The Eagles’ free agent signings this offseason have targeted key deficiencies on the team. From the opening-hours frenzy that brought Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Chance Warmack to Philadelphia through last week’s additions Chris Long and Patrick Robinson, the thought process of the team’s front office has been clear.
Wide receiver was a huge need the team dedicated significant resources and priority to. Getting younger on the offensive line has been a trend. Pass rush was a need after Connor Barwin’s decreased effectiveness in a new system and subsequent release and Vinny Curry’s disappointing 2016. Corner remains a huge need, but the entire depth chart could never be filled in the draft alone.
The space against the salary cap — never large — has been steadily dwindling, and Howie Roseman has acknowledged that the Eagles are probably not “going to go out and sign three or four more players.” So don’t expect this whole list of players to fall in Philadelphia’s lap. But Roseman acknowledges there are “guys we’re looking at at this stage that we’re surprised are still available.” Of those free agents left on the market, some seem like particularly good fits for Philadelphia and the Eagles.
DeAndre Levy, OLB
Levy has played for Detroit since the team drafted him in the third round in 2009 (Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz’ first draft as head coach of the Lions). He was named second team All-Pro in 2014 after recording 151 tackles. A year earlier he had six interceptions. But his next two seasons were cut short by hip and knee surgeries. He played just one game in 2015 and started 2016 sidelined before returning for the final five games, where he recorded 21 tackles.
The Eagles, forever in the midst of Mychal Kendricks trade rumors, are nevertheless worryingly thin at linebacker. Levy could potentially replace a departed Kendricks or provide depth across the whole corps. He is one of the most visible presences on social issues in the NFL, and has continued his community work in Detroit since his release. The Eagles have not shied away from such players. While his injuries and age (30) are valid concerns, they’re also the reason the cash-strapped Birds can afford a player with a track record like Levy. That will be a theme here.
Jamaal Charles, RB
Enter the theme. Charles is one of the biggest names in the NFL at running back, but injuries limited him to eight games over the past two seasons and just 12 carries in 2016. In the three seasons prior, he missed just two games, ran for 3,829 yards and scored 38 touchdowns. The 2016 season was the first time in his nine-year career where he averaged less than 5 yards per carry and hardly a large sample size (12 carries for 40 yards).
Yes, this is a 30-year-old running back who struggled to return from an ACL tear in 2016. And no, the Eagles shouldn’t break the bank for Charles. But if they can get a bargain deal, perhaps loaded with incentives, they’ll get a player who has intimate knowledge of Doug Pederson’s offense, who has already successfully recovered from an ACL tear suffered in 2011. The Eagles can’t count on Charles to be the sort of every-down lead back that doesn’t currently appear to be on the roster, but they can take a relatively low-risk gamble that targets a position of need.
Nickell Robey-Coleman, CB
Robey-Coleman is another player who has spent time under Schwartz, during the coach’s lone season as defensive coordinator of the Bills in 2014. Undrafted in 2013, Robey-Coleman has five career sacks, three interceptions and experience playing the nickel. He was the Week 5 AFC Defensive Player of the Week after returning an interception for a go-ahead touchdown and picking off another pass to seal the victory against the Rams.
It should be acknowledged that 2016 wasn’t a great advertisement for the signing of Bills cornerbacks, given the performance of Ron Brooks and Leodis McKelvin.
Trent Cole, DE/OLB
As sentimental as it sounds, this wouldn’t be the worst idea, provided it was cheap. Don’t expect Cole to be the player he was in his first Philadelphia tenure; he had just five sacks in two seasons with Indianapolis. After stating he was not retiring, Cole remains unsigned, and could return to a system in Philadelphia more suited to him than the 3-4 defense he was confined to during his exit.
Maybe the player with the second most quarterback sacks in team history can retire an Eagle after all.