How the Eagles Positioned Themselves to Win Free Agency

How the Eagles Positioned Themselves to Win Free Agency

A closer look at some of the moves, or non-moves, that set up the Eagles to sign their huge incoming free agent class.

The $64,000 dollar question around the league right now—and even in Philadelphia—regarding the Birds' incredible free agent haul is, "How did this happen?" One week ago, the defense was like a running gag, with their offensive line-coordinator, punchless pass rush, and the crater-sized hole at right cornerback. Today, that unit is part of what is commonly being referred to as a "Dream Team."

So what was it? Joe Banner didn't just wake up one day and say, "We're going for it." No, this was carefully planned going all the way back to last year, a plan that's been brilliantly executed from the moment the curtain was lifted on free agency. And the answers to the question "How," well... those are actually in plain sight.

About 2010...
Think back to last year, when the Eagles weren't spending wads of cash in free agency. Their top acquisition was Marlin Jackson, whose sole purpose was to push first-year free safety Nate Allen for the starting job, a job that nobody (thoughtful) expected him to win. Meanwhile, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Julius Peppers was putting his mark on a record contract in Chicago.

What the casual fan might have missed about last year's signing period was that it lacked top end talent. Peppers was out there, along with one or two others, but the quality declined sharply from there. Rule changes in the final year of the old collective bargaining agreement made many of the anticipated free agents restricted, minimizing their actual availability.

Rather than load up on mediocre talent asking for top dollar, or outbidding the Bears' insane offer for Peppers (which was aided by their lack of a draft after the Jay Cutler trade, not to mention the urgency to put a team around him), the Eagles didn't budge. In fact, they got rid of the majority of their own overpaid veterans, and instead focused on the draft.

It turns out, after all the bickering, this was a wise decision. Most observers felt the Birds were at least a year away from truly competing anyway. While adding Peppers would have been a major coup, the rest of the barren market would have only served to eat up the budget, and maybe appease fans—although, probably not once they would have seen the caliber players that money could buy.

One year later, being frugal in free agency's off-year, when there was no immediate need to make a splash in the first place, set them up to spend like crazy in 2011. The big difference this time around was the full roster of unrestricted free agents hit the market, and then some. This key difference allowed the front office to make impact moves, and not just moves for the sake of making moves.

Sometimes it pays to be "cheap."

Cost Cutting: Akers and Rocca
To those of you who are still upset the Eagles will allow rookies to handle kick and punt duties in 2011, the questing we pose to you today is this: would you rather have David Akers and Sav Rocca, or Jason Babin? Or Vince Young? Or Cullen Jenkins?

That was essentially the decision the front office made this year. By allowing both Akers and Rocca to depart, the Eagles probably slashed an estimated $5 million or more in salary from their kicking game alone. The combination of Alex Henery and Chas Henry will make decidedly less than that, in fact, well under $1 million in 2011.

That gave the organization an additional $4 million to play with in free agency, which is almost exactly what Young and Jenkins are expected to make, or a sizable portion of Babin's salary. Without that extra cash, one of those players most likely never lands in Philly.

And what have the Eagles lost? Akers was a fan favorite, but he is getting up there in years, and could not be counted on forever. Rocca was improving, but certainly not irreplaceable. As substitutes, they chose the top kicker in the draft, and signed the 2010 Ray Guy Award winner for best punter in college football.

Is it a risk? Sure. A calculated risk.

More Cost Cutting: Expendable Parts
Then there was the Brodrick Bunkley trade. Immediately following the Eagles surprise addition of Cullen Jenkins, it was revealed the defensive tackle had been shipped to the Browns. He eventually wound up in Denver for a pick in 2013 for whatever reason, but the modest return the Birds received for Bunk was never the meat of the deal.

Due to his bonus money, Bunkley's cap figure in 2011 was set at nearly $2 million. Jenkins' estimated salary this season is $4 million. By trading Bunk, who was set to become a free agent next season anyway, they were able to free up nearly half the money necessary to pay Jenkins this year.

What's more, the Birds don't carry any additional risk into 2012. Barring a crazy-productive season, Bunk's chances of returning next season were basically none. He simply has not lived up to being the 14th pick in the 2006 draft. Meanwhile, Jenkins' contract is voidable after this season, so if he doesn't work out for whatever reason, the team can go right back to square one with their defensive tackle situation.

Upon closer examination of the roster, more releases could be on the way. Unless Asante Samuel is traded, Joselio Hanson's cut looks like little more than a formality. That will remove roughly $1.7 mil from the books. They also may not need both Juqua Parker AND Darryl Tapp now, so cutting one of those guys is another $2-to-$4 million in relief.

"Winning Tradition"
That's the term players like Nnamdi Asomugha and Cullen Jenkins have used to describe this franchise. We've had to cope with so much heartbreak over the last decade, we often forget this team is viewed quite differently around the league. They are seen as a well-run organization, and the perennial contender that they historically are. Those details were crucial here.

While many fans have long called for the head of Andy Reid, the continuity in the Eagles power structure was likely a significant factor in the team's ability to move quickly on several fronts, i.e. trading Kolb, signing Babin, signing Nnamdi—all while preparing for a camp that was about to begin.

Maybe they're not the "gold standard," but let's be real: this wave of free agents does not come here without the stability that is a direct result of Reid's success. And while what he's accomplished will always be diminished to some extent until he finally wins the big one, there is no denying the Eagles are reaping the rewards like a team that's already done it.

Whether you like the head coach's and organization's philosophies or not, as long as the current structure is in place, the Birds always have a shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year. Free agents recognize that, which is why no shortage of them has been willing to come here.

Michael Vick
It's all about Vick, isn't it?

Well, yeah... sort of. I was one of those who were of the opinion that the Eagles should keep Kevin Kolb, and instead see what was out there in a trade for Vick. My justification was Kolb was the younger, more conventional option, and Vick still had a lot to prove in areas such as consistency and reading defenses. Plus, the compensation would have been far greater.

So much for conventional. What my plan did not account for—not even the slightest bit—was how much Vick's presence would mean during this free agency period. Let me say this again so that it's clear: players are choosing Philadelphia, at least in part, because Michael Vick is the quarterback here.

If I may, the Eagles have "street cred" now. They took a chance on the athlete's athlete, the o
ne guy that still amazes other professional football players unlike any other, when he was at his absolute lowest point. Vick has rewarded the franchise through his hard work and bouts of stellar play, but the bonus prize is some of Vick's fans, or just players who respect what the team did for him, are joining the squad.

Nobody could have accounted for this in August 2009, when we were all wondering what Vick was even doing here, and how soon he would be traded for whatever picks they could get. But it's happening, and it's all because Jeffrey Lurie and Andy Reid were willing to give him a second chance.

It's fitting, because right now even the most jaded fan should be giving those two a second chance. If this isn't considered doing everything it takes to win, I don't know what is.

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders are on quite a nice roll.

Anders Lee scored two power-play goals to lead the Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, giving New York its third straight win and fourth in the last five games.

"We've been keeping it simple of late," said Lee, who has four goals in two games against the Kings this season. "We've been getting shots on net and being more effective. I'll do my thing down low."

John Tavares had a goal and an assist, Jason Chimera also scored and Jean-Francois Berube stopped 34 shots to earn his first win in his third start of the season (see full recap).

Hartnell snaps tie as Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Blue Jackets would just as soon forget the second period of Saturday's game, when the Carolina Hurricanes rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie it.

Columbus didn't play much better in the third but withstood 15 shots and killed three penalties. Midway through, Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game , and the Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2.

Columbus got the win despite being outshot 37-20.

Hartnell scored in the first period and then netted the tiebreaker, helping the Blue Jackets overcome a horrendous second period - in which they managed only two shots on goal - to beat Carolina for the second time this week (see full recap).

Beagle scores in overtime, Capitals beat Stars 4-3
DALLAS -- Jay Beagle scored 19 seconds into overtime and the Washington Capitals rallied to beat the Dallas Stars 4-3 on Saturday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov skated behind the net and put the puck in front to Beagle. His wrist shot beat goalie Kari Lehtonen, who got tangled with a defender and lost his footing.

The Stars led 3-1 and didn't allow Washington a power play until the third period, but then Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie scored with the man advantage in the first 5:26 of the period.

Adam Cracknell and Jamie Benn scored for Dallas on plays that originally were ruled no goal. Patrick Eaves had a goal and an assist for the Stars (see full recap).

Bogosian scores in overtime, Sabres edge Canadiens 3-2
MONTREAL -- The Sabres couldn't score from in close on All-Star goalie Carey Price late in regulation Saturday night.

So Zach Bogosian teed it up from a ways out in overtime to lift Buffalo.

Bogosian scored his first goal of the season in overtime and the Sabres beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in the second game of a back-to-back for both teams.

Buffalo nearly broke through against Price near the end of the third period. Price made a pad save on Matt Moulson on a breakaway at 19:40, and then with six seconds remaining, he robbed Rasmus Ristolainen with a windmill glove save (see full recap).

 

Best of NBA: Kawhi Leonard scores 41, Spurs down Cavaliers in OT

Best of NBA: Kawhi Leonard scores 41, Spurs down Cavaliers in OT

CLEVELAND -- Kawhi Leonard scored a career-high 41 points, LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 118-115 in overtime on Saturday night despite missing starters Tony Parker and Pau Gasol.

Leonard scored six in OT, including a game-sealing dunk with 4.9 seconds left, as the Spurs regrouped after a late collapse in regulation.

David Lee, making a rare start in place of the injured Gasol, added 14 points as San Antonio improved to 18-4 on the road.

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving scored 29 apiece for the Cavs, who had the last shot in regulation and had plenty of opportunities in the extra five minutes. Cleveland still had a chance to tie it in the final second of overtime, but Kevin Love missed a 3-pointer (see full recap).

Lillard, McCollum carry Portland to OT win over Boston
BOSTON -- Damian Lillard had a three-point play with 47 seconds left in overtime and finished with 28 points to lift the Portland Trail Blazers to a 127-123 victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night, snapping their four-game losing streak.

CJ McCollum scored 35 points to lead Portland, which lost in the closing seconds in Philadelphia on Friday night. Lillard added seven assists.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 41 points, his 14th time this season with 30 or more points. Marcus Smart and Al Horford each scored 17 for the Celtics, who have lost two straight after winning 13 of 16.

Thomas nailed a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:24 to play in OT, pushing Boston ahead by one, but Al-Farouq Aminu was fouled on the next possession and hit both free throws to move Portland back in front.

Lillard then drove the lane, was fouled and hit the free throw. Mason Plumlee had a short jumper in the lane and a free throw in the closing 24 seconds (see full recap).

Booker scores 26 as Suns edge Knicks 107-105
NEW YORK -- Devin Booker scored 26 points and made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 31 seconds left, and the Phoenix Suns beat the New York Knicks 107-105 on Saturday night.

Carmelo Anthony's attempt at a winning 3-pointer rimmed out as Phoenix snapped a two-game losing streak and handed New York its second loss in a row.

Eric Bledsoe added 23 points for the Suns, while P.J. Tucker and Marquese Chriss each had 15.

Anthony led the Knicks with 31 points, Derrick Rose had 26 and Kristaps Porzingis scored 14 (see full recap).

Dekker scores career-best 30 leading Rockets past Grizzlies
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Sam Dekker scored a career-high 30 points, James Harden added 29 points and 10 assists and the Houston Rockets leaned on their usual 3-point offense to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 119-95 on Saturday night.

Eric Gordon added 21 points as the Rockets built the lead to as many as 20 in the fourth quarter before easily coasting home.

Dekker, making his first career start in place of the ill Ryan Anderson, made 12 of 19 shots, including 6 of 11 from outside the arc. Houston shot 51 percent overall and 38 percent from distance.

Marc Gasol scored 32 points and Mike Conley added 15 for the Grizzlies, who lost for the third time in the last four.

Memphis struggled shooting the entire night, finishing at 37 percent and unsuccessfully tried to follow the Rockets' long-range attack but converted only 9 of 34 from outside the arc (see full recap).