What I Like: The Eagles needed to get some linebackers that were suited to play the 3-4, and Barwin is a guy who not only can play in this system, but he’s actually thrived in it under Wade Phillips in Houston. Two years ago, the former Texan had 11.5 sacks. That number dropped to 3.5 last season, but part of the reason for the decline was because his position and role on the defense changed. He’ll return to his natural position as the rush linebacker in Philadelphia. I also like the fact that he’s played with DeMeco Ryans before.
What I Don’t Like: There’s not really anything that I dislike about the Barwin signing. He’s a complete player with good size and good speed, he’s in his prime.
Overall: Barwin should step in right away, and make an immediate impact on defense.
What I Like: Williams is going to be a sight for sore eyes in terms of tackling; the former Raven is as good tackler as a you could hope a cornerback to be. He missed just three tackles out of a possible 75 year ago. Compare that to Nnamdi Asomugha, who missed more than 20 tackles in two years with the Eagles. He’s mentally tough, and plays aggressive and physical.
What I Don’t Like: With his lack of size and elite speed, can he really be counted to shutdown elite receivers in this division like Dez Bryant, Victor Cruz, and Hakeem Nicks that the Eagles will face twice a year?
Overall: A lot of people are excited about the Williams signing, but I wonder whether or not some people are getting a little carried away. Williams is a legitimate NFL starter, and there’s no doubt he’ll be an upgrade over what the Eagles got from Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie…but don’t expect this guy to be a shutdown corner. He’s going to get burned from time to time, and he’s going to frustrate fans by taking a dumb penalty every now then. But all that being said, there’s no question that he’s an instant upgrade at the position.
What I Like: If Phillips is healthy, he could be a difference-maker on this defense. When he’s on the field, he finds his way to the football and creates turnovers. He has eight career interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
What I Don’t Like: Phillips has battled knee problems throughout his career, and played in just seven games last season. If the Eagles decide to count on him as one of the answers to the safety position, they could easily find themselves forced to put Nate Allen or Kurt Coleman back in the lineup if Phillips’ knee isn’t healthy or acts up at any time.
Overall: The potential is there for Kenny Phillips to make a positive impact on this team, but he’s one of those guys who is always going to have the word “if” hovering over his name. There’s a reason he couldn’t command anything better than a one-year deal on the open market even though he’s only 26. As easily as he could give the Eagles a good season, he could also give them nothing. Still, its a low-risk, high reward deal, I just hope the Eagles add at least one more player to the safety mix.
What I Like: A couple of years ago, he looked like he could be a player on the rise out in St. Louis. He’s got decent size, and had a season where he intercepted four passes a couple of years ago. He’s a guy who might not have been on many teams’ radar screens, but could really flourish with a fresh start.
What I Don’t Like: If the Eagles count on him to be a solution as a starting corner, it could backfire. They need to bring some additional depth to the position in case Fletcher doesn’t work out. If they just hand him the job and expect him to succeed and he proves he’s not up to the task, teams will look forward to abusing him every week. We’ve seen this organization hang young players such as Casey Matthews out to dry in the past, so I hope that they have a Plan B and C in place in case Fletcher isn’t the guy they think he is.
Overall: Solid low-risk signing. If Fletcher can get himself back on track, he could potentially be an answer as one of the team’s starting cornerbacks. Right now, he’s probably going to end up starting opposite of Cary Williams. Maybe former third-round pick Curtis Marsh steps up and challenges him, or maybe the Eagles draft someone else that can push for a starting role. Worst case scenario, he adds decent depth to one of the thinnest positions on the team.
What I Like: The Eagles went out and got a proven nose tackle, filling an important hole on their defense. Sopoaga is an experienced veteran who has been on some good teams, and he could be a valuable leader in the locker room.
What I Don’t Like: Sopoaga can play the position, but he’s far from a game-changer. He isn’t a guy that’s going to be a disruptive force.
Overall: Sopoaga is probably just a one-year stopgap at the nose tackle spot. He’ll fill the role for a year until the Eagles can get someone better.
What I Like: Even though Chung fell out of favor with the Patriots, he has at least one really strong season under his belt. This year came in 2010, when Chung had 96 tackles and three interceptions. He’s fallen off since then, but at least the potential is there for him to give the Eagles some kind of production. He’s also got a reputation for physical play, something that has been missing from the safety position in Philadelphia since the departure of Brian Dawkins.
What I Don’t Like: Chung has had his share of struggles in coverage, and is occasionally out of position against the run. He has also been a little injury-prone over the last couple of seasons.
Overall: He’s better than Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen. Although he’s had some problems the last couple of years, he still has some upside, and it’ll be great to see a fresh face get a shot at safety.
What I Like: Casey’s versatility should serve this offense well. He’s a guy who hasn’t hit his ceiling yet as a receiver, and if Chip Kelly is the offensive genius he’s supposed to be, he should be able to make good use of Casey’s talents.
What I Don’t Like: The Eagles needed to improve their depth at the tight end position, and while Casey will contribute offensively, I don’t know that he’s the upgrade people were looking for.
Overall: He’s a welcome addition, and could potentially save the Eagles two roster spots…the Eagles could decide to keep just Casey and Brent Celek as their tight ends, and also use the former Texan as their primary fullback, replacing Stanley Havili.
What I Like: Phillips is another linebacker with 3-4 experience, and can play special teams.
Overall: Low-key signing that adds some depth to the roster. Probable replacement for Akeem Jordan.
I like what the Eagles have done so far in free agency. In just a couple of days, they managed to go out and add six potential starters on defense, they rebuilt their secondary from the ground up, added a difference-making linebacker, got themselves a true nose tackle, and found a nice role player on offense.
They have a legitimate pass rushing 3-4 linebacker that should help out right away. The secondary that was painfully soft a year ago is now made up of a group of guys that for the most part have come from winning organizations, and have reputations for being physical players.
However, that being said, I think it’s important to keep these moves in perspective. These moves make the team better…but I don’t know that the improvement that we’ll see from having these players on the roster will be enough to make the Eagles a good team.
Of the moves that the Eagles made, Connor Barwin is the only signing that I’m completely in love with. I believe he’ll be a great fit, and he’ll be a player on this defense for years to come.
As for the rest of the signees…while there’s certainly plenty to like about them, I think there’s a limit to how much better they can make this team. While the secondary may be rebuilt and better than they were, there’s still a lot of questions about this group and I don’t know that any of the four guys that they signed represent long-term solutions. I think a lot of people are excited because they’re going to see four guys that aren’t named Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie, Allen, or Coleman take the field on Opening Day. However, Cary Williams is a good but not great corner, Bradley Fletcher is really an unknown, Patrick Chung has issues in coverage, and Kenny Phillips has issues staying on the field. A year from now, the Eagles could easily be looking for two or even three upgrades in their defensive backfield again.
Another to thing to question about this group is that you have a lot of guys coming off of bad seasons. As much as I like the Barwin signing, he did see his sack total drop significantly last season from what it was in 2011. Kenny Phillips played just seven games. Patrick Chung did not have a good year for the Patriots. Isaac Sopoaga didn’t set the world on fire for the 49ers. Bradley Fletcher fell out of favor with the Rams. There’s a reason that some of these players were let go by their respective teams, and that they came here on mostly team-friendly contracts.
The best compliment I can give to this free agent class is that most of the guys that have been added come from winning organizations, and could help change the attitude of this locker room. I think these players that Howie Roseman and Tom Gamble have brought in can help make the Eagles a much tougher team than they were a year ago, but just because they’re a tougher group than they were before doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to translate into a dramatic improvement in the win column.
Give the Eagles credit for addressing a number of needs on defense, and for doing it by getting a number of character guys on good contracts. Expect the team to be better because of these moves, but don’t look at these moves and put the Eagles back in the playoff hunt.