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Did Eagles Give Fans the Byrd?
I don't understand why Philadelphia Eagles fans and the local media are so upset that the Eagles didn't sign Jairus Byrd. Did they already forget about the disaster that was "The Dream Team"?
I previously documented that the Eagles had $24 million available under the salary cap to spend on free agents and draft picks. That doesn't necessarily mean they should spend it all on the biggest name free agents out there, though. I actually like the way they are rebuilding the franchise that was left in ruins by Andy Reid and Joe Banner.
The team still has a reputation of being cheap, but that isn't necessarily true any longer. GM Howie Roseman re-signed a few key offensive players before they became free agents and now he's spending his money wisely to upgrade the defense.
The Eagles signed former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins to a 3-year, $16.25 million deal, with $8.5 million guaranteed. Meanwhile, the guy everybody wanted the team to sign, Byrd, inked a deal with the Saints for 6-years for $54 million, with $28 million guaranteed. Yes, Byrd is the more accomplished player, but he also not completely healthy.
Byrd has chronic plantar fasciitis, which limited him to 11 games last season. Personally, I would have been afraid to give a guy that much money who isn't completely healthy. Jenkins, on the other hand, hasn't missed a game since the start of the 2010 season (57 games).
I'm not even going to try to convince you that Jenkins is as good as Byrd. He's not. But Jenkins apparently fit in with how defensive coordinator Billy Davis likes to use his safeties. Davis likes his safeties to be versatile.
Jenkins was drafted as a cornerback, so he is better in coverage than he is as an in-the-box tackler. That's just fine, since the Eagles already have Earl Wolff, who is more of a strong safety who plays better near the line of scrimmage. But that doesn't mean Jenkins can't tackle. It just means that the Eagles realized they needed to sign a safety who excelled in coverage.
With the way the NFL is going these days, with spread formations and multiple receiver sets, defenses need to have safeties who can cover. Jenkins was even used in the slot in New Orleans, so he proved he can cover tight ends and receivers one-on-one. That is important for an Eagles defense that was ranked dead last against the pass last season, giving up almost 300 yards per game through the air.
Another thing that was important to Roseman and head coach Chip Kelly is that Jenkins is a leader on and off the field. He was a two-time defensive captain in New Orleans and was said to be a well-respected locker room leader. That's important when you consider the mercenaries Reid brought in, like Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin and Vince Young, who were not good locker room guys and helped tear the team apart.
Which Safety Did You Want the Eagles to Sign
The Eagles also signed two back-ups, who figure to be key special teams contributors. Former Seattle safety Chris Maragos was signed to a 3-year, $4 million contract, with $1 million guaranteed. And former Houston linebacker Bryan Braman (No relation to former Eagles owner Norman Braman, in case you were worried) was signed to a 2-year, $3.15 million contract, with $1 million in guaranteed money. Two under the radar signings that all good teams have on their roster.
The Eagles approach to free agency is consistent with what they did last offseason. Last year, they signed corners Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, along with safety Patrick Chung, tight end James Casey, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and linebacker Connor Barwin. Sure Chung and Sopoaga were unmittigated disasters and Casey didn't play much after the team drafted Zach Ertz, but the others were key contributors to the defense. You could even make the case that Barwin was the defensive MVP.
And that is the comparison you should be looking at. The Eagles are hoping that Jenkins turns out to be like Barwin. Nothing flashy, but he does a little bit of everything well and does whatever is necessary for the team to win. After watching Chung last season, anything would have been an upgrade.
Plus the Eagles can still draft a safety. The two best safeties in this draft are Hasean "Ha-Ha" Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor. One of them might be available when the Eagles pick at No. 22 in the first round. Jenkins is the perfect professional to teach young safeties, including second-year player Wolff, how to play in the league.
I would also be surprised if the Eagles are done signing free agents on the defensive side of the ball. They still need to improve their pass rush and improve their depth. The hot rumor now is that the Eagles will sign Tampa's Darrell Revis after he is released by the Bucs. That isn't out of the question, since even the Eagles always spent big money on cornerbacks. But I wouldn't count on that since Revis will be looking to get around $15 million per year on a multi-year deal. I'm betting the Eagles just draft another corner and go with Fletcher, Williams and Brandon Boykin.
The other name fans wanted to Eagles to sign was former Cowboy DeMarcus Ware. Unfortunately, he signed with Denver for 3-years and $30 million, with $20 million guaranteed. That's a ton of money for a guy who is 31 years old and whose sack numbers have been in steady decline for three straight years (2011 - 19 1/2 sacks, 2012 - 11 1/2 sacks, 2013 - career-low 6 sacks). I'm betting the Eagles use the draft and another mid-level free agent free agent to bolster the pass rush. Former Packer linebacker Mike Neal has been mentioned as a possibility for the Eagles as a backup to Trent Cole. That would be consistent with Roseman and Kelly's plan for this roster, so I expect that to happen
Nick Foles Highlights
The final reason why I think this was a good signing for the Eagles is that the team needs to save money under the salary cap this season so that they can move it forward into next year's cap. Now I know what you're thinking, but I'm not suggesting that Roseman is lining owner Jeffrey Lurie's pocket with more millions. What I'm saying is that the Eagles need extra money next year, when four key members of the team will be eligible to have their rookie contracts extended.
Nick Foles, Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin were all drafted in 2012, which means that the team can't sign them to an extension until the middle of next season, at the earliest. Each of them has proven to be an integral part of the team and will need to be compensated at a higher figure than they are currently receiving. The big one will be Foles.
Foles is only making $615,000., but starting quarterbacks in the NFL can make over $10 million per year. If Foles proves that he is the real deal, he will get something at least close to that on a long-term contract. Obviously, the Eagles are going to have to pay him the going rate, since teams simply do not let franchise quarterbacks get away.
So while the fanbase and certain uninformed members of the local media bitch and complain about the Eagles not signing all the biggest names in free agency, I am perfectly content with the current plan. The Eagles filled a hole on the roster by signing Jenkins and they still have plenty of funds to continue to sign other free agents on defense. They are sticking with a plan that has proved to be effective in the NFL. You win by drafting well, keeping your own good players and only add in a few free agents when necessary.
Now that Reid is gone and the Eagles actually find decent players in the draft, they need to keep those players. They wouldn't be able to do that if they listened to those uninformed fans, who think the Eagles organization is giving them the bird by not signing Jairus Byrd. Personally, I would like to give those fans the bird and tell them this is the better path to success.