Here are three free agency-related Eagles numbers that matter.
18 – The number of missed tackles last year for Panthers safety Mike Mitchell, according to Pro Football Focus. That was tied for most among safeties.
As we’ve mentioned in this space, the Eagles are one of the teams that has looked into signing Mitchell. But it seems like many of you would be against the move based solely on the missed tackles number. And that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Regular Birds 24/7 readers know I like incorporating stats when they make sense. But statistical analysis is extremely difficult with safeties, who oftentimes aren’t even in the TV shot. Take Mitchell, for example. He played 920 total snaps. Let’s assume for a second that his missed tackles came on 18 different plays. That is still a limited sample that accounts for less than 2 percent of his overall snaps. In other words, roughly 98 percent of the time, he was on the field for a play where he didn’t miss a tackle. How did he perform in those instances?
Missed tackles are subjective. The number can vary depending on who’s doing the charting, and a difference of two missed tackles can make a world of difference when using terms like tackling efficiency. Also, most safeties are going to have high numbers (14 of them missed at least 14 tackles, per PFF, including Earl Thomas). And three, tackling is something a player can improve on. We saw that last year with Nate Allen.
Tackling is obviously an important part of playing defense for any NFL player. But it is still only a part of the big picture. Mitchell (6 feet, 210) has good size and can run, plus he’s only 26-years-old. Granted, he played on a team with a talented front seven last year, but Mitchell did a good job on the back end.
Given the market, I still think he’s a decent mid-tier option for the Eagles.
8 – The guaranteed money (in millions) the Eagles handed out to Riley Cooper a couple weeks ago. Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com has a good breakdown of the contract on his site. He calls it team-friendly and essentially a two-year, $9 million deal. That ranks low-end for a No. 2 receiver, per Fitzgerald.
But it’s going to be fascinating to see how the wide receiver market plays out. The Eagles were obviously comfortable doing the deal with Cooper, but I wonder if they could have let him at least test the market and come back to them. Peter King of The MMQB wrote earlier today that the running back and wide receiver markets have “fallen to earth with a thud.”
Re-signing with the Eagles made a ton of sense for Cooper. He’s a fit in the system, he knows the guys in the locker room, and in my opinion, he wouldn’t have gotten a better deal financially elsewhere.
But we’ll get some sense of what the market might have been for his services when other receivers start inking deals this week.
1,158 – The number of snaps Connor Barwin played last year, the most of any 3-4 outside linebacker in the league, per PFF. Trent Cole played 908 snaps, which ranked ninth at the position. Part of that had to do with the fact that the defense had trouble getting off the field, but it also speaks to the lack of options available to Billy Davis.
The coaching staff saw Brandon Graham as a rotational player, and the only other outside linebacker on the roster was Casey Matthews.
So it’s plain to see why the Eagles have been linked to some outside linebacker free agents: Michael Johnson, Jason Worilds and Mike Neal. T-Mac reported that they’re no longer a player for Johnson, and Worilds re-signed with the Steelers. Neal remains an option.
Some have wondered what would happen to Cole if the Eagles were to add a starting-caliber 3-4 outside linebacker. My guess is he would probably stay, and they’d go with a three-man rotation. Given the snap numbers I mentioned above, getting another quality body into the mix makes sense. Cole turns 32 next season, but showed in 2013 that he still has something left in the tank. At the very least, he can rush the passer in sub packages and provide depth.
One other name that’s been mentioned: LaMarr Houston (6-3, 300). Houston (27) played 4-3 defensive end with the Raiders, but the key to his game is versatility. He can line up as an interior lineman and even drop back into coverage (did so 39 times, per PFF). The guess here is that some team will want him more than the Eagles, but it’s no surprise that the Birds value a player with Houston’s versatility.