It isn’t a secret that the Eagles are in desperate need of help at safety. The position has been a weakness ever since they allowed Brian Dawkins to leave as a free agent in 2009.
Last season, former second round pick Nate Allen managed to raise his game to the point where he wasn’t a complete liability. Unfortunately, he was typically paired with Patrick Chung who seemed to specialize in blown coverage and hitting his own teammates. Allen is set to become a free agent, and the team appears to be lukewarm about bringing him back. Meanwhile, Chung is still under contract, but it’s almost assured that the team will cut ties with him.
The team might have an answer at one of the spots, as 2013 fifth round pick Earl Wolff showed flashes of talent last year. Unfortunately, he also missed most of the second half of the season with an injury. If the team is counting on him as a starter, they’d better be sure to have a decent backup on hand as well.
The team will need to add at least one safety this offseason. As luck would have it,this year’s free agent market includes a few safeties who would likely be solid additions. The most prominent names are Cleveland’s T.J Ward and Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd. Both men are Pro Bowlers who appear to be in their primes. Coincidentally, both men attended the University of Oregon, and as you might know, the Eagles have some ties to that school.
The problem is that both players will likely be expensive. Reportedly, the Bills offered Byrd a contract that would have made him the highest paid safety in football. While his rejection of that deal makes it clear that he just wanted out of Buffalo (can you blame him?), it also indicates that he won’t be coming cheap.
The Eagles have not traditionally spent a lot at the safety position. They may have some room under the salary cap this season, but considering that they’ll likely have to offer new contracts to Nick Foles and Jeremy Maclin next year, they don’t want to bloat their payroll too much.
The good news is that there are other viable options on the market which should theoretically keep everyone’s price down. New Orleans’ Malcolm Jenkins or Miami’s Chris Clemons are also free agents who most experts regard as “average to above average.” While that doesn’t sound like high praise, simply getting average play from their safeties would have been an improvement for the 2013 Eagles.
Some pundits argue that the Eagles should pass on all of them. They say that the team should have learned its lesson after the “Dream Team” spending spree of 2011, and if they want to get a good safety, they should do so via the draft.
But the 2011 Draft shows what can happen when a team drafts for need. The team was desperate for a safety, so they took Jarrett in the second round, simply because he was their top rated player at the position. (The reach for Jarrett was made to look worse because Jarrett couldn’t play AT ALL. He would have been a bust no matter where he was drafted.)
Besides, there is a learning curve for even the best of rookies. Would you really feel comfortable if the Eagles entered the season with the unproven Wolff pairing up with a rookie?
I would propose the Eagles take an approach similar to last year and sign a mid-level player. By signing guys like Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, the Eagles were able to get adequate starters at a cap-friendly price. That adequacy gave them the freedom to instead draft a player like tight end Zach Ertz who has already shown flashes of becoming a star.
Now if Byrd wanted to take a below-market deal because he was allured by Chip Kelly and the Eagles’ promising future, then the Eagles should definitely pursue him. But unless that happens, the Eagles should instead go after someone in that next tier of free agents to fill the position.
If their turn comes up in the draft, and there is a safety worthy of being drafted on the board, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to them taking him. And then all of a sudden, the safety position might actually once again be a strength for the team.
Tags: Philadelphia Eagles