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Eagles Free Agency Preview: Who Might They Target on Defense?

Mar 7, 2013, 3:29 PM EDT

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There’s $33 million-plus burning a hole in the Eagles’
pockets at this moment, but there are plenty of holes to fill in the Lincoln
Financial Field turf – and we don’t mean the kind the grounds crew can fix,
either.

Obviously after 2011’s disastrous spending spree, we’re all
a bit leery of free agency, more so than before anyway. Unfortunately the fact
of the matter is the Eagles have too many needs to fill exclusively through the
draft, so having the means to bolster their talent isn’t necessarily a bad
thing.

It’s all about identifying the right players for the proper
spots, so without further adieu, let’s examine who will be available on the defensive side of the ball come March
12.

Defensive Tackle

It all starts up front. Priority number one for the Eagles
if they are planning on switching to a 3-4 defense this season is to find a
nose tackle. Howie Roseman indicated Antonio Dixon might be able to play the
nose,
which is certainly an experiment worth testing. Dixon lacks
experience with the position however, so at worst there must be some sort of backup plan.

Problem is there are not a ton of great interior linemen on
the market, and even fewer that have played inside in a 3-4. The most
attractive option may have been Randy Starks, but the Dolphins slapped the
franchise tag on him. The best unrestricted player remaining is arguably Roy
Miller (age on first day of 2013 season: 26), who was part of an elite run
defense in Tampa Bay, but may be undersized for the role at 6-2, 310. Temple product
Terrance Knighton (27) from Jacksonville might be better suited to play it at
6-3, 330. There are more than mere local ties available, as Seattle’s Alan
Branch (28) played under defensive coordinator Billy Davis during his stint
with the Cardinals.

Of course if they’re just looking for a warm body to compete
or act as a stopgap, Sheil Kapadia of Birds 24/7 mentions Isaac Sopoaga (32) in
San Francisco,
who would presumably have a relationship with new VP of
personnel Tom Gamble.

Outside Linebacker

It’s hard to say how much help the Eagles will need on the
edges to make a 3-4 work. They require outside linebackers who can rush the passer
AND drop into coverage, the latter part being an unknown for most of the current
candidates. Brandom Graham did some of that at Michigan, and some observers felt both he and Vinny Curry
thought would be best suited in that role at the NFL level anyway. Trent Cole on the other hand is a serious
question mark.

Regardless, that’s a healthy mix of talent to start with, and the
free agent pickings are slim. Paul Kruger (27) from the Super Bowl Champion
Baltimore Ravens is about the only player worthy of a major investment, and
given his relatively small sample size – 10 career starts – it’s hard to judge
whether or not he’s actually worth the enormous contract somebody is about to
offer. San Diego’s Shaun Phillips (32) could bring valuable experience to the
table, but that might only serve to block a younger player. Birds will likely stand
pat or look to the draft here.

Cornerback

Much more difficult to project what’s going to happen at
cornerback while the Nnamdi Asomugha situation remains unsettled. Many anticipate
the maligned corner will eventually get his release, but the front office is
obviously attempting to restructure Asomugha’s contract, otherwise why wouldn’t
he be out the door already?

The Eagles appear to have no intention of re-signing
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the other hand, so there is a hole at corner no matter what.
They were rumored to have interest in the Dolphins’ Sean Smith (26), although
the timing suggests that was leaked in an effort to pressure Nnamdi. Then
again, Smith is one of the better options, and with the cupboard bare at this
particular position, there might be room for both of them PLUS a high draft pick.

This is actually a very strong market for cornerbacks should
the Birds want to go that route – not to mention Darrelle Revis is on the trade
block.
As free agents go, Shippensburg product Brent Grimes (30) from Atlanta
would be at the forefront were it not for his coming off a torn Achilles
tendon, while character issues could figure to be a factor for playmaker Aqib
Talib (27) despite departing New England a good soldier. The top of this deep
class is rounded out by Baltimore’s Cary Williams (28), but there are plenty
more intriguing names out there.

Safety

Quite possibly the most disappointing development so far
this offseason – at least as it relates to free agency – was the Bills’
decision to apply the franchise tag to Jairus Byrd. Byrd has been a primetime
playmaker for Buffalo since entering the league, defending 27 passes, pulling
down 18 interceptions, forcing 10 fumbles, and tacking on six points to the scoreboard
twice over a four-year career. That’s exactly the kind of production the Eagles’
secondary has missed since Brian Dawkins walked.

If there is any good news to take away, it’s that Byrd wasn’t
the only Pro Bowl-caliber safety out there. It looks like Dashon Goldson (28)
will make his escape from San Francisco, and he could be the first step to solidifying
Philly’s back end. There are several quality players to choose from, not forgetting William
Moore (28) from Atlanta or even Detroit’s Louis Delmas (26). Goldson is clearly
head and shoulders above the rest though, with similar numbers to that of Byrd – 31 PD, 14 INT, 5 FF, 1 TD.

The safety position is said to be deep in this year’s draft,
but with Nate Allen beginning to look lost, the Eagles can afford to
make a big splash with Goldson and still take somebody in April should they so choose. In terms of filling
a specific need, Goldson fits the bill perhaps better than any other free
agent this offseason. He should definitely be a target next week.


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