Free Agency starts on Tuesday, March 11th, but teams can already start negotiating with upcoming free agents. Will the Eagles be big spenders? Possibly, but I certainly would be surprised. Last year’s under-the-radar plan of adding guys like Connor Barwin, Bradley Fletcher and Donnie Jones to the mix sure seemed like a better strategy than 2011′s Dream-Team nightmare.
That said, Free Agency is overrated. The best teams draft well, keep their players happy and lock their best guys up long term in their primes. The Eagles re-signed five of their guys before Free Agency. Let’s rank the quality of those moves:
1. C – Jason Kelce – 7 years, $37.5 million, $13 million guaranteed
Kelce and his Baratheon-level beard are just 26 years old. 7-year deals in baseball, hoops and hockey are really dumb. But in football, the length of contracts aren’t guaranteed. And even if they were, Kelce’s new deal would keep him in Philly until he’s 33. Offensive Lineman typically age a little slower than skill players, so barring a slew of injuries, Kelce should be a pretty nice player throughout that deal. At worst, Kelce is a solid starting Center. At best, he could be Jeff Saturday.
I’ll admit, I had my doubts this year about Kelce. The Eagles started Kelce during his rookie year in 2011 because he was smaller and more athletic than Jamaal Jackson, and that’s what aged Lumberjack-Dexter lookalike Howard Mudd wanted in his lineman. He had a good year, but got hurt in his second season. A change of scheme while recovering from a torn MCL? Yeah, call me a skeptic. But he proved me wrong and took a major step forward while anchoring one of the best O-Lines in football. At just over $5.3 million per year, that’s a nice gamble on All-Pro potential.
2. DL – Cedric Thornton – 1 year, $645,000
Not really a free agent, since Ced would have been forced to RETIRE had he not accepted the Eagles offer due to a new rule from the 2011 CBA (The players got creamed in the 2011 NFL lockout). But still, it was a move the Eagles made and while a no-brainer, it was a good one. Ced Thornton lucked-out quite nicely when Billy Davis and his 3-4 scheme came to town. A try-hard backup DT in Juan Castillo/Todd Bowles/Jim Washburn/Krusty the Klown’s Wide-9 scheme, Thornton was pretty much handed a starting spot in the new scheme and performed really well. In fact, Thornton was a top-5 run stopping DE by most advanced stats.
Is Ced the answer opposite Fletcher Cox? I don’t know, maybe? I don’t think he has star potential, but he’s a 3-4 DE. Don’t let J.J. Watt and Muhammad Wilkerson fool you, that is not typically a glamor job. Guys like Marcus Spears, Ty Warren and Antonio Smith were very strong 3-4 DEs that were valuable for their teams without becoming anything close to stars. I think Thornton is in that mold. For an overachiever like Thornton, I think a decent payday is on the horizon. Make him earn it next year!
3. WR – Jeremy Maclin – 1 year, $6 million
I thought it was really interesting that it was MACLIN’S camp, and not the Eagles, who insisted on a one-year deal. I thought this negotiation was fascinating. The Eagles were clearly looking to capitalize on Maclin’s insecurity about his knee to lock in a lowball long-term deal. But I think the fact that Howie Roseman was willing to go long-term, and the Maclin camp’s insistence on a prove-it deal in 2014 tells me they feel very good about the knee.
It’s really a strong deal for both parties. Maclin gets to prove his true worth, while the Eagles get to see what Maclin can bring in Chip Kelly’s offense. Is Maclin an elite talent? Probably not, but if Riley Cooper can post a career year in this offense, think about what Mac could do. Maybe his knee will never be the same. Maybe Mac’s the same 60-catch, 800-yard, 7-TD per season player he was before the injury. Maybe he has a career year! Either way, we don’t know, so why not just drop the gloves and duke it out on the field.
4. WR – Riley Cooper – 5 years, $22.5 million, $8 million guaranteed
Considering he was on the chopping block before his “She thinks my tractor’s sexy” incident, it would seem amazing that he would get a deal like this. But his connection with Nick Foles is undeniable, as is his size, jump-ball ability and production last year. I think the notion that he’s a product of Chip Kelly’s system is dumb. Excuse me, but not everything can be a product of Chip Kelly’s system. McCoy? Yes, obviously. Desean? Probably. Ertz/Celek combo? Chip had something to do with it. But you can’t tell me that Chip Kelly’s run-heavy, zone-read scheme was the sole reason a 6’4, 220 lb deep threat receiver had a breakout season.
Cooper has ability. He always has, and I’m not sure why people were always so quick to write him off before. It’s no secret that Andy Reid didn’t always prefer or get the most out of bigger receivers. But if Cooper wasn’t white, you’d be hearing Alshon Jeffery comparisons. Instead, he’s white, somewhat racist and looks like Keanu Reeves. So he’s a product of the system. Sup Joe Jurevicius.
Either way, it’s a lot of years and money for a guy who I’m not sure would have gotten that much on the open market. We’re not sure how he’ll fit back into the office with Mac back in the mix, but it’s nice to know the Eagles are covered in case Maclin isn’t the answer. Plus, it’s never bad to have too many WRs in today’s NFL. I’m sure James Jones agrees.
5. LT – Jason Peters – 5 years, $51.3 million, $19 million guaranteed
Look, I loved when the Eagles grabbed him from Buffalo. I think converted TEs make terrific LTs and Peters has been both a stud for the Eagles and an All-Pro selection league-wide. But he’s 32. As we said with Kelce, 33-year old lineman can still play at prime levels. But 37-year old Linemen??? It happens, but for guys like Peters who rely on rare athletic ability and footwork, I have a hard time seeing it.
You can bang on Andy Reid all you want, but Big Red always knew when to take Ol’ Yeller out to the Woodshed. Hugh Douglas, Bobby Taylor, Tra Thomas, Troy Vincent, Brian Westbrook, Lito Sheppard, Donovan McNabb etc. all were still at the tail end of their primes when the Eagles decided to get move on. None of those guys had any success elsewhere. It was always the right move.
Of course I’m in favor of keeping Peters, but give him two years. Three years if that’s what it takes. But five years AND that kind of money??? Seems a bit ambitious.
To me, this contract may be the first bad move of the off-season. Obviously I hope I’m wrong.