Ranking the Eagles' Free Agents

Ranking the Eagles' Free Agents

Believe it or not, the Eagles do have free agents besides DeSean Jackson. All together, 12 members of this season's club are slated for some form of free agency when the new league year begins on March 13. Some of them already have a foot out the door, while others we don't want to see the team live without. We break them all down here in this handy guide.

NO PRIORITY (AKA, GONERS)

12. Victor Abiamiri
A second-round pick out of Notre Dame in '07, Abiamiri missed each of the last two seasons with serious injuries, and has started just six games in his NFL career. They can't count on him to stay healthy, and he showed little even when he was on the field.

11. Ronnie Brown
You may recall the Eagles attempted to trade Brown to the Lions at the deadline, but the deal voided when they discovered Jerome Harrison had a brain tumor. Brown had fallen out of favor with the coaches after the backward-pass debacle, and his carries dried up in the midst of LeSean McCoy's breakout season.

10. Trevor Laws
Selected in the second round from ND one year after Abiamiri, Laws at least managed to stay on the field, but like Abiamiri, he never produced much. Laws had four sacks and an interception in 2010, career highs that teased he had finally arrived, but accomplished surprisingly little in Jim Washburn's wide nine this season.

9. Steve Smith
The Eagles never really needed Smith to begin with, and it didn't help he wasn't 100%. The offense could still use another situational target, but the front office would be better off finding a receiver who isn't recovering from major knee surgery.

LOW PRIORITY

8. Juqua Parker
After a surprisingly lengthy career in Philadelphia, Parker's playing time finally diminished last season. He could still serve as an effective situational pass rusher or fill-in, but with a pair of Pro Bowlers anchoring a group of young players, there simply doesn't appear to be room for him here any longer.

7. Owen Schmitt
You could make the case Schmitt should be a higher priority, only fullback isn't very prevalent in this offense. Regardless, he knows the system, and McCoy was effective running behind Schmitt in short yardage situations this season. There could be competition for his job, but Schmitt should at least be in the mix.

6. Vince Young
The vague idea Young could be back in Eagles green next season will undoubtedly annoy, but backup quarterback remains a question mark for this team. Is Mike Kafka ready to step into the role? Does a better option than VY become available in free agency? Young can't possibly have a firm grasp on the system yet, and probably isn't a perfect fit either way, but he's a year ahead of most of the other quarterbacks they could bring in, and he'll likely be around. Interesting dilemma that we'll be taking a closer look at in the coming weeks.

5. Antonio Dixon
Dixon is only listed as low priority because he is a restricted free agent. A solid run defender with a high ceiling, Dixon is coming off a torn triceps that ended his season in October. Due to his short track record, management should be able to tender Dixon at a level that prevents another team from swooping in for the steal.

HIGH PRIORITY

4. King Dunlap
All things being equal, keeping Dunlap could prove difficult. He has the size and athleticism scouts love, plus pro experience playing both tackle positions, as well as left guard. We've been critical of Dunlap in the past, but another team might view him as a potential starter. If not, you can never have too many offensive tackles on the roster, especially when they have his versatility.

3. Derek Landri
What a find. By the end of the season, Landri had become more than just some journeyman lineman -- he was 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. It seems he was a great fit for Washburn's scheme, so he should be interested in returning, unless somebody pays him to be an every-down player again.

2. Evan Mathis
Mathis might have come in at number one on this list, but chances are he will do everything under his own power to re-sign. Mathis had his best season as a pro, and spoke very highly of Howard Mudd and the organization, admitting he feels like his NFL career truly began in 2011. These things usually have a way of working themselves out, which is somewhat of a relief. Mathis played at a Pro-Bowl level, a big reason why the offensive line finally started to settle into a decent unit.

1. DeSean Jackson
It still feels like this offseason, the early portion anyway, boils down to what to do about DJacc. The consensus remains the Eagles will use the franchise tag, but as we discussed previously, what that means exactly is open to some interpretation. They need to decide before free agency opens though, in case they intend to pursue another receiver, because they can't fit both of their contracts. We feel Jackson will ultimately be back next season on the franchise dollar, but until it's official, anything can happen.

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

With three sacks in three games, Brandon Graham is off to the fastest start of his career by far, already almost halfway to his career high of 6½. Naturally, the Eagles' defensive end is excited about the production, but not nearly as excited as he was with the defense as a whole after a 34-3 romp over the Steelers on Sunday.

"For us, I was just happy we stayed together, we played together and the outcome was good," Graham said postgame. "Hats off to Pittsburgh because we did a lot of planning for them. We respect them a lot.

"I am just happy to get this win and I am happy in the style we did it."

Graham was one of four Eagles players to bring down Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, marking the first time the seventh-year veteran has recorded at least one sack in three consecutive games. In fact, prior to this season, Graham had never posted a sack in Week 1.

For once, the numbers are taking care of themselves for Graham — although that's not what he's focused on.

"Since I've been here, I've never gotten a sack in the first game, and I've never been consistent," Graham said. "I'm just trying to be the leader, go out there, get W's and be relentless."

There are plenty of explanations for Graham's seemingly sudden emergence.

This is only his second season as a full-time player in the NFL after injuries, then depth conspired to keep the 2010 first-round pick on the bench early in his career. Perhaps all he needed was an opportunity. The switch back to a 4-3 defense and wide-nine front no doubt helped rejuvenate Graham's career as well, allowing him to move from outside linebacker back to his natural position at defensive end and focus on rushing the passer.

With Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith all rotating in at end, Graham is also being kept fresh. Last season, the Eagles lacked the quality reserves to provide many breathers for Barwin and Graham on the outside.

"It's a great feeling because there's no pressure to hurry up and get back out," Graham said. "I feel like everybody is just as good and there's no drop-off when we come out of there.

"It's definitely going to help us later on in the year. It's been helping now."

There are all sorts of schematic reasons why Graham could finally be on his way to a breakout season. This will be his first full season as a starter at D-end in a 4-3, it's the first time since 2012 he's in a wide-nine and the defense no longer has to be worried about being exhausted by Chip Kelly's offense's uptempo approach.

Graham was also blessed with a new addition to his family during the offseason — a baby girl. The 28-year-old admits that changed his perspective as well, making him want to work even harder toward achieving his goals.

"Just the preparation and then the work this offseason, I took it up to another level," Graham said. "I guess because I had a daughter this offseason, everything is kind of viewed a different way for me.

"I know we have a good defense — that helps out a lot, too. I couldn't ask for a better defense right now."

Clearly, those goals are not individually motivated. Graham wants to be part of something great, and with a dominant performance against the Steelers in Week 3, the Eagles and their defense passed a huge test.

"I feel like we improved," Graham said. "We got a lot better. We stopped a good team, a great team, a well-coached team. Our hats off to them because they made us work this week."

Few people were expecting the Eagles to handle a trendy Super Bowl pick the way they did, and Graham actually prefers it that way.

"I hope we still get overlooked because it feels so good when people are talking the way they did," Graham said. "It added a little fuel. We watched a little bit of the TV (Sunday) morning, and they were just saying how [the Steelers] were going to dog us.

"I'm just happy that we came out and did what we were supposed to do, and I hope we stay the underdog because, for us, nobody gave us a chance and we stayed together. If we stay together in here, that's all that matters."

Through three games, the Eagles lead the NFL in fewest points surrendered with a paltry 27 and rank fourth in yards allowed. They're also tied for third with 10 sacks and tied for seventh with six takeaways.

If the defense stays together the way Graham says they have, how far does he think the Eagles go this season?

"I don't know," Graham said. "If we keep playing like that, there is no ceiling."

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Flyers Notes: Promising performances from young defensemen

Flyers Notes: Promising performances from young defensemen

The most impressive thing about the Flyers' 4-0 preseason win over the Islanders on Tuesday night was the play of the their young defense and the outstanding work by the penalty kill.

Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers each gave a strong accounting of themselves while veteran Andrew MacDonald proved why experience helps with some terrific PK work during an extended five-on-three Islanders power play in the third period.

“Overall, they did a good job,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I look at some of the opportunities we gave up, especially in the second period, we gave up three or four Grade A opportunities that Mase (goalie Steve Mason) was great on, but I put those on our forwards.

“We’re still not into regular-season form on our play without the puck. I thought as a whole, the group of defensemen did a good job and the young guys in there were good tonight.”

Sanheim had strong plays the entire game from the point and picked up two assists (see highlights). He gets the puck quickly on net and joins the play up front.

“It took me a little bit, even in this game,” Sanheim said. “As I play more, I started to jump up more and you start to see my game more. It’s something I want to bring to this next level.”

Provorov logged 21:43 of ice time following nearly 29 minutes at New Jersey. He had 5:17 on the PK. Some of his clears weren’t deep or hard enough, at times, possibly because of fatigue.

He also took a bad boarding hit on Joshua Ho-Sang in the third period that set up an Isles five-on-three power play. It became extended because of a trip call to Myers but MacDonald did yeoman’s work on the extended PK.

Provorov quarterbacks the first-unit man advantage for now until Shayne Gostisbehere joins the crowd. He had some very skillful passes. The Russian can find the seam up the ice on the breakout quickly and had a no-look, hard pass to Nick Cousins in the second period for a quality one-timer on net.

Expect Provorov to handle the second-unit power play during the season, should he make the roster.

The goals
Although the Flyers, using a better NHL lineup, were lacking for offensive chances early against the Isles' "B" squad, they found their way in the final four minutes of the opening period.

First, Dale Weise had one of those pinball goals as a bouncing puck hit a couple of players in the slot, including goalie Chris Gibson, to make it 1-0 during four-on-four play.

That was the Flyers' first goal of preseason in three games. A little more than a minute later, Wayne Simmonds scored off a rebound just as a Flyers power play ended. Simmonds had two goals in the game, including a wrister from the left circle to open the final period.

Smallish (5-foot-7) — but bullish — centerman Andy Miele, a former Hobey Baker Award winner as college hockey’s top player (Miami-Ohio), made it 3-0, out-battling Thomas Hickey for the rebound of Michael Raffl’s shot.

The shield
Simmonds is wearing a visor for the first time. It’s an experiment for now.

“Everyone is all over me about it,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. It wasn’t too bad tonight. The only thing is trying to track pucks in the sky when you are getting the glare from the lights. A little bit of an adjustment."

He said neither his mother nor girlfriend had pushed him as hard to wear the shield as someone else: “Ron Hextall,” he said flatly. “He gave me a call.”

Because of his tenacious play in the slot where sticks are high and pucks are deflected, a shield makes sense.

“Yeah, I think so, being that front guy and doing work on the PK,” he said. “Getting sticks in lanes like that, the game is really fast and pucks get deflected.

“Sometime you don’t know where they’re going and can’t react to that. Obviously, the shield is good for that."

He added he would wear the shield in a fight, too.

“Every time I fight and someone has a shield on, I’m at a disadvantage so I guess this evens it up,” he said.

Loose pucks
Weise did a nice job sticking up for teammates late during a melee after a Ben Holmstrom crosscheck to linemate Nick Cousins. “It was a bad crosscheck and you’re defending your teammates,” he said. “The ref was in the way and I kind of went overtop him. That’s what I’m about. Guys take liberties on my linemates, I’ll stand up for them.” … Matt Read had just 6:54 ice time through two periods. Fourth-liner Boyd Gordon had more ice time there — 9:39 — but Read finished with 13:55 to Gordon’s 13:41. More than half of Gordon’s ice time was on the penalty kill. … Goalie Steve Mason faced some point-blank chances among the first 17 shots he faced and finished with 23-save shutout.