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,

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

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

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
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.


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
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.


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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Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles vs. Vikings
1 p.m. on FOX

Eagles +3

A familiar face comes to town on Sunday when the Eagles host the Vikings, the NFL's last unbeaten team at 5-0.

There's more to this matchup than a certain jilted quarterback returning to Lincoln Financial Field though. After an inspired 3-0 start, the Eagles have come out flat in two consecutive games, both losses. If this squad has any hope of getting back on track in Week 7, they can't afford to focus on the high-profile former teammate in purple sleeves.

Grinding it out
How good is the Vikings' defense? Even though they're ranked fourth in the league against the run and eighth in yards per carry allowed, they've faced the second-highest number of rushing attempts. Simply put, between a fierce pass-rush and ball-hawking secondary, offenses are afraid to put the ball in the air against this team.

Opponents have decided the best way to beat the Minnesota defense is by keeping the ball on the ground — shorten the game, try to create manageable third downs and play the field position game. Of course, the best way for the Eagles to beat Washington's 28th-ranked run defense last week, with a fifth-round rookie right tackle making his first career start mind you, also would've been to hand the ball off early and often, which wasn't exactly the game plan that we saw.

As good as Carson Wentz is, the Eagles probably aren't going to beat this team by airing the ball out. It may be inefficient and look ugly, but this time, head coach Doug Pederson needs to lean on the ground attack and take the pressure off of his first-year quarterback and tackle. Otherwise, a Vikings defense that ranks third in the NFL in sacks and fourth in interceptions can take this game over.

Self-inflicted wounds
Ticky-tack calls or not, you can't blame the judgment of the officials for all of the penalties the Eagles have taken the past two weeks. Last week in Washington, they drew 13 flags for 114 yards. The week before, it was 14 flags for 111 yards. Is it really any coincidence in two losses the Eagles have been penalized 27 times for 225 yards? Unlikely.

Were one or two or even a handful of those calls excessive? Have officials missed some potential calls that could have gone the other way? Yes and yes, as is always the case. When it's that many penalties for that many yards though, you can only place so much blame on the refs.

Simply put, the players need to clean up their acts. According to TeamRankings.com, the Eagles are committing the most penalties per game at 9.8. Only one other team is above 9.0. All excuses aside, the Eagles lack discipline right now, and it's hard to beat anybody when they are continuously shooting themselves in the foot, let alone the only undefeated squad in football.

No gimmes
There is no bigger indicator of winning and losing in the NFL than turnovers. So what happens when the two teams who cough the ball up the least are going head-to-head?

One thing the Eagles did correct in Washington was the little giveaway problem that cost them the game in Detroit. After losing their first fumble and throwing their first interception of the season in the final three minutes of their loss at Detroit, the offense went back to playing turnover-free football on Sunday, one of the positive things that could be said for the performance.

Yet the only team that's committed fewer turnovers than the Eagles is the Vikings, who have just one through five games. The ball security these clubs have displayed is remarkable bordering on unheard of. So what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? The first one to blink, or in this case make a mistake, might just cost themselves the game in what could be a tightly contested tilt.

Just a pit stop
If it feels like the Eagles' 34-3 romp of the Steelers at the Linc was a long time ago, well, it has been almost a month. Since then, there's been a bye week followed by trips to Detroit and Washington, putting the last home game at exactly four weeks ago.

Don't get used to the feeling either. After their game against the Vikings on Sunday, the Eagles go back on the road for two contests against the division rival Cowboys and Giants.

What does it all mean? Besides a travel-heavy stretch, it suggests this sandwich game with the Vikings is an especially significant spot on the Eagles' schedule, particularly given the slow starts they've jumped out to as the visiting team of late. That can't be blamed entirely on going on the road of course, but it certainly hasn't helped. Vikings or not, the Eagles could use a positive showing on Sunday before they go away again.

The Bradford Bowl
You didn't really think we were going to completely gloss over Sam Bradford, did you? Not even mention his name?

It's interesting, because right now, the trade that sent Bradford to the Vikings and cleared the way for Wentz to start at quarterback for the Eagles looks like a win-win. Both head coaches agreed with that sentiment as well. Mike Zimmer says Bradford gave the Vikings an energy back after starter Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with an improbable injury, while despite coming back down to earth a bit the last two weeks, it's obvious the Eagles' future is bright with Wentz.

That being said, there are some additional bragging rights at stake for both signal-callers this week, whether they acknowledge it or not. If the Eagles win, it shows their gamble on Wentz being prepared to start right away was justified. If the Vikings win, pundits could argue the Eagles never should've traded Bradford in the first place.

These are only narratives of course, and the Eagles' investment in Wentz and the Vikings' desperation trade for Bradford are both left to be judged somewhere down the road, long after this game has been played. Nonetheless, the result on Sunday is sure to spark some interesting debate in the coming days.

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21


STATE COLLEGE – As his team slogged through back-to-back 7-6 seasons in his first two years as Penn State’s head coach, Langhorne native James Franklin heard time and again that he was in need of a signature victory.

Now he has one, even if he refuses to admit it.

Junior cornerback Grant Haley returned a blocked field goal 60 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:27 left as the Nittany Lions stunned second-ranked Ohio State 24-21 on Saturday night.

“That’s for you (media) guys, all that signature stuff,” Franklin said.

Not exactly.

“It’s just a game that put Penn State back on the map,” Haley said. “We needed that signature win, and we did it tonight.”

The fans stormed the field after the Lions, 5-2 after their third straight victory this season, beat a ranked team for the first time since 2013 (Wisconsin). It was also PSU’s first victory over a team ranked in the top five since 1999 (Arizona) and its first over a team slotted as high as No. 2 since 1990 (Notre Dame).

Ohio State (7-1) saw winning streaks of 20 straight road games and 17 straight Big Ten road games come to an end, despite building a 21-7 lead through three quarters.

The Lions whisked 90 yards in five plays to cut the gap to seven with 13:32 left in the game, with quarterback Trace McSorley running two yards for the TD.

Freshman linebacker Cam Brown then blocked Cameron Johnston’s punt to set up a 34-yard field goal by Tyler Davis with 9:33 remaining, making it 21-17.

Ohio State mounted a drive behind J.T. Barrett, their splendid quarterback, moving from its own 13 to the PSU 28. Barrett’s 34-yard connection with wide receiver Noah Brown was the big play.

But the Buckeyes stalled, and Tyler Durbin came on to attempt a 45-yard field goal. Penn State safety Marcus Allen made a leaping block, however, and Haley scooped up the bouncing ball and beat Durbin and Johnston, the holder, down the left sideline for the go-ahead score.

Ohio State’s final drive of the night ended with a pair of Penn State sacks, the last a combined effort by defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Evan Schwan with 1:02 left.

When the final gun sounded, several Penn State players sprinted toward the south end zone and launched themselves into the front row of the stands, Lambeau Leap-style, among the delirious students. And thousands of fans, all clad in white for PSU’s traditional White Out, flooded the field.

“This is for everybody,” Franklin said later. “This community’s been through so much in the last five years (a reference to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal and its aftermath), and this is a big step in the right direction, in terms of healing. I said very, very early on that for us to get where we want to be, we need this entire community together, and a win like tonight – I know I’m biased – but I believe that football has the ability to bring a community together like nothing else.”

Moments later, he caught himself and said he “didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the big picture.”

Rather, he added, “I just want to enjoy tonight.”