The Philadelphia Eagles aren’t likely to be aggressive in free agency this offseason. They just don’t have the cash lying around the bank vault these days, plus a youth movement is underway as the franchise begins to purge the roster of aging veterans and Super Bowl heroes.
That being said, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman cannot upgrade everything in one draft and might be wise to look toward free agency for cheaper plug-in players. No matter which quarterback the franchise hands the keys to the kingdom — Jalen Hurts, or a first-round pick, or a savvy veteran — he’ll need protection up front first and foremost. The Eagles surrendered 65 sacks in 2020, albeit with a makeshift offensive line for a large chunk of the year.
While offensive playmakers are sure to guide the first three rounds of Roseman’s draft board, don’t count out a less splashy move in free agency for another offensive tackle (Russell Okung or Ty Nsekhe come to mind) and a veteran wide receiver (Tyrell Williams or Josh Reynolds?) for extra leadership in that room.
Roseman knows he can’t keep clinging to the 2017 Super Bowl.
“As much as there’s a little voice inside of your head that said, you know, now is probably the right time to change it, I think that’s my responsibility that I didn’t really listen to that as much as possible,” Roseman said about moving on from key veterans, “and now we’re in the situation we are in now where change is necessary and change is inevitable to this roster and the things that we need to do to get back being the kind of team that we know we can be.”
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Top 5 Free Agents to Watch in Free Agency
Tyrell Williams: The Las Vegas Raiders officially released the 29-year-old wide receiver on Thursday, prompting new rumors of him landing in Philly. Williams (6-foot-4, 205) enjoyed his two best seasons when Eagles coach Nick Sirianni was his position coach when they were together in San Diego. He caught 112 balls for 1,787 yards and 11 touchdowns during that two-year span. He missed the entire 2020 campaign after tearing his labrum in training camp so he’ll be easily had on an affordable, one-year “prove it” type of deal.
Josh Reynolds: The other wide receiver on this list might make even more sense than Williams. He has been a reliable third target in Los Angeles but they drafted Van Jefferson who is a faster, younger version. Meanwhile, Reynolds (6-foot-3, 196 pounds) just turned 26 years old and has sneaky speed — 4.52 seconds in the 40 — while racking up 113 receptions for 1,450 yards and nine touchdowns in four seasons with the Rams. He also has a Philly connection — Eagles receivers coach Aaron Moorehead coached him in college at Texas A&M.
Russell Okung: Switching gears to the offensive line and the two-time Pro Bowl left tackle is ready for a change of scenery. He’s 32 years old and has only played in 13 games over the past two seasons while allowing eight sacks on 509 offensive snaps in 2020, per Pro Football Focus. The Eagles have an open competition budding between Andre Dillard and Jordan Mailata at left tackle heading into the 2021 season, so why add another name to the mix? Well, Lane Johnson has been unable to stay healthy and concerns linger over season-ending ankle surgery. If Okung is willing to take a huge pay-cut from last year’s $13 million salary, then he’d provide instant depth.
Malik Hooker: Safety has been an ongoing issue since Malcolm Jenkins left the fold. It’s not that Jalen Mills and Rodney McLeod played poorly in 2020 — far from it, but the whole backend suffered from shoddy cornerback play and a rash of injuries. Hooker was the 15th overall pick in 2017 and remains a top-cover safety despite his own bout with injuries. He’s just 24 years old. Plus, he played under new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon last year when he was the secondary coach in Indianapolis. Gannon expected to bring another scheme, less man-to-man coverage, over to Philly and Hooker knows the system.
Frank Gore: There is much debate about whether the soon-to-be 38-year-old even wants to return for his 17th NFL season. One thing is certain: Gore is still durable (653 yards in 15 games last year), plus he is still chasing history as he ranks third all-time in rushing yards (16,000). He only needs 2,355 more yards to tie Emmitt Smith. The Eagles might not be the most attractive destination due to their rebuild, but Gore just might want playing time at this point. He could be a pretty initmidating “thunder” to Miles Sanders’ “lightning.” Then again, the Eagles went down this road once before and he ditched them at the altar.
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