Whenever the NFL lockout ends, the Eagles will be thrust into a bloated free agent market, while they attempt to take care of unsettled situations for many of their own players. In this two-part look, we predict what steps the front office will take once it's time to get back to work.
See part two here.
While most of the reports about a potential conclusion to the NFL labor crisis being within sight can be described as cautiously optimistic at best, we are checking our watches with frequency while our feet tap away impatiently. We've arrived at the proverbial two-minute warning before it becomes insanely difficult to start the season on time, and both the players and owners are at least giving the appearance they mean business. Since it's clear nobody on either side of the table wants to lose any money, we tend to think—admittedly a little too confidently—they will get this right, and soon.
Then we will be dropped into a scenario unlike any we've ever seen. 32 teams will scramble to sign free agents, get their draft picks under contract, and open training camps all pretty much simultaneously. The market is abnormally large, the window to take care of everybody painfully small. Luckily the Eagles have a plan, or so they say anyway, and Andy Reid, Howie Roseman, and Joe Banner seem up to the task. As we (hopefully) close in on this post-lockout world, we can't help but wonder what an abbreviated off-season could have in store for Philly's football club, so we went to the crystal ball for a glimpse into the future of the Birds.
Of course, this is all entirely speculation, but also our best estimate of a rough timeline of the action beginning from the day the league officially opens for business. Some of the specifics, namely the whos, might wind up different, but we think this is a decent approximation of just how active the front office is going to be. We took a stab at some unforeseen developments too, which honestly may be way off, but we're comfortable with the outcomes either way. Let's get to it.
1. The Eagles rescind David Akers' transition tag
This one is sort of obvious, but it's important nonetheless. When the Birds used a fourth round pick on Nebraska kicker Alex Henery, Akers immediately became expendable. While Henery could theoretically serve as the punter instead—the club currently has none signed for the 2011 season—it seems unlikely even for one year after such a large investment. Plus, the front office can't count on the idea that Akers will eventually sign the offer sheet, and we really doubt they would match another team's tender.
Meanwhile, even though Akers was none too pleased by the move back in February, it may ultimately benefit him to sign it now. It was recently reported the Pro Bowler ran into some financial trouble, and while we can only speculate how bad it actually is, he sounded eager to get back to work as the lockout lagged. Plus, kickers could get lost in the shuffle once the looming free agent frenzy begins, and he may not receive an offer as significant as the transition tag, which will pay him the average of the highest 10 players at his position. Remove the tag before he quick puts his signature on it, and officially end an era.
2. Trade Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals for next year's first and third round picks
It's hard to say whether this will happen before or after the first round of big name free agents come to terms, but all signs currently point to Arizona as Kolb's landing spot, to the point where a deal may even be on the table. There were rumors one team already offered a first round pick, which suggests at least a preliminary discussion occurred at some point. And since Arizona is where the bulk of the noise is coming from—which should not come as a surprise given their stable of quarterbacks—we'll use the old smoke/fire metaphor. Even if another team were to jump into the fray, say Seattle or Buffalo, they would have to act fast or want to for that matter while there was an element of surprise.
As for the compensation, while there has been much debate as to what the Eagles will ultimately get in return for Kolb, we still think it will be picks. The populist theory wishfully swaps the quarterback for CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromarties, thus killing two birds with one stone. That would leave the Cardinals perilously thin at corner themselves though, and it's based on the assumption the Birds even want DRC. Therefore, we think the deal will involve the traditional picks, and a team desperate to land a franchise QB will be willing to send a package that is headlined by a first.
3. Sign CB Johnathan Joseph, NOT Nnamdi Asomugha
The Eagles won't waste any time filling their need at corner once free agency begins, but they won't wind up with the big fish on the market. Asomugha turns 30 in July, and figures to become the highest paid defensive player in the league. If he was the only decent option available, that probably wouldn't stop the front office from kicking the tires. In this case, they might see Johnathan Joseph as a more sensible solution. Joseph is 27, and while he certainly won't come cheap, it shouldn't quite take top player money to get him under contract.
While some might label the team's refusal to sign the absolute best player as cheap, it will give them greater flexibility to make other moves in an unusually crowded field of free agents. As for Joseph, he doesn't get as much attention after playing for the Cincinnati Bengals the past five seasons, but he would instantly solidify the right corner position, maybe even reach a new level playing opposite Asante Samuel. It won't make headlines the same way Asomugha would, but it would still be a major upgrade for the secondary.
4. Sign RT Doug Free, and later trade Winston Justice for a mid-round pick
One thing fans should be prepared for once free agency begins is a signing or signings that seemingly come out of left field. Just looking at the sheer number of players out there makes it nearly impossible to pinpoint who any team will actually target once the curtain goes up. Now watch as the Eagles—perhaps engaged in a little misdirection with names like Asomugha, Plaxico Burress, and Reggie Bush floating around—pull the carpet out from under the division rival Cowboys and improve their offensive line in one fell swoop.
Free is coming off a quality season playing left tackle for Dallas, but ideally they'll move him back to his more natural right side after using the ninth overall pick on USC's Tyron Smith. That likely means they'll want to pay Free less money as well, which may make it difficult to find a middle ground. Of course, the Eagles would stick him on the right side too, but they might be willing to pay more to protect their left-handed quarterback, not to mention the opportunity to weaken arguably the biggest threat in the NFC East. The signing suddenly gives the Birds one of the best offensive lines in the conference, and they are free to unload Justice for a moderate return.
5. Agree to an exte
nsion with DeSean Jackson
Originally, this looked like it could be the final piece of the puzzle. Take care of DeSean right before the regular season begins, then go to work. While the Eagles would probably like that, the fact is the talented wide receiver could press the Birds into action sooner. DJac has been lobbying for this contract for almost two years now, and with a base salary pegged at $565,000 for 2011, it's difficult to see him playing another game in midnight green until this is resolved.
If Jackson is seriously injured during training camp or while playing a preseason game, it will hamper his ability to get a fair a contract this year or even when he becomes a free agent in 2012. He knows that, and if he and agent Drew Rosenhaus have any sense, they will take a stance that keeps him out of harm's way until an extension is in place. On the other hand, the Eagles had plenty of time to hear his demands, so the essentials of an agreement should already be fairly understood by both sides. Therefore, we believe DeSean's extension could come very quickly once the CBA is finally in place.
And that about covers, oh, the first week or so (maybe). The pace will be furious, and as you can see, filled with surprises. They don't end here though. Tomorrow we'll look at the rest of a summer that is still jam packed with a pair of re-signings, plus two more major acquisitions.
Photo of Johnathan Joseph by Joe Nicholson-US Presswire. Photo of Doug Free by Matthew Emmons-US Presswire.