Howie Roseman offered an honest assessment earlier this offseason when asked about the Eagles’ struggles in identifying talent at the safety position.
“To me, that’s the hardest position to evaluate in college football is safeties,” Roseman said. “The guys that used to be the most explosive athletes and were playing in the back end, they’re going to play corner because they feel like maybe at corner, they can play 10 years. You look at the franchise tag numbers, the corner position is higher than the safety position. That is going to be the constant struggle. When you talk to people around the league, it’s hard to find safeties.”
The Eagles have tried and failed to fill the void left by Brian Dawkins for four seasons, bringing in guys like Nate Allen, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Jarrad Page, to name a few. Now they face another offseason looking for safety help.
The truth is, the position is changing. Teams are now looking for hybrid-type players who can line up opposite tight ends and slot receivers, play centerfield when necessary and also sneak down in the box to play the run (or the read option).
Take a glance at “offseason needs” articles around the league, and you’re going to see plenty of teams in the market for safety help.
For the Eagles, the search continues next week with the start of the free agency period (March 12). Currently on the roster are Allen, Kurt Coleman and David Sims. Allen, a second-round pick in 2010, has been a disappointment. Counting on him to take some kind of leap into a quality starter would be a mistake. The plan should be to keep him in the mix and see if he surprises.
Coleman has been given several opportunities to seize a starting job, but he is physically limited and would be better utilized in a backup role. And Sims has one career start under his belt. Colt Anderson, meanwhile, is a restricted free agent. He’s an elite special teams player, but not the answer to the team’s safety woes.
The good news is that the Eagles will have options to fill their needs in free agency and the draft. This year’s group of safety prospects is considered deep and talented. But as we’ve seen in years past, going into the draft searching for specific needs can lead to mistakes.
And this is not an either/or situation. The Eagles should look to identify young safety talent in free agency and address the position if possible in the draft. As we wrote about on Sunday, the Birds are in good cap shape and could be in position to take advantage of a market where the supply might very well out-weigh the demand.
NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal has a list out of the top 85 free agents, and it contains eight safeties (not including Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd, who was franchised). Below is a breakdown.
Dashon Goldson, SF 28 6-2 200 64
William Moore, ATL 27 6-0 221 38
Ed Reed, BAL 34 5-11 205 159
Glover Quin, HOU 27 6-0 207 60
Kenny Phillips, NYG 26 6-2 217 41
LaRon Landry, NYJ 28 6-0 220 79
Louis Delmas, DET 25 5-11 202 49
Charles Woodson, GB 36 6-1 202 203
Dashon Goldson – He’s the guy readers seem to be asking about the most, and it’s easy to understand why. Goldson has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons, is durable (has made 62 of a possible 64 starts the past four seasons) and is a versatile play-maker (nine interceptions, two forced fumbles the past two seasons).
He’ll turn 29 in September. That’s not exactly old, but teams will have to determine how many more years of top-level production Goldson has in him. That’s where the Eagles should have an advantage with Tom Gamble, who spent seven years in the 49ers’ front office.
Given the league-wide need at safety, the market for Goldson should be competitive, and he could be in line for a big pay-day. One NFL team official told Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that Goldson is looking for $8 million per season. The 49ers have until 4 p.m. today to use the franchise tag on Goldson for the second consecutive year, but according to multiple reports, they’re not going to go that route.
William Moore – He’s been a three-year starter for the Falcons and has 11 interceptions to go along with five forced fumbles the past three seasons. Moore ran a 4.51 at the Combine back in 2009. As a point of reference, only three safeties this year had a faster time.
The issue with Moore has been health. He’s missed eight games the past two seasons – four in 2012 because of a hamstring injury. The Falcons could still choose to tag him. Atlanta also recently cut ties with several veterans and could look to lock up Moore to a long-term deal.
Ed Reed – Given his age and the state of the Eagles, I don’t see this as a fit for either side.
Charles Woodson – Ditto.
Glover Quin – Like Moore, he could still get the tag. A four-year starter, he hasn’t missed a game since 2009 (his rookie season). Quin made the switch from cornerback to safety before the 2011 season, so there’s reason to believe he still has plenty of room for improvement at his new position. Given the way the league is trending, the ability to cover is at the top of the list of requirements for safeties, which makes Quin’s background intriguing. The Battle Red Blog published a good post about Quin’s versatility too, pointing to his 10-tackle performance against the Vikings in which Adrian Peterson averaged just 3.4 yards per carry.
Kenny Phillips – Eagles fans are familiar with Phillips, a first-round pick by the Giants in 2008. Age and production are non-issues with Phillips. The key is his health. He battled an MCL injury last season and only played in seven games. If healthy, he figures to have great upside, but that appears to be a serious if at this point.
LaRon Landry – Coming off an Achilles’ injury in 2011, Landry got a one-year “prove it” deal from the Jets. After playing in just 17 games his final two years with the Redskins, Landry played in all 16 in 2012 and made his first Pro Bowl, coming up with a pair of interceptions and four forced fumbles. Considering he’s 28 and coming off his first 16-game season since 2008, Landry could be looking to cash in.
Louis Delmas – Speaking of “prove it” deals, that’s what Delmas might have to settle for. If health wasn’t a concern, the Lions would almost definitely lock Delmas up to a long-term deal. The former second-round pick (2009) turns 26 in April and is productive when on the field, but knee injuries have been an issue. Delmas has missed 13 of 32 games the last two seasons. Interested teams will have to do their due diligence on him medically, and while the upside is intriguing, counting on Delmas as a starting safety would carry quite a bit of risk.
A few other names on the market:
Patrick Chung (Patriots) – His specialty is playing the run, but Chung has been unable to stay healthy, having missed 12 games the past two seasons.
Chris Clemons (Dolphins) – The 27-year-old started 16 games for Miami last year. At 6-0, 208 pounds, he ran a 4.41 coming out of Clemson in 2009 and was drafted in the fifth round.