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Eagles Free Agency Preview: Class of 2011 a Cautionary Tale

Mar 4, 2013, 3:13 PM EDT

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One of the most common complaints levied against the Eagles
during the Donovan McNabb years was aimed at owner Jeffrey Lurie, who was often
accused of operating his franchise on the cheap. Folks watched as one prominent
veteran after another was cast aside rather than re-signed, all while the front
office would seldom target the sexiest names in free agency.

Perception wasn’t always reality in this case. We know now
that the fan favorites the team left walk away were typically on the verge of
being washed up, with few notable exceptions. And while the Eagles were usually
game to test the free agent waters, former president Joe Banner thought extending the club’s own
young talent a better use of Lurie’s checkbook.

With good reason it turns out. If anybody still questions
the organization’s guiding philosophy during that time period, look no
further than what happened with the free-agent class of 2011.

Due to a rare set of circumstances, the Birds were able to
treat free agency like they were on Supermarket Sweep. A number of players had
their unrestricted status delayed for a full year as a result of the lockout, causing
the market to become inundated with talent as soon as that drama was finally
sorted out. And the Eagles themselves were in prime position to make it rain,
having just purged their roster of most of its expensive veterans one offseason
prior.

Plenty of folks had already come to grow suspicious of the
harpy song that is free agency. Philadelphia endured Stacy Andrews, Darren
Howard, and Jevon Kearse as big-money signings over the past 10 years, along with
the likes of Dhani Jones and Kevin Curtis to a lesser extent.

It was practically impossible not to get excited about the
Eagles’ summer though, viewed almost universally as a major coup for Banner, Howie Roseman, and everybody involved. Depth on offense was supposed to be solidified by Pro
Bowlers Vince Young, Ronnie Brown, and Steve Smith. The defense should have been
overhauled by the additions of Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, and Nnamdi Asomugha.

They were a “Dream Team.”

Which is far from how everything worked out of course. The
only player from a class that numbered in the double digits and is a virtual lock to make the team a mere
two years later in 2013 is Evan Mathis. At the time, Mathis was not viewed
with much importance, nor even the most highly-regarded offensive lineman they
signed.

By and large, free agency is not an ideal solution. What type of
players manage to become unrestricted free agents without a contract extension
or getting slapped with the franchise tag in the first place? Besides the
broken, under-utilized, or plain ol’ bad: aging players, players who excelled
in a certain scheme, and very-good-to-elite players who a) also fit one of the first
two descriptions, or b) are asking for way too much money.

That’s not to say free agency can’t be a helpful tool in
team building. However, it’s often best when used to supplement the existing
talent, rather than as a key part of an organization’s infrastructure like it
became for the Birds.

Then again, according to EaglesCap.com the Eagles have an
estimated $33 million to play with this offseason. That figure will only
grow once the front office comes to a decision on Nnamdi Asomugha.

Looks like the team is back in prime position to go on
another spending spree should they so desire.