By Stone Loitfellner, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
Looking back and examining the 2019 season it's easy to see some changes need to be made going forward. Some of those changes have already taken place with the offensive coordinator Mike Groh and the wide receiver coach Mike Walch being let go on January, 9th, as well as Corey Udlin the defensive back coach being hired by the Lions to be their DC. Besides the changes in the coaching staff, the Philadelphia Eagles will have to make some changes to the roster if they want to be championship contenders next season; making this upcoming free agency rather important. With that being said, today we'll take a look at some top free agency options for Philly.
1. A.J. Green WR
Getting this one out of the way ASAP, A.J. Green may be 32-years-old and coming off a season where he didn't play a single snap due to his ankle injury. Still, Green is one of the premier talents at receiver and could provide an instant boost to an Eagles team lacking strength at the position. With Nelson Agholor set to be a free agent this year, barring any changes the Eagles receivers will look like this: Alshon Jeffery, Desean Jackson, Greg Ward, and JJ Arcega-Whiteside. It's no secret that Green being amongst those names should provide quite the boost to the receiving core. Since Green is coming off of two straight seasons with injuries and is thirty-two the contract offered should be a one or two year deal at the right cost. (For reference, Green averaged $15 million last season).
Even with Funchess coming off a clavicle injury that left him out for the season, he provides a large target for Wentz with a six-foot-four, 225lbs frame. Funchess was able to put his size to good use in 2018 with Carolina where he put up 549 yards and five touchdowns off of 44 catches.
Even with D-Jax due back next season, the team could use another deep threat and that could be provided by Tampa Bay's Breshad Perriman, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent. Perriman is known for his speed and is tied for the fifth-most yards per reception with 17.9. He also had 645 yards, six touchdowns and 36 catches in 14 games with just four starts.
Another receiver that could be plugged into the line-up and make an immediate impact is Robby Anderson, who recorded 779 yards, 5 touchdowns and 15 yards per reception off 52 catches. Besides his playmaking ability, Anderson, like A.J. Green, can provide another veteran presence for JJ and a more than likely rookie receiver next season.
A player that could fill the slot role if Agholor isn't brought back next year is Phillip Dorsett, who was able to rack up 397 yards and five touchdowns off of 29 catches in four starts.
2. Logan Ryan CB
Another top priority for Philly this off-season is boosting the secondary, especially with the possibility of losing Ronald Darby to free agency. One of the top options that could be available is the Titans' Logan Ryan. Contract-wise, the 29-year-old is averaging $10 million this season compared to Darby's six and half. Ryan leads all upcoming free agent corners in turnovers and sacks with four forced fumbles, four interceptions and five sacks. Ryan's stats aren't only well-ranked with upcoming free agents, with his 18 pass defends placing third in the league. The talented Ryan could be brought in as the number one corner with Jalen Mills on the opposite side and most likely Avonte Maddox in the slot.
Of course, there's a possibility the Eagles miss out on Ryan for various reasons; being outbid or simply choosing to prioritize their money elsewhere cheif among them. If that's the case we may see one of these players in midnight green come the 2020 season: Darqueze Dennard, Jason Verrett, Ross Cockrell or James Bradberry.
Dennard is another case of a player coming off limited playing time in 2019, playing in just nine games with five starts. The 5'11" 205lbs corner had five pass deflections and 25 solo tackles last year while making $4.5 million. That may not be a true lock-down number one corner stat-line, but Dennard could be a sufficient addition to the Eagles secondary.
To repeat a similar tune with A.J. Green and Darqueze Dennard, Jason Verrett is coming off of a four snap season after suffering a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve. Unfortunately for Verrett, this would be his third straight season being placed on IR, making his possible signing a toss of the dice to say the least. This should lower his price tag significantly.
Then there's Ross Cockrell, a six-foot, 190lbs corner that registered two picks and eight pass deflections last year over 14 games with 11 starts. Cockrell also averaged just $3.3 million in 2019, giving him an enticing price point for teams looking to get a quality corner for cheap.
Finally, there's James Bradberry, the possible diamond in the rough that played and started in 15 games snatching three passes out of the air and deflected 12 passes, both being tied for 20th in the league. Meanwhile, Bradberry only earned an average of $990,209. Barring a team offering his big payday, Bradberry may be the best bang for your buck corner on the market.
3. Shaquil Barrett OLB
Philadelphia is looking down the barrel of losing another starter to free agency in outside linebacker Nigel Bradham. However, they could put up some money to secure another dominate outside linebacker in free agency. The 27-year-old Shaquil Barrett is coming off a 45-solo tackle, six-forced fumble, 19.5 (20 depending where you look) sack season. The latter of which leads the league while his six forced fumbles rank second in the league behind Terrell Suggs and J.J. Watt (tied with eight). Barrett only averaged $4 million last season, but according to Spotrac's market value calculator, the talented defender is due a 15.7 million dollar (yearly average) payday which could be the fourth-highest contract at his position. To put the price tag in perspective, Nigel Bradham's club option for next season is $9.7 million. Although a bit cheaper, Bradham is three years older and would only be extended a season while Barrett would most likely sign a deal for around three to five years.
Nicholas Morrow is a 25-year-old outside linebacker for the Raiders that put up 49 solo tackles, four pass deflections and one interception in 16 games with eight starts. Although Morrow only averaged an earning of $557,500, he is a restricted free agent this year, meaning the Raiders can choose to match another team's offer to retain Morrow.
Then there's Neville Hewitt, a 26-year-old inside linebacker for the Jets. Now, the Jets' defensive scheme is 3-4 while the Eagles run a 4-3, so if Philadelphia brought Hewitt in, he would most likely be placed at outside linebacker, which shouldn't be a problem with his ability to cover running backs out of the backfield. He possesses the speed and skill set to handle the outside linebacker responsibilities. In 2019, Hewitt recorded two interceptions, five pass deflections, three sacks and 42 solo tackles in 12 games and as many starts.
There's also outside linebacker Nick Vigil from the Bengals (who run a 4-3). The 26-year-old, 16 game starter put up 60 solo tackles and one sack, forced fumble and interception in the previous season's campaign. Vigil was also only due $777,657 last season, which should make him a cost-effective starter that could reasonably sign a four-year deal.
Another option at outside linebacker could be Miami's Vince Biegel who played in 15 games last season with 10 starts. In those games, he was able to tally up 26 solo tackles, 13 QB hits, two and a half sacks and one interception. Although some of the stats may not be eye-popping, Biegel's tape shows a defensive player that knows the game of football and can make the right reads and close in on the ball carrier to quickly end a play. Like Vigil, Biegel could be an example of a talented player being lookdr over because they're on a subpar team. Just like Morrow, Biegel is a restricted free agent, so if Miami really values his talents and efforts, they could match the offer and keep him.
4. Leonard Williams DE
Although on paper the Eagles defensive line looks solid, it was evident during the season that the pass rush could have used a boost. One player who could provide this boost is Leonard Williams, who provides versatility to the defensive line playing in 3-4 schemes with the Jets and Giants where he would find himself lining up against the Center, Guard, and Tackles. Although a well-known name, his market value is only projected to be an $8.2 million yearly average, which ranks at 28th at his position. Last season, through 15 games with two teams, Williams put up 46 tackles, 16 QB hits, three pass deflections and one forced fumble.
That said, scheme is important in football and the Eagles could be looking for a more traditional end or may just end up looking elsewhere for a multitude of reasons. If this is the case, the Eagles could look to sign Arik Armstead, Vic Beasley, Shaq Lawson or Emmanuel Ogbah.
First, there's Arik Armstead who, in 16 games with San Francisco, put up 32 solo tackles (11 for a loss), 18 QB hits, two forced fumbles and 10 sacks. Even though he only averaged an earning of $2.4 million last season, with the performance he had, it wouldn't be a surprise if Armstead received a hefty raise, which could cause Philly to look elsewhere.
One of these cheaper options could be a player whose name was murmured by fans throughout the season: Vic Beasley from the Atlanta Falcons, who managed eight sacks, 12 QB hits, 28 solo tackles and two forced fumbles over 16 games with one less start. Even with the solid season, it isn't believed that Beasly will see a significant increase in his previous average of $3.6 million.
Then there's Shaq Lawson, the talented end for the Buffalo Bills who, in 15 games, put up six and a half sacks, 21 solo tackles (13 for a loss), 18 QB hits, two pass deflections and a forced fumble. Lawson only averaged a little more than $2 million last season and is projected to earn $7.6 million a year on his next contract. Not a bad price to pay for his talents, especially since it would only ranked at 21st for defensive ends.
Don't forget about Emmanuel Ogbah, the former Browns starter who played for the Chiefs last season. In 10 games with four starts last year, Ogbah recorded 11 QB hits, five and a half sacks, 23 solo tackles and one forced fumble. Even with Ogbah being a solid player, his biggest draw may be his cost-friendliness, earning just $1.6 million last season. He isn't set to rock the market this offseason.
5. Justin Simmons S
With Rodney McLeod facing free agency this offseason, it may be in the Eagles' best interest to scour the market. One of the main safeties they could consider looking into is Justin Simmons from the Denver Broncos. Simmons started every game last season and tallied 15 pass deflections, 65 solo tackles and snatched four passes out of the air. His four interceptions rank third amongst all free-agent safeties, behind Anthony Harris and Devin McCourty, who have six and five respectfully. Although money could make things problematic. With it being known that Malcolm Jenkins is looking for a raise, it may cause the Eagles to be reluctant to payout the projected $14.4 million a year Simmons could be due in his next contract, which would make him the highest-paid safety.
A solid option for the Eagles could be 27-year-old Tre Boston. The Carolina Panther played and started in 16 games putting up 53 solo tackles, three interceptions and 11 pass deflections. Boston also earned $2.125 million last year and could be signed for a slight but not significant raise in his yearly salary.
Next, there's the Raiders' Karl Joseph who put up 37 solo tackles, three pass deflections, and one interception in 9 games and as many starts. Joseph would most likely draw a slightly heavier price tag then Boston since he earned just below $3 million last season and would most likely be looking for a similar or increased salary.
Then there's Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, one of the most well know safeties in the NFL. Clinton Dix put together a two-interception, one-touchdown, five-pass deflection season in 16 starts. He also earned $3 million last season and could be due a pay raise.
Lastly, there's 25-year-old Vonn Bell from the Saints, who started and played in 13 games this previous season, putting up 63 solo tackles, one and a half sacks, two forced fumbles, one interception and five pass deflections.
Regardless of who from the list that is actually considered let alone signed by the Eagles this offseason, it goes without saying that Philadelphia has to make all the right moves and treat this offseason as a game of chess with the ultimate goal of capturing the Lombardi Trophy next season. Before April comes and they can draft the right players to make an immediate impact and continue to lead the team for years to come, the season must be won in early spring, bringing the right fit of NFL talent to trend upwards for the next season.