of the top unrestricted free agents. And if you thought all that sounded great, better news still to come: we don't think they're done. As you are about to see, the glut of free agents is going to create some unique opportunities for the Birds' decision makers, who with massive amounts of cap room and a roster that's almost ready to contend this season are all too eager to stay aggressive.
6. Eagles begin signing 2011 draft picks
After the initial storm ends, there should be a second wind of signings that has nothing to do with free agency. Not very long after a new CBA goes into effect, training camps will open, which it goes without saying is a critical period for the vast majority of rookies. In the Eagles' situation, where several of this year's picks are expected to start right away, it will be a serious priority.
In particular, Danny Watkins and Jaiquawn Jarrett are already penciled in at right guard and strong safety respectively. Watkins, often described as "NFL-ready," may not be setback too much should he miss a handful of those long summer days. Jarrett on the other hand may struggle to prepare for opening day without a full camp's instruction, possibly forcing Kurt Coleman into action. Fortunately, agents should have equally as much interest getting players on the field as quickly as possible, and the second round and later guys shouldn't miss much time. However, absent a rookie wage scale, it's difficult to gauge how the first round will shake out, which is often prone to multiple holdouts.
7. Stewart Bradley and Sav Rocca sign short term deals
As many franchises enter Phase Two of their off-season strategies—otherwise known as the, "Oh crap, we need to get our rookie quarterback into camp," stage—the second or third tier of free agents could take a backseat. In some cases where an outrageous offer is not on the way, it may benefit many of these players to sign one- or two-year contracts with their current club. I could see Stew Bradley falling into that gray area. In a normal off-season, he could've shopped around for a home where he would start automatically, but with his value limited after consecutive season ending injuries, it may make sense to come back and compete for a job where he's already familiar. If he has a good season, it could benefit him when he returns to the free agent marketplace a year or two down the road.
As for Rocca, it's not entirely clear what his plans are. His NFL experiment has been a mixed bag, and although he is coming off his best season yet, he'll be 38 in November and may have other plans. But even the Eagles wouldn't go without a punter, and since I can't see this being a high priority with everything else going on, their best bet may be to convince Rocca to come back for at least one more year.
8. Jason Babin rejoins on a short term deal
Babin's is an interesting case. He bounced around from place to place the last few years, including his '09 stint in Philly, after washing out of Houston a first round bust. Then suddenly the light came on last season, conveniently after he left town, and Babin went on to have a Pro Bowl season while notching 12.5 sacks for the Titans. A free agent once again, any other year somebody would be willing to take a shot and offer the defensive end a lucrative contract—if for no other reason because quality pass rushers are so hard to find. However, the swollen marketplace, his age, and the threat of his being a one-year wonder could push him out of the initial rush of signings.
Which could benefit the Eagles immensely. It's been well documented that Babin would be interested in returning, if for no other reason than to play for defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who he obviously thrived under last season. He also would see the team is gearing up to make a run, and might like to be a part of that. And similar to Bradley's situation, taking a one- or two-year deal would allow him to hit the market again quickly, at a time where he would have a greater opportunity to stand out. For the Eagles, this gives them another weapon at end while Brandon Graham recovers from his ACL tear, without a years or financial commitment that makes it hard for the second-year player to get back on the field once he's healthy.
9. Round out the roster with a veteran quarterback, safety
At this point, the Eagles need to prepare for the war of attrition that is an NFL season, and the only way to do that is through depth. They are very fortunate in that area at several positions, but every year you can identify a few spots that could be deeper, quarterback being the obvious one ahead. With Kolb out of the picture, that leaves Mike Kafka behind Michael Vick, and even if Kafka is ready to assume that role, they need an emergency option. Some undrafted free agent will certainly be brought into camp to eat up snaps, but if they're serious about going the distance, they'll need somebody established in the mix come September.
The list of free agent quarterbacks who have west coast offense experience isn't exactly distinguished, but there are a couple of names. After Matt Hasselbeck, who will probably wind up staying in Seattle, Seneca Wallace and Tarvaris Jackson jump out as two of the bigger names that fit the bill. As third quarterbacks, either would be adequate. Also, with Jarrett's situation tenuous, and the only other safety already on the roster who has more than one year NFL experience being the unreliable Marlin Jackson, it might make sense to add a veteran there as well.
10. Somehow acquire Albert Haynesworth
Okay, this... we have no idea how it will happen, and that's why it's last. We know the Redskins have no intention of keeping Haynesworth for another season, but they seem intent on getting some kind of return on another failed investment. Maybe they will eventually give up and release him, or maybe the Eagles will make a low ball offer that Washington accepts—perhaps straight up for Brodrick Bunkley?—because hey, it's something. All we can figure is the late-August arrival of Haynesworth to Philadelphia would be an exciting addition, and one that would potentially complete this team.
By far the biggest need on this team is to get some penetration from the interior of their defense. (Yes, a cornerback is a pretty serious need too, but in terms of where they need more of an impact player, defensive tackle is arguably more important.) Mike Patterson and Bunkley have been an above average tandem against the run for many years, with Antonio Dixon emerging as a strong contributor in that area as well, but they still aren't getting enough push in the faces of opposing q
uarterbacks. Haynesworth, who like Babin would be reunited with his old position coach, could solve that if he were motivated, and with Washburn riding him and the chance to stick it to the Skins, the Eagles seem like an ideal landing place.
We already know what you must be thinking. After all, we just predicted the frigging future! You mean to tell me the Eagles can or are even willing to do all of this? Sell. Because this is a lot.
Let's take the first challenge, whether they have room to take on four free agent contracts, and either re-sign or extend several of their own players. For starters, we have no idea what the salary cap will be, but with their current payroll estimated below $100 million, an educated guess would be they have somewhere around $40-45 million to play with this season. Because they've done such an excellent job staying out of cap prison, there's no question they could sign two big money free agents for the long haul, extend DJac, and still have the money to pay guys like Bradley and Babin over the short term. Haynesworth would conceivably be the tough pill to swallow here, but he has moderate base salaries of $5.4 and $7.2 mil over the next two seasons.
So then it may only be a matter of how far the Eagles are willing to go this season. Let's face it, this sounds like crazy talk, and many of you are probably thinking nobody in their right mind could possibly believe they are going to do all this. Maybe, maybe not; we are merely speculating, and this is just one of a million different scenarios that could unfold. If you think they won't be busy though, that this won't be an off-season full of surprises, our suggestion is you get your popcorn ready. As soon as the lockout ends, the NFL is gonna be fun again.
Photo of Jason Babin by Jim O'Connor-US Presswire. Photo of Albert Haynesworth by Mark J. Rebilas-US Presswire.