With the NFL about to enter the free agency period of the offseason, it is imperative that every team gets the help they need for the 2017 season. Least of all who can afford to wait on upgrades are the Philadelphia Eagles. While they did acquire their assumed franchise quarterback for the future, Carson Wentz in the 2016 draft, they will need to surround him with the skill players necessary for a deep playoff run. Currently, they have a myriad of below-average receivers and running backs that just won't get it done, along with a mediocre cornerback position group. Add on to that a questionable interior offensive line, and there's a lot of potential problems.
The Eagles have an opportunity to fix some of these problems through free agency, but only if they target the right players. With plenty of positions to fill, general manager Howie Roseman will have to be thrifty, and cerebral in the way he approaches this acquisition period. The Eagles need to fill pertinent needs, but they can't afford to miss on a free agent who isn't worth money. So, what to do? Get the best player for the money, that will improve the most important position group. A simple concept; but it will be more difficult than it appears.
Ranked below are eight free agents the Eagles should target, and seven they should stay away from.
15 15. TARGET: Kenny Britt
One of the more underrated names on the wide receiver market this offseason, Britt is coming off what most would consider a career year in 2016. What makes Britt overlooked is the fact that he's been hampered by weak offenses and bad quarterbacks for most of his career. Still on the south side of 30, Britt has enough time to be productive on a new team, with a good quarterback, and the Eagles make sense as a landing spot. Britt doesn't have elite speed, but he's a crisp route runner, and a big-bodied target for Wentz. He could provide some definition to a receiving corps that desperately needs it, and stick around for multiple seasons. If the Eagles aren't able to land the best free agent receivers, Britt would be a suitable consolation prize, and a good under the radar signing to build off of in the draft.
14 14. STAY AWAY: Vincent Jackson
The Eagles receiving corps may be a mess right now, with slot receiver Jordan Matthews as the only reliable target, but Jackson is well past his prime to make a significant impact. He's suffered some major injuries in each of the past two seasons, and his output, as expected when a skill position player reaches the age of 34, has decreased heavily. He'd be a sure-handed target, something that the team desperately needs right now, with the underperforming Dorial Green-Beckham and first round bust Nelson Agholor being the two main targets on the outside. However, Jackson is well past his prime, and won't be dynamic enough a player to make it worth pursuing him in free agency. He'd be a cheap option, but ultimately not worth it at this stage of his career.
13 13. TARGET: Benny Cunningham
The backfield for the Eagles seems to be in a state of flux currently, and while Cunningham doesn't qualify as a dynamic playmaker, he does have age on his side at 26. He was a depth running back for the Rams, but he showed enough occasional production for him to be a worthy pickup. His price tag would be cheap, and at the very least he'd provide some competition for a backfield that will be losing its best player in Ryan Mathews this offseason. Currently, the Eagles only have an almost-retired Darren Sproles, second-year Wendell Smallwood, and the garden variety Kenjon Barner after Mathews leaves. Cunningham wouldn't be a three-down player, but he'd provide some much needed depth, on a team that usually keeps four running backs on the active roster to begin with.
12 12. STAY AWAY: Eddie Lacy
It remains to be seen what the Packers want to do with Lacy, but his stock has certainly dropped since his peak production seasons several years ago. Yes, the Eagles need help at running back, but there are too many red flags associated with Lacy to make him worth shelling out for. Injuries, weight issues, and inconsistent performance are the biggest question marks regarding this signing, and it's just not worth the money for the Eagles to spend big on a free agent running back. Lacy is a bruiser, and can get yards after contact, but he's not going to hold up long enough to be worth it. He'll be in the league for some team next year, but who that ends up being is still up in the air. It's an easy pass for the Eagles though, and far too much of a risk. Philadelphia is bette off drafting a running back who could potentially be a three-down player.
11 11. TARGET: DeSean Jackson
Everyone knows that Jackson's roots with the Eagles run deep, as he was drafted during the Andy Reid era, and was on the team for his whole career until he was cut by Chip Kelly in a situation that remains murky to this day. It looks as though he'll be moving on from the Redskins in the offseason, and a deep threat is exactly what the Eagles need in their receiving corps right now. Hovering around the age of 30, it would be expected that Jackson would have lost a step, but that's simply not true looking back on the 2016 season. He was still able to take the top off a defense, and stretch the field with the best of them. If the Eagles can pursue him on a reasonable contract, then it would be a worthy pickup. It may be viewed as gimmicky, considering the history of Jackson with the team, but the fact is that he's a proven commodity, and would fill a position of need.
10 10. STAY AWAY: Morris Claiborne
The Cowboys are stuck in a troublesome cap situation right now, and Claiborne may be one of the names on the chopping block. The cornerback is a former top ten overall pick, and has been mostly a disappointment during his time in Dallas; except for the 2016 season. Claiborne benefitted from a a bit of a resurgence in quality of play, but the downside is that he only played in seven games, before going down with an injury. While the Eagles need help at cornerback, they're likely better off trying to remedy the position in the draft, where they can get younger, and probably get a player of much higher quality. Claiborne is too much of a risk, and since he is well under the age of 30, he'll probably command a decent contract. It's just not worth it for the Eagles to pursue him, for the return that they'll likely get.
9 9. TARGET: Ronald Leary
On the other hand, Leary is a likely cap casualty for the Cowboys that would actually make sense. He'd fill the need of an interior offensive lineman, and is the kind of reliable player that is worth shelling out the money for. Even then, he won't cost a fortune, and the Eagles would automatically have a pair of reliable guards, with Brooks manning up the other end. Given how much press the Cowboys offensive line receives, Leary is likely going to have other teams in the running for him. It wouldn't hurt the Eagles to get into a small-scale bidding war with a few of them, in order to gain the services of Leary. He's one of the better guards available in free agency, and one that Philadelphia could depend on. He'd be an instant upgrade on the current offensive line.
8 8. STAY AWAY: Jason Pierre-Paul
If Pierre-Paul makes it to free agency, he'll be one of the most renowned names on the market. There's no question, that at one time he was one of the elite pass rushers in the league. But time has caught up with him, and the Eagles already have their starters at defensive end for the 2017 season in Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham. They could afford to add some depth to that position group, but Pierre-Paul figures to be a starter wherever he goes, and that just doesn't put Philly in the running to acquire him. They have more pertinent needs to address, coupled with the fact that Pierre-Paul is on the way out of his prime. All things considered, it just doesn't make much sense. Philadelphia will be able to get by with the defensive ends they currently have, at least for another year or two.
7 7. TARGET: Luke Joeckel
The interior of the offensive line will likely need another starter, as well as some depth for the 2017 season. Joeckel is an intriguing option that could fill either of those roles. A former second overall pick in 2013, he's been a solid, but unspectacular player for the Jaguars. He's versatile, with the ability to move at various positions on the line, but most recently played at guard during the 2016 season. With second-year man Isaac Seumalo likely taking over at center, and Brandon Brooks a lock to start at one guard position, Joeckel could fit right in to that mechanism at the opposite guard position. He also has youth on his side, at just 25 years of age, which is a plus, and could warrant a long-term deal sooner rather than later. Of course, Jacksonville could always resign him, but he's expected to hit the free agent market with a new coaching regime coming in.
6 6. STAY AWAY: Kamar Aiken
At this point in his career, Aiken is pretty much a one-hit wonder. In 2015, he had his best season, hauling in almost 1,000 receiving yards on the year. Since then, he's been largely anonymous. Because of the demand for receivers, he'll likely get some kind of a multi-year deal, which will likely be too much of a cost for what he'll produce. Aiken isn't bad, but he's really nothing more than a garden variety receiver. Even with the trouble the Eagles are having on the outside, there is little point of signing a receiver just for the sake of doing so, and when it's unlikely that he actually does much to fix the problem. There are many receivers in free agency that you could make an argument for the Eagles pursuing, but Aiken is not one of them.
5 5. TARGET: A.J. Bouye
Bouye is a cornerback who has only gotten his due recognition in the past year or so. He approaches the level of a shut down player at the position, and it remains to be seen if the Texans are going to be able to afford his cost. While the cost may be too much for the Eagles as well, Bouye is an intriguing option if he could be had at a reasonable cost. He would immediately give the team a much needed starting outside cornerback, and could be paired with a high-round draft pick to form a tandem that could remain intact for years to come. The downside is, if Bouye does end up hitting the market, there are going to be a bevy of teams looking to land him, which will likely drive up the cost even further. Still, it's worth taking a look at for Roseman and the Eagles front office, if only because it would fill such a desperate position of need.
4 4. STAY AWAY: Kenny Stills
Despite being a name that keeps popping up as one that the Eagles should acquire, there are more red flags with Stills than it appears on the surface. In both Miami and New Orleans, he played in very potent offenses, with either a great quarterback (Drew Brees), or high-quality skill players (Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker). Many of Stills' touchdown receptions are the result of blown coverages, because the defense is keying in on the other aspects of the offense. The Eagles don't have that luxury to provide Stills if he does indeed end up signing. The Philly offense is rebuilding, and if he commands a big-time contract, he probably isn't going to live up to it. Stills has elite-level speed, and is young to boot, but this is one the Eagles should probably stay away from. Stills is a good receiver, but he'll receive a contract that expects him to be "great". Not worth it.
3 3. TARGET: Nick Perry
Perry is coming off a career year in Green Bay. While he may or may not hit the market, he would be a great target for the Eagles, who are looking for an additional pass rusher, or outside linebacker. Perry could fit that role, and become a versatile player in Philadelphia. He's essentially a better, younger version of Connor Barwin, who is likely going to be out of Philly for the upcoming season. Perry's a great young talent, solid tackler and reliable pass rusher. He'd fit right in with Jim Schwartz's defensive scheme, it's just a matter of whether he'll be available, and what his asking price would be. Still, it's worth it for the Eagles to take a look at this, because Perry seems to be flying slightly below the radar, and there could be an opportunity for a very high-quality addition, at a reasonable price.
2 2. STAY AWAY: Stephon Gilmore
Probably the hottest name on the free agency cornerback market, Gilmore is going to command an absolutely massive price. While he is a very good player, and can cover with the best of them, he still isn't likely to be worth the price. The Eagles have seen first hand some disastrous high-profile cornerback signings in free agency; Byron Maxwell, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Cary Williams among them. They've simply been burned too many times to take a risk like this again, and there's no way that Gilmore doesn't demand a premium price. For another team, and another situation, this would be a prime target, but for the Eagles as they stand right now, they're better off addressing this position in the draft, or with a more cost-effective free agent signing. Gilmore is an elite corner, but there are more sensible options at hand.
1 1. TARGET: Alshon Jeffery
Having a presence like Jeffery on the receiving corps, would fix so many problems with that position group, and the Eagles offense at large. Jeffery is an elite player, no two ways about it, when he's on the field. And that's the key; when he's on the field. Jeffery has dealt with injuries and suspensions throughout the course of his five-year career in Chicago. While this does present a degree of question mark regarding his availability, it's also likely to drive his price down when he hits the market. Getting an elite talent like Jeffery would be a complete game-changer for Philadelphia. He's squarely in the prime of his career, and gives Wentz a big-time talent to throw to on the outside of the field, which will only help his confidence and development. Frankly, the Eagles front office can't afford not to pursue Jeffery, at least doing their due diligence to put quality players around their young franchise quarterback. Wentz needs better receivers at his disposal, and Jeffery on the roster would provide that instantly.
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