NFL free agency officially begins Wednesday afternoon. Here’s my advice to fans: Put on your Eagles green, flip on the NFL Network, order in a hoagie and get ready for the excitement.
Unlike baseball’s endless Game of Thrones winter, the NFL hot stove heats up fast. Prominent names will move in the first few days. Franchises will make dramatic changes.
General manager Howie Roseman has been sharp at this game. He’s had some free-agent whiffs, no doubt (Chance Warmack, Haloti Ngata, Mark Sanchez), but his successes include guard Brandon Brooks, safety Malcolm Jenkins, linebacker Nigel Bradham, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, defensive end Chris Long and, of course, quarterback Nick Foles, who now departs.
The Birds already got off to a good start Monday, signing defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who was released by Jacksonville. Jackson’s been a Pro Bowler and won a Super Bowl with Denver. He’ll look great lined up next to Fletcher Cox.
But Roseman’s team has other needs, not all of which can be addressed in the April draft. And, after recent moves, he has $20 million in cap space. Here’s where I think he should spend it:
Running back: After Jay Ajayi’s injury last season, the Eagles rotation was a mess. No one on the current roster seems capable of playing the lead in this production. Le’Veon Bell would be an amazing addition, but there’s little shot the Eagles commit what it costs to sign him.
That means looking at the next level. Tevin Coleman of the Falcons is a productive, versatile 25-year-old. He had 1,076 yards last season on runs and receptions. And he’s averaged 4.4 yards per carry over his career. He’d be a great fit here — as well as many other teams. He’ll draw lots of interest.
Keep an eye, too, on the Saints’ 29-year-old Mark Ingram, who can run with the ball (4.8 yards per carry over the past four seasons), as well as catch and pass block — always important with the Eagles. And I love Cleveland’s Duke Johnson, who’s not a free agent but rumored to be available. He’s among the best pass-catching backs in the NFL.
Wide receiver: DeSean Jackson’s divorce from Tampa Bay seems inevitable and many rumors have him returning here. With one year and $10 million left on his contract, it’s not a bad idea. Even at 32, Jackson averaged 18.9 yards per catch in 2018 — the third time in five seasons he’s led the league in that category.
It seems the Eagles have been searching for a speed receiver since Jackson left in 2014. If not him, I’d like to see them target John Brown. Playing in the Ravens’ pitiful passing game last season, Brown still averaged 17.0 yards per catch. And he fights for the ball.
Defensive line: The reshuffling is already underway with the signing of Malik Jackson and the trade of DE Michael Bennett to New England. Also, expect the departure of Tim Jernigan (who I think they should keep on a short-term deal).
Two sexy names: Pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah of the Lions, who would be an upgrade from Bennett, and DT Ndamukong Suh, who had his typical up-and-down season while making $14 million for the Rams in 2018. One hook here: Suh spent his first for seasons in Detroit playing for current Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Oh, and don’t be surprised if DE Vinny Curry returns from Tampa under a short-term deal as Bennett’s replacement.
This much is sure: The team that opens this September will be vastly different from the one whose season ended in New Orleans last January. And the remake starts this week.