Grading 2011's Free Agent Class

Grading 2011's Free Agent Class

As we prepare to ring in another action-packed NFL offseason, we remember the excitement -- and the lessons -- last August brought.

When the lockout lifted, the Eagles signed wave after wave of player during a free agency period that truly was like none other before. Many were busts, but a handful of moves paid off, and are a big reason why the front office will not be as active in 2012. After a full season to take in the hectic events last summer brought, here are our grades for the ten most significant additions of last season.

Jarrad Page
Billed as a quality, under-the-radar addition to an inexperienced safety corps, Page brought whatever the opposite of veteran stability is to the unit. He wasn't anything special in coverage, took poor angles to ball carriers, and was an awful tackler on the off-chance he arrived there. How bad was he? Jarrad Page is a baseball player now.

Grade: F

Steve Smith
Smith often seemed like a double agent who was sent by the Giants to sabotage the Eagles' season, except he seldom played. The team shut him down in December with a bone bruise on the same knee that was recently repaired by microfracture surgery. He finished the season with 11 catches and one touchdown.

And it still wouldn't have been a completely horrible signing, only Smith is already a free agent again. The front office acquired a player they knew would not be 100% last season, and did so without at least leaving open the option to keep him for another year once he got healthy. What was the point of this again?

Grade: F

Ronnie Brown

I think that about sums it up.

Grade: D

Kyle DeVan
Not a conventional free agent signing, the Eagles scooped up DeVan after he was waived by the Colts on cutdown day. First-round pick Danny Watkins wasn't ready for the NFL when the season began, and DeVan knew Howard Mudd's system.

It accomplished a goal. DeVan started the first four games of the season. He wasn't very good, but was competent. The offense struggled mightily in short yardage as a result though, so Watkins was re-installed as starter, and DeVan was released a short time later.

Grade: C-

Vince Young
Undoubtedly the winner for most disliked free agent signing, Young had his ups and downs on the field, but those were completely overshadowed by his "Dream Team" remarks. Fans got a sick feeling in their stomach, and the Eagles were suddenly playing with bullseyes on their jerseys.

VY was more of a mixed bag under center. He went 1-2 in three starts, leading an incredible 18-play drive to defeat the Giants, only to have a four-interception meltdown in Seattle two weeks later.

Grade: C-

Nnamdi Asomugha
Asomugha finds himself this high on our list by default. By no measure did he have a great season, the first of five years for a whopping $60 million. Sure, Juan Castillo didn't use Nnamdi purely as a right-man corner like he played in Oakland, but it's not like they asked him to play while blindfolded, either.

Which isn't to say we're giving up on Asomugha. He is still an amazing athlete, a three-time Pro Bowl corner. With another year in the system, and a better comprehension of his role, there should be improvement in 2012.

Grade: C

Derek Landri
Talk about finding a diamond in the rough. Landri was brought in for training camp depth following Mike Patterson's scary seizure. He had a strong preseason, but the coaching staff didn't think enough of Landri to keep him on the 53-man roster. Somehow he remained unsigned, so when Antonio Dixon was lost for the season in September, the Eagles gave Landri a call.

He became a force. According to Pro Football Focus, Landri charted as the fourth-best defensive tackle in the league, and he was the fifth-most productive interior pass rusher with 18 hurries in 178 snaps. A six-year veteran journeyman, it seems this is a case where Landri is a fit in their system. Hopefully he agrees, and returns to Philadelphia for another season.

Grade: B+

Cullen Jenkins

Any questions?

Grade: A

Jason Babin
What do 18 sacks get you these days? A career year. A Pro Bowl. Maybe a double team.

How 'bout second place on the Eagles' best free agents list?

Don't get me wrong, Babin had a tremendous season rushing quarterbacks, and you can easily make a case for him as the most valuable FA, but two aspects knocked him out of the running for an A+. First, Babin was invisible against the run. When you're getting 18 sacks out of a guy, you'll take the good with the bad, but being a one-dimensional player hurt him overall.

Second, how much of the credit for his outrageous sack total goes to Jim Washburn's scheme? Before he hooked up with Washburn in Tennessee last year, Babin was a first-round bust who spent seven years floundering between four teams until the wide nine rescued him. Maybe we're just trying to be contentious, but it would seem the day Washburn goes, Babin suddenly becomes less effective.

Grade: A

Evan Mathis
Mathis was supposed to be another one of those under-the-radar additions. Instead, he wound up developing into a Pro-Bowl caliber player.

In 2010, Mathis was toiling away on Cincinnati's bench, his third stop in a seven-year NFL career during which he had started all of 22 games. He came to Philly, where he was awarded the starting job at left guard after Todd Herremans moved to right tackle. Year eight turned out to be the charm for Mathis, as he elevated his game to a new level working under Howard Mudd.

Mathis is a huge reason why the offensive line began to gel last season. While Watkins and Jason Kelce were going through normal growing pains in their rookie seasons, Mathis was able to solidify his spot along the interior. As long as the Eagles are able to re-sign him, this line could finally reach its full potential in 2012.

Grade: A+

There were plenty of notable misses in free agency. Young, Brown, and Steve Smith accounted for nearly $10 million in cap space alone last season, not to mention Page and DeVan. However, they were all on one-year deals. The Eagles suffered the negative consequences with those players, but they never have to again.

The front office connected on long-term contracts with Jenkins and Babin, and got incredible value out of Mathis and Landri, and their impacts far outweighed the negative ones.

Only Asomugha is still on the see-saw. At times he looked like he might be effective, so we're holding out some hope he will rebound -- and he is still a starting cornerback in the NFL -- but his contract is lengthy and expensive. That and some remarkably awful one-year stopgaps prevent the Eagles from receiving an exceptional mark, but they still found four starters and a decent role player. Not too shabby.

Grade: B

Gunn's Bullet Points: Flags could fly in secondary for Eagles-Cowboys

Gunn's Bullet Points: Flags could fly in secondary for Eagles-Cowboys

Some notes and keys ahead of Sunday night's Eagles-Cowboys game:

• Since throwing for 301 yards against Pittsburgh in Week 3, Carson Wentz's aerial numbers have declined — 238 yards in Detroit, 179 in Washington and 138 vs. Minnesota.

• Even though he missed two games with an injury, I still can't understand how Zach Ertz has been targeted only 16 times in four games this season.

• Dallas WR Cole Beasley is arguably the best slot receiver in the game right now. Last November against the Eagles, he had nine receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns. With the Eagles' best slot cornerback, Ron Brooks, out for the year with a ruptured quad tendon, Malcolm Jenkins will have his hands full trying to keep up with Beasley in the slot.

• Eagles and Cowboys defensive backs beware: Jerome Boger's crew is officiating this game. This season, Boger's crew has called 36 penalties for defensive pass interference, illegal contact or defensive holding.

• The Eagles' 20 sacks ties them for third-most in the league. Dallas has allowed just nine, second-fewest in the NFL.

• Does Doug Pederson still have faith in RB Ryan Mathews late in games? Mathews has fumbled with less than five minutes left in two of the last three games. The head coach says he has not lost faith in Mathews, and Mathews says he'll stop fighting for more yards late in games. Time will tell.

After 2 fumbles, Mathews says he must fight urge to fight for more yards

After 2 fumbles, Mathews says he must fight urge to fight for more yards

Doug Pederson said this week he’s so concerned about Ryan Mathews’ late-game fumbling problem that he’ll consider using a different running back in crucial late-game situations (see story).

If Mathews is concerned about it, he’s not letting on.

“I don’t worry about stuff like that,” he said at his locker on Thursday. “Worrying about stuff like that just causes more stress.

“I can’t control any of that. The only thing I can control is trying to give him 100 percent every time I touch the ball and trying to get better.”

Mathews likely cost the Eagles a win over the Lions with his late fumble in Detroit three weeks ago. Last week, he lost another fumble in the final minutes of the Eagles’ win over the Vikings.

He’s the first back with two fumbles in the final five minutes of two games in the same season since Ahmad Bradshaw of the Giants in 2010.

He has single-handedly accounted for two of the three fumbles by NFL running backs in the last five minutes of games this year.

Pederson on Wednesday said, “By no means am I down on Ryan,” but also said he would consider using Wendell Smallwood or Darren Sproles in late-game situations moving forward.

Mathews is averaging 3.9 yards per carry on a team-high 11 carries per game.

He said Thursday he has to learn not to fight for extra yards when the situation calls mainly for ball protection.

“You can’t fight for more yards, you’ve just got to go down,” he said. “Don’t put the ball on the ground.

“There’s no secret cure or anything like that. You’ve just got to get what you can get and get down. You can’t really fight for more yards like that.”

Mathews said it’s difficult for him to ramp down his natural aggressiveness in situations that call for him to be more conservative and protect the ball instead of trying to fight for extra yards.

“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “I’m not the one to really shy away from not going down on first contact. But situations like that, you’ve just got to be more aware.”

Sproles (4.6 average on 31 carries), Smallwood (4.1 average on 28 carries) and Kenjon Barner (5.8 average on 16 carries) all have higher rushing averages than Mathews.

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said he’s not concerned about Mathews and said his confidence in the 29-year-old former Pro Bowler hasn’t waned.

“I love our guys,” Reich said. “I wouldn't trade our guys for anybody. We use a word around here a lot, and I know sometimes it gets thrown around, but it's family.

“You know, not every family's perfect, and we all make mistakes, but when we put guys out on the field (we’re confident in them). I can't play like that. I can't coach like that. You've got to have confidence.

“Now with coaches, it’s a business and coaches make decisions based on things. And when those decisions get made, they get made. But when a guy is in the game, we have to play with confidence and we have to coach with confidence and I don't see any other way to do it.”