The Eagles made a splash in the opening hours of free agency Tuesday night by signing five unrestricted free agents in the first 4½ hours of the open signing period.
They're not huge names, but they’re interesting names -- former Texans tight end James Casey, former 49ers defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, former Rams cornerback Bradley Fletcher, former Patriots safety Patrick Chung, former Panthers and Ravens linebacker Jason Phillips.
The Casey, Chung and Sopoaga deals are all for three years, and the Phillips and Fletcher contracts are for two years each.
Sopoaga, 31, started 80 games for the 49ers from 2005 through 2012 and gives the Eagles an experienced nose tackle and solid two-gap run stuffer as they presumably switch from a 4-3 front to a 3-4 front under new head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis.
Sopoaga was originally a fourth-round pick out of Hawaii in 2005 and became a full-time starter with the Niners in 2008. He also played some fullback on occasion in San Francisco.
Interestingly, Sopoaga is able to throw a football over 70 yards, although he’s never thrown a pass in an NFL game.
Casey, 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, was originally a fifth-round pick of the Texans in 2009. After playing sparingly his first two years, he became a part-time starter in 2011 and caught 18 passes for 260 yards and a touchdown in seven starts in 2011 and then increased to 34 receptions for 330 yards and three TDs last year.
Kelly is known to want more tight ends than usual on the 53-man roster, and Casey has the type of speed Kelly likes. Although he’s caught only 66 passes in his career, he’s had at least one catch of 30 or more yards each year of his career, including a 62-yarder against the Saints in 2011 as part of a career-high 126-yard game.
Casey becomes the fourth tight end on the roster, joining veteran Brent Celek, backup Clay Harbor and late-season acquisition Evan Moore. Also under contract is Emil Igwenagu, who got some late-season playing time last year at both tight end and fullback.
Although he’s only a four-year veteran, Casey is 28 years old. He spent three years playing baseball in the White Sox’s minor-league organization before giving up professional baseball and going to Rice for football.
Fletcher, 26, has started 26 games in four NFL seasons, 15 of them back in 2010 with the Rams when he had four of his five career interceptions. He was the Rams’ third-round pick out of Iowa in 2009.
With those 26 career starts, Fletcher immediately becomes the most experienced cornerback on the roster. With the release of Nnamdi Asomugha earlier Tuesday, the Eagles were left with only three cornerbacks -- Brandon Hughes, Brandon Boykin and Curtis Marsh -- on the roster. Hughes, Boykin and Marsh have a combined five career NFL starts.
At 6-foot, 200 pounds, Fletcher has good size and is considered a physical corner who can come up and support the run. He has struggled with injuries, missing nine games in 2009 with a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee and 12 games in 2011 when he tore the same ACL again. He came back to play in all 16 games for the Rams last year.
Chung, just 25, started 29 games over the past four years with the Patriots, picking off seven passes and recording three sacks. He was at Oregon when Kelly was an assistant there and was the Patriots’ second-round pick in 2009.
After establishing himself as a fairly productive two-way safety his first three seasons, Chung struggled last year and fell out of favor in New England. But the Eagles believe he can compete for a starting spot in a secondary that will be completely overhauled this offseason.
Phillips, 27, has been mainly a backup in his three NFL seasons, playing in nine games with the Ravens as a rookie fifth-round pick out of Texas Christian in 2010 and 20 games the last two years in Carolina, where his defensive coordinator was Sean McDermott. Phillips started two games last year and had a forced fumble. The Eagles look at Phillips as primarily a special teamer.