Don't expect Eagles to sign 'hottest item off the shelf'

Don't expect Eagles to sign 'hottest item off the shelf'

Eagles Extra: Highest priority free agent

January 8, 2014, 8:00 am
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Eagles general manager Howie Roseman learned free agency isn't always the best way to build a football team. (AP)

On the heels of the Eagles’ five-point home wild-card loss to the Packers in 2010, the team’s brain trust decided that the best way to quickly bridge the gap from playoff team to Super Bowl team was to quickly fill holes through free agency.

You remember the thinking.

If the Eagles could go 10-6 and reach the playoffs, then by adding Pro Bowl-caliber players like Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Steve Smith, Jason Babin, Ronnie Brown, Vince Young and Evan Mathis, they would logically go 12-4 or 13-3 and reach the Super Bowl.

They just needed those studs to take that next step.

We won’t use the phrase Dream Team in this story (oops), but the expensive free agency haul was such a disaster that it essentially ended Andy Reid’s tenure as head coach.

Only Mathis, a first-team All-Pro this year, remains from that group. Asomugha, Smith and Young aren’t even in the league anymore.

Lesson learned.

The Eagles are now in the exact same position as they were three years ago -- coming off a 10-6 season and a home wild-card loss that came down to the final play.

This time there will be no free agency haul. This time, the Eagles know better.

“We have to learn from that moment,” general manager Howie Roseman said. “I would say we’re going to continue to try to build this team the right way, and there are no quick fixes in the National Football League.

“It’s such a team sport that one player’s not going to make the difference and we have to build it so hopefully we’re competing for a long time.”

As the Eagles enter the offseason, this is crucial.

The last two drafts have been extremely productive, landing the Eagles three offensive starters (Nick Foles, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz) and three starters and a de facto starter on defense (Bennie Logan, Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin).

Going hand-in-hand with Roseman’s belief in drafting the best available player instead of drafting for need is a free agency philosophy of adding a handful of mid-priced players instead of breaking the bank for potential stars who, if they don’t pan out, can wind up being very damaging both from a salary cap and team chemistry standpoint.

“I think you’ll see a markedly different approach from last time, both in free agency and the draft -- because I feel like we did that in the draft as well,” Roseman said. “But no matter where we are right now or what we finish with, we’ve got to keep the process right and build onto a young team and hopefully have a good core group of players that we can build on and with and do things the right way.”

It’s not like the Eagles weren’t active in free agency last spring. They were.

They did add a bunch of mid-level guys -- Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Patrick Chung, Donnie Jones, Connor Barwin, Isaac Sopoaga, Kenny Phillips and James Casey.

But unlike the 2011 Dream Team guys, none of them were particularly high-priced and most of them acquitted themselves very well.

Even though Phillips wasn’t healthy, Chung struggled all year, Sopoaga turned out to be expendable and Casey was underutilized, none of the moves was a financial disaster, and the way Williams, Fletcher, Barwin and Jones played made free agency a net success.

“It’s interesting, because when you look at it, if you can sign a bunch of guys that maybe aren’t the high-priced guys, you have a chance to kind of have a batting average, as opposed to if you sign one or two big-priced guys and one or two don’t work out, it kind of puts you in a bind,” Roseman said.

“So if you sign a bunch of good players, solid players, and you sign a bunch of them, you want them all to work out, but you don’t necessarily count on them and it doesn’t really hurt your team going forward if one or two don’t work out.

“That group as a whole, I think they contributed a lot to our football team. We certainly weren’t perfect on our free agent signings, but I thought it matched what was out there in free agency last year, and I thought served us well.”

The Eagles right now have $119,927,839 tied up in 2014 salary cap obligations and $107,078,390 tied up for 2015. The projected unadjusted 2014 salary cap is $126.3 million, a small increase over the $123 million from this year.

Those figures don’t include carryover adjustments, which are still being determined but will definitely help the Eagles.

Roseman said the Eagles will continue to explore free agency -- which opens this year on March 8 -- but will show restraint and avoid getting into bidding wars for the sort of overpriced veteran players that wound up damaging the franchise so badly two years ago.

“I don’t think we should sign anyone just for the sake of signing guys,” Roseman said. “We’ve got to sign guys that are upgrades for our football team and fit what we’re looking for from a position standpoint and a character standpoint.

“The money runs out quick as you look at the natural evolution of contracts as they raise and the cap continues to be flat. You kind of look at the [salary cap] number and you get a little bit excited about it and then you start plugging in some numbers and when you do, they go down pretty quickly.

"If we’re doing things the right way and trying to build a team that we can sustain ... we’re not rushing out and buying the new hottest item off the shelf.”