Defensive line is an under-the-radar need for the Eagles going into free agency and the draft.
Here’s what we know: The team really likes Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton as 3-4 defensive ends. It would be a surprise if they’re not two of the three starters going into 2014.
But there’s a lot we don’t know. For example, do the Eagles think Bennie Logan is the answer at nose tackle? There’s no doubt they like Logan, but maybe he’s more of a rotational guy who offers versatility and plays DT in sub packages.
There are more question marks with the backups. The Eagles want to rotate bodies up front, but they just didn’t have enough talent to do a ton of that last season. It’ll be a surprise if free agent Clifton Geathers returns. And Damion Square will have to battle for a roster spot next summer.
As we mentioned yesterday, it’s no guarantee that Vinny Curry returns.
Keeping all that in mind, look for the Eagles to add bodies and competition up front in the coming months. The “big people beat up little people” motto is especially true on the defensive line.
When taking a look at the free agent list, here are eight names that caught my eye:
* Note: Ages refer to how old each will be at the start of the 2014 season.
Arthur Jones, Ravens (28) – He started 13 games last season and played 55.3 percent of the Ravens’ snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Jones is 6-3, 315 and has long arms (35 1/4 inches). A key theme here will be positional versatility. That’s something the Eagles’ coaching staff values. Jones was good against the run last year and has 8.5 sacks in the past two seasons. According to The Baltimore Sun, he’s expected to draw a lot of interest in free agency.
Linval Joseph, Giants (25) – Eagles fans should be plenty familiar with the 6-4, 323-pounder. He’s started 46 games for the Giants over the past three seasons and been a productive player. Joseph played defensive tackle in New York’s 4-3, but because of his size, he has some positional versatility. Johnson is not considered a great pass-rusher, but given his age and measurables, he could intrigue the Eagles.
Tyson Jackson, Chiefs (28) – The third overall pick in 2009 never turned into an impact player in Kansas City. But he has experience (55 starts) and size (6-4, 296) to play defensive end in a 3-4. If the Eagles took a look at Jackson, it would almost certainly be as a rotational player behind Cox and Thornton.
Paul Soliai, Dolphins (30) – Last year, the Eagles took a shot on a veteran nose tackle as a stop-gap option: Isaac Sopoaga. That didn’t work out very well. Sopoaga played poorly and eventually was traded to the Patriots. But Soliai is considered to have more left in his tank at this point in his career. At 6-4, 340, he’s a pure nose tackle who would come off the field in sub packages (Soliai played 48.1 percent of the snaps last year). The Eagles would prefer versatility, but if the price is right, they could look at Soliai as a big body inside against the run.
Terrence Cody, Ravens (26) – There are some other guys who would fill a similar role. One is Cody, the 6-4, 340-pound former second-round pick. He played 28.9 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps last year and never turned into an impact player in Baltimore. But if the Eagles see potential and want a young, big-bodied nose tackle, Cody could be of interest.
Corey Wootton, Bears (27) – Here’s an under-the-radar name for you. Wootton (6-6, 270) played in Chicago’s 4-3, but GM Phil Emery told reporters earlier this offseason that he’d be a fit in a 3-4 as well.
“Corey is one of the guys that would transcend scheme,” Emery said. “I was in a 3-4, a pure, straight 3-4 defense in Kansas City and he could have been the right end. If he put a little weight on, he could be the left end. He played under-tackle for us. Actually Corey was most disruptive as a pass rusher, between the d-end and d-tackle, at d-tackle this year.”
Wootton had 10 sacks, six passes batted down and three forced fumbles the past two seasons. He had hip surgery in January and could be looking at a short-term deal without a lot of guaranteed money.
Alex Carrington, Bills (27) – Another guy who fits the age and size range. He only played in three games last year because of a quad injury, and Carrington (6-5, 301) is considered a rotational player. He would play 3-4 defensive end and potentially move inside on passing downs. Again, Carrington is unlikely to command a big paycheck. He was a third-round pick in 2010.
Al Woods, Steelers (27) – It’s no secret that Billy Davis showed his defensive linemen film of the Steelers last year, so scheme familiarity would not be an issue with Woods. At 6-4, 307, he has some of the longest arms in the league (36 inches). Woods played both nose tackle and defensive end in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme. He’s bounced around to three teams since the Bucs first drafted him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft out of LSU.