Free agency doesn’t technically start until 4 p.m. Tuesday but teams can begin conversations with agents at midnight Saturday, the start of the three-day “legal tampering” window that the NFL recently implemented.
The Eagles aren’t expected to make big splashes in the free-agent waters, but that shouldn’t be discouraging. They haven’t exactly fared well with free agency over the past few years and have discussed going back to the basics by building through the draft.
But they won’t be stagnant either. With a secondary badly in need of an overhaul and their movement toward a spread offense, the Eagles will first look to fill some holes by shopping selectively in an open market with more than 100 free agents.
Here’s our breakdown of some free agents that the Eagles are either known to be targeting or would make sense for them to sign:
Sean Smith, CB, Dolphins
As we’ve reported, the Eagles have Smith on their radar and would like to bring him in at the right price. Smith, who turns 26 in July, is considered one of the market’s better corners and will have other suitors. He hasn’t made a Pro Bowl but is a strong, physical defensive back (6-3, 218) who can man the outside and move inside against tight ends. He’s looking to play in an aggressive scheme similar to Seattle’s, so expect the Niners, Chiefs, Bucs and Redskins to show interest.
Dashon Goldson, S, 49ers
We don’t know if the Eagles plan to pursue the two-time Pro Bowl safety, but it would be logical given their glaring holes at safety and the 28-year-old Goldson’s connection to Eagles new VP of player personnel Tom Gamble, a former Niners front office exec. Problem is, Goldson will likely command a hefty paycheck that could back the Eagles off. The Birds are said to be cautious about repeating their 2011 free-agent mishaps, so it’s unlikely they’d bring in both Smith and Goldson. One of them, perhaps. Both, not likely.
William Moore, S, Falcons
Moore may very well be the top defensive back on the open market. And that may very well be why he doesn’t end up in South Philly. Just like with Goldson, Moore is likely to score a big paycheck, which could force the Eagles to look elsewhere in free agency or the draft. Moore, 27, can play center field and inside the box. He has 11 career picks (four of which came last season) and five forced fumbles. Interestingly, he’s represented by agent Ben Dogra, who also reps Goldson and Nnamdi Asomugha. It’s gonna take major dough to sign him.
Brent Grimes, CB, Falcons
He was one of the game’s best corners until tearing his Achilles last season, not long after turning 29. He’s a Philly kid and could probably help the Eagles, even if he’s lost a step from surgery and age. If anything, those two factors -- coupled with the number of good corners in the draft -- could shrink the market for him and make Grimes a feasible, worthwhile target. Grimes, a former Shippensburg standout who went undrafted, has 13 career interceptions and made the Pro Bowl in 2010. Not sure the Eagles are looking for someone on the downside of his career after the Nnamdi blow-up.
Ricky Jean-Francois, NT, 49ers
An underrated, versatile lineman, Jean Francois is exactly what the Eagles need -- a natural nose guard to anchor the middle of their 3-4 defense who can also move around and play the end positions. Jean-Francois, just 26, is an excellent run stuffer and would fill an immediate hole. He also lacks the big name to command top dollar, so the Eagles could probably land him without breaking the bank. But they’ll have competition. The defending Super Bowl champion Ravens are reportedly interested, as are the Packers.
Derek Cox, CB, Jaguars
If the Eagles aren’t fond of spending big money on Smith, they could turn to Cox, who won’t be as coveted but might have equal upside. Talent is less of an issue for the 26-year-old Cox than durability. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound corner hasn’t played 16 games since his rookie year in 2009 and played just 18 over the past two seasons. This should lower his price tag but also make him highly risky. When healthy, he’s immensely productive. He’s had three four-interception seasons in his four years.
Brice McCain, CB, Texans
If the Eagles intend to move promising second-year corner Brandon Boykin outside, they’ll need someone to play the all-important slot corner position. McCain is perfect for this role. The 26-year-old, who was a sixth-round pick out of Utah (same school as Smith) in 2009, struggles on the outside but was Houston’s best interior corner defender. Houston has a truckload of players to re-sign and might not be able to retain Mccain. There was some buzz at the Combine that the Eagles were eyeing him.
Rashad Johnson, S, Cardinals
The former SEC Defensive Player of the Year at Alabama emerged as one of Arizona’s best special teams players and is said to have suitors on the open market, including the Eagles. He’s a No. 3 safety, but the Birds are in no position to turn their noses at anyone who can play the position. He’s only 6-feet tall (and probably shorter) and 200 pounds, so there are questions about his ability to be a starter, but the Cards are hoping to bring him back. Don’t be surprised if Cleveland, with former Cards defensive coordinator Ray Horton doing the same job there, makes a run.
Glover Quin, S, Texans
All signs seem to indicate Houston re-signing Quin, who just turned 27 and led the Texans in tackles. Plenty of teams, including the Jets, would be interested in having him, so once again, the idea of a bidding war makes him less likely to end up in Philly.
Laron Landry S, Jets
The Eagles should have signed him last year. Now that he’s coming off a Pro Bowl season, he’ll look for good money. The hunch here is that the Eagles look elsewhere.
Danny Amendola, WR, Rams
Why do the Eagles need another shrimpy wideout when they already have D-Jax, Jeremy Maclin and Damaris Johnson? Isn’t Jason Avant good enough in the slot? Try to avoid conventional wisdom as we have no idea what the new regime’s plans are for current personnel. We do know Chip Kelly likes a spread offense and Amendola, who has two seasons of 60-plus receptions, could be his version of Wes Welker. We also know Amendola is on the team’s free-agent radar and that he was on their practice squad in 2009 until then-Rams head coach Pat Shurmur signed him. Shurmur is now the Eagles’ offensive coordinator.
Jared Cook, TE, Titans
There’s no better spread offense tight end threat on the market than Cook, who caught 131 passes in his four-year Titans career and lined up in the slot more than he did with his hand in the dirt. The problem, again, is money and competition. Cook wants receiver-type money and the Eagles are being selectively careful in how they approach free agency. The Bears are reportedly targeting Cook, who will likely have several teams after him, which will only inflate his price tag.
James Casey, FB/TE, Texans
Versatility is key for Kelly’s offense. Casey, who can play fullback, tight end and H-back, comes off his most productive season. He caught a personal-best 34 passes for 340 yards and scored three touchdowns. He’s also a good blocker. Other than second-year pro Emil Igwenagu, the Eagles don’t have someone with Casey’s wide-ranging skill set.
Dustin Keller, TE, Jets
Keller’s precipitous dip in production to 28 catches in 2012 after 65 in 2011 is probably more traceable to the Jets’ quarterback problems than Keller’s own decline. He has very good hands, superb quickness and isn’t an established blocker, which makes him tailor made for an up-tempo spread scheme. The Eagles have sought tight end upgrades even before they hired Kelly, so don’t be shocked if they sniff around Keller.