Eagles Free Agency Preview: Who Might They Target on Defense?

Eagles Free Agency Preview: Who Might They Target on Defense?

There’s $33 million-plus burning a hole in the Eagles’
pockets at this moment, but there are plenty of holes to fill in the Lincoln
Financial Field turf – and we don’t mean the kind the grounds crew can fix,
either.

Obviously after 2011’s disastrous spending spree, we’re all
a bit leery of free agency, more so than before anyway. Unfortunately the fact
of the matter is the Eagles have too many needs to fill exclusively through the
draft, so having the means to bolster their talent isn’t necessarily a bad
thing.

It’s all about identifying the right players for the proper
spots, so without further adieu, let’s examine who will be available on the defensive side of the ball come March
12.

Defensive Tackle

It all starts up front. Priority number one for the Eagles
if they are planning on switching to a 3-4 defense this season is to find a
nose tackle. Howie Roseman indicated Antonio Dixon might be able to play the
nose,
which is certainly an experiment worth testing. Dixon lacks
experience with the position however, so at worst there must be some sort of backup plan.

Problem is there are not a ton of great interior linemen on
the market, and even fewer that have played inside in a 3-4. The most
attractive option may have been Randy Starks, but the Dolphins slapped the
franchise tag on him. The best unrestricted player remaining is arguably Roy
Miller (age on first day of 2013 season: 26), who was part of an elite run
defense in Tampa Bay, but may be undersized for the role at 6-2, 310. Temple product
Terrance Knighton (27) from Jacksonville might be better suited to play it at
6-3, 330. There are more than mere local ties available, as Seattle’s Alan
Branch (28) played under defensive coordinator Billy Davis during his stint
with the Cardinals.

Of course if they’re just looking for a warm body to compete
or act as a stopgap, Sheil Kapadia of Birds 24/7 mentions Isaac Sopoaga (32) in
San Francisco,
who would presumably have a relationship with new VP of
personnel Tom Gamble.

Outside Linebacker

It’s hard to say how much help the Eagles will need on the
edges to make a 3-4 work. They require outside linebackers who can rush the passer
AND drop into coverage, the latter part being an unknown for most of the current
candidates. Brandom Graham did some of that at Michigan, and some observers felt both he and Vinny Curry
thought would be best suited in that role at the NFL level anyway. Trent Cole on the other hand is a serious
question mark.

Regardless, that’s a healthy mix of talent to start with, and the
free agent pickings are slim. Paul Kruger (27) from the Super Bowl Champion
Baltimore Ravens is about the only player worthy of a major investment, and
given his relatively small sample size – 10 career starts – it’s hard to judge
whether or not he’s actually worth the enormous contract somebody is about to
offer. San Diego’s Shaun Phillips (32) could bring valuable experience to the
table, but that might only serve to block a younger player. Birds will likely stand
pat or look to the draft here.

Cornerback

Much more difficult to project what’s going to happen at
cornerback while the Nnamdi Asomugha situation remains unsettled. Many anticipate
the maligned corner will eventually get his release, but the front office is
obviously attempting to restructure Asomugha’s contract, otherwise why wouldn’t
he be out the door already?

The Eagles appear to have no intention of re-signing
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the other hand, so there is a hole at corner no matter what.
They were rumored to have interest in the Dolphins’ Sean Smith (26), although
the timing suggests that was leaked in an effort to pressure Nnamdi. Then
again, Smith is one of the better options, and with the cupboard bare at this
particular position, there might be room for both of them PLUS a high draft pick.

This is actually a very strong market for cornerbacks should
the Birds want to go that route – not to mention Darrelle Revis is on the trade
block.
As free agents go, Shippensburg product Brent Grimes (30) from Atlanta
would be at the forefront were it not for his coming off a torn Achilles
tendon, while character issues could figure to be a factor for playmaker Aqib
Talib (27) despite departing New England a good soldier. The top of this deep
class is rounded out by Baltimore’s Cary Williams (28), but there are plenty
more intriguing names out there.

Safety

Quite possibly the most disappointing development so far
this offseason – at least as it relates to free agency – was the Bills’
decision to apply the franchise tag to Jairus Byrd. Byrd has been a primetime
playmaker for Buffalo since entering the league, defending 27 passes, pulling
down 18 interceptions, forcing 10 fumbles, and tacking on six points to the scoreboard
twice over a four-year career. That’s exactly the kind of production the Eagles’
secondary has missed since Brian Dawkins walked.

If there is any good news to take away, it’s that Byrd wasn’t
the only Pro Bowl-caliber safety out there. It looks like Dashon Goldson (28)
will make his escape from San Francisco, and he could be the first step to solidifying
Philly’s back end. There are several quality players to choose from, not forgetting William
Moore (28) from Atlanta or even Detroit’s Louis Delmas (26). Goldson is clearly
head and shoulders above the rest though, with similar numbers to that of Byrd – 31 PD, 14 INT, 5 FF, 1 TD.

The safety position is said to be deep in this year’s draft,
but with Nate Allen beginning to look lost, the Eagles can afford to
make a big splash with Goldson and still take somebody in April should they so choose. In terms of filling
a specific need, Goldson fits the bill perhaps better than any other free
agent this offseason. He should definitely be a target next week.

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Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Vanek, Nielsen lead Wings over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski push Sharks past Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in OT, Oilers edge Panthers
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."