Jean-Francois Leaves Town Without Deal

Ricky Jean-Francois’ first visit as a free agent was with the Eagles, but he left town today without a deal.

Jean-Francois’ agent told Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee that the 26-year-old defensive lineman is on his way to Indianapolis to visit with the Colts.

Given his youth and versatility, Jean-Francois is expected to generate plenty of interest on the open market, even though he only played 25.6 percent of the 49ers’ defensive snaps last year, per Pro Football Focus.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said today that the team had a “walk-away number” for every free agent. Perhaps they didn’t see value in the deal Jean-Francois was seeking. We’ll find out soon enough.

INTEREST IN BARWIN?

Two sources tell Derrick Gunn of CSNPhilly.com that the Eagles have shown interest in Texans outside linebacker Connor Barwin.

Barwin (6-4, 268) was on the field for over 94 percent of Houston’s snaps last year. The 26-year-old had 11.5 sacks in 2011, but just three last year.

There have been no reports about Barwin visiting any teams.

ASOMUGHA, AMENDOLA, AVRIL

Nnamdi Asomugha is generating interest from the Saints, Broncos, 49ers, Texans and Cardinals, according to Pro Football Talk. …With Wes Welker headed to Denver, the Patriots have signed slot receiver Danny Amendola to a five-year, $31 million deal, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. …Pass-rusher Cliff Avril has agreed to terms with the Seahawks, per Albert Breer of NFL Network.

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Kelly Hints At Casey’s Role, References Hernandez

Chip Kelly was asked about James Casey’s versatility when he brought up an interesting name.

“I think the versatility that you can present to defenses is when you have a certain grouping in the game, there’s not only one thing you can do,” Kelly said. “I think the teams that have been successful doing it, you watch the Patriots line up Aaron Hernandez [6-1, 245] all over the place. Is he going to be a tight end? Is he going to be a receiver? Is he going to be a running back?

“It makes it very difficult for the defense. They don’t know at the beginning of the play where people are going to line up and what they’re going to do. It keeps them on their toes. We want guys that can do that. You really get pigeon-holed when you have one-dimensional players. And when you do, it makes it a little bit easier for the defenses to go out there and understand what’s going to go on in certain formations.”

That was really all Kelly needed to say to explain why he thinks Casey is such a good fit.

We don’t know the exact parts of his Oregon offense that are coming to the NFL. But let’s assume the Eagles are going to use an up-tempo attack. Casey is a piece that can line up all over the place and be moved for specific matchup purposes. Against a defensive back, the 6-3, 240-pounder should have an advantage as a blocker. Against a linebacker, he should be able to use his quickness.

Jimmy Kempski of Blogging the Beast linked to this Boston Globe article recently, in which Greg A. Bedard described the rise of the Patriots’ two tight-end offense:

The “F” or flex tight end is 6-3 or taller, around 235 pounds, must be able to run and be an excellent pass receiver. Does not need to be a good blocker.

Everyone in the building agreed that Aaron Hernandez out of the University of Florida, where he did a little bit of everything, was the prototype “F.”

The truth is, Casey is considered a good blocker too. But you see why Kelly made the comparison.

Some have wondered whether Casey’s addition means less playing time for Brent Celek. And while the Eagles will likely still make plenty of moves in the coming months, that’s probably not the right way to look at it. If Kelly plans on spreading the field with four receivers, Casey and Celek could very well be on the field together.

“We’re certainly going to use both of them in the game at the same time,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot of that going on in the league right now. You just look up the road at the Patriots using Gronkowski and Hernandez at the same time. I think the mismatches that they create, sometimes, they’re too athletic for linebackers and they’re too big for defensive backs. It’s a big man’s game, and when you can get big, athletic guys that can run, it’s our job as a coaching staff to put them in position to make plays.”

You get the feeling Casey is looking forward to being a bigger part of the offense. At Rice, he had a 111-catch, 1,329-yard season in which he scored 13 touchdowns. With the Texans last year, he played just 51 percent of the offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus. And he went out into pass routes just 38.9 percent of the time.

“I thought it was just the best case for me to come here and to get an opportunity to see my full potential as a player,” Casey said. “As a player, you work hard, you want to give yourself a chance to see what you really can do, and give yourself the best opportunity to succeed. And I think this is it for the team and for myself.”

The Eagles looked at Casey’s versatility and targeted him out of the gate as soon as they were allowed to sign players Tuesday. The other four guys they added were all on the defensive side of the ball. But Kelly, who’s made his name on offense, is clearly excited about having another weapon at his disposal.

“As a coach, it’s almost kind of like you’ve got a new toy,” he said.

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Report: Eagles Look Into Andre Smith, Vollmer

Finding a new right tackle could be on the Eagles’ short list of priorities.

Yesterday, there were reports that the Birds were interested in Jake Long. And today, they’re at least looking into Cincinnati’s Andre Smith and New England’s Sebastian Vollmer, according to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com.

Smith (6-4, 335) was the No. 6 overall pick in 2009 and has become one of the better right tackles in the league. On the surface, Smith doesn’t seem like a natural fit for what we THINK Chip Kelly’s going to run. Then again, he played at a high level last year and is only 26.

Vollmer (6-8, 320) was taken in the second round of the 2009 draft. He’s started 44 games in four seasons and is 28. Injuries are also a concern for Vollmer. He’s dealt with back issues and an ankle injury, missing 11 games in the past two years. Vollmer is a right tackle, although he did play the left side as a rookie.

In terms of interest, the Bengals were still very much interested in bringing Smith back as of yesterday, according to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer. He has not been linked to other teams.

The situation for Vollmer is similar. The Patriots could still be looking to bring him back if the price is right. He has not been linked to any other teams either just yet.

The latest on Long is that he’s taking a physical with the Rams and could sign with them, according to Albert Breer of NFL Network. The situation appears to still be fluid though.

Eric Winston is also still on the market.

As for the Eagles, assuming the interest in right tackles is genuine, they seem to be in favor of moving Todd Herremans back inside to guard. As I said this morning, that’s a key idea to keep in mine not only during free agency, but during the draft.

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What They’re Saying About the Free-Agent Signings

The Eagles did not go with a lot of household names for their first wave of free agent signings. Time to study up.

To get a little bit better of an understanding of what tight end James Casey, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, safetyPatrick Chung and linebacker Jason Phillips bring to the table, we rounded up some analysis of the players and reaction to the signings.

Greg Cosell and Adam Caplan did a film session on Sopoaga recently for the team’s website. This is what Cosell had to say:

I’ll tell you what, I thought he played very well in limited snaps in the playoffs. He’s a true nose, and he’s very good at it. But there were games this year, depending on who the 49ers played, where he only played seven, eight snaps, and there were other games where he played 25. So it really depends what kind of offense you are playing against.

Now you have to start thinking of what division you are in. Do the teams in your division play a lot of three wide? Because he’s not likely to be on the field. It comes down to, how many snaps will Sopoaga play in your defense?

Tommy Lawlor over at Iggles Blitz profiles Fletcher.

You may look at the stat sheet and see that Fletcher wasn’t a full time starter in 2012 and wonder what the Eagles were thinking.  Watch the tape.  I wrote a few times about this guy recently.  He had the best pure cover skills of any CB on the market.  Is there risk in signing him? Only in the sense that he hasn’t started at CB for 16 games in his 4-year career.  Before you get fired up about durability, Fletcher played in 16 games in 2010 and 2012.  He started 15 in 2010.  He started 4 last year.  Why just 4? Because the Rams spent big money on Cortland Finnegan and an early pick on Janoris Jenkins.  Fletcher was coming off an injury and they made him the #3 CB.  The twist here is that STL put one of the other guys in the slot and Fletcher played LCB.  He faced top flight competition.  I watched him in several games.  Fluid player.  Good speed.  Good coverage instincts.  I wanted the Eagles to get him because Fletcher was the best cover guy available. Simple as that.  He gives us a very talented starting CB.

And here are his thoughts on Phillips:

Funny, I’ve been after Jason for a while.  I had him as a 3rd round target of the Eagles back in the 2009 draft.  He was cut before the 2009 season began and I had interest.  He was cut by the Ravens in 2011 and I had interest.  Always seemed like a good STer and backup ILB.  Let’s be honest about the current backup ILBs. I don’t trust Jamar Chaney or Casey Matthews.  Phillips will likely take one of their jobs.  The other two can battle it out for the other spot.

Dan Graziano likes the Casey signing in particular.

The idea of someone like Casey, who can function as a blocker, a receiver out of the backfield or a tight end, has to seem exciting to a coach who likes to experiment and stay as multiple as possible on offense. Kelly will want options, and having an H-back or “joker” type of player available to Michael Vick (or whoever the quarterback ends up being this year or down the road) can only help with that. The Eagles can run double-tight end looks with Casey andBrent Celek or line the new guy up in the backfield and force teams to have to account for him as something more than a blocker.

I like the signing. It’s not a big, splashy one, but Casey is a guy who was drawing interest around the league from teams that thought the Texans underused him. The Eagles have work to do on defense, but the defensive back market is overloaded and likely to move slowly. It’s fitting that Kelly’s first big move was on offense, and it’s a move that’s likely to pay dividends as he gets creative.

This John McCLain piece from 2009 on the difficulties that Casey has overcome is a must-read.

Jimmy Kempski of Blogging The Beast dug up a highlight reel of Chung that demonstrates the safety’s ability to lay a lick.

Whenever I needed to feel safe, I used to put on some soothing music, light a candle, and sit down in the Eagles secondary. Chung will make the Eagles secondary a little more uncomfortable.

Eagles Wake-Up Call: What’s Next For Birds?

The first few hours of the free agency period were relatively quiet for the Eagles, but then the team added five players: tight end James Casey, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, safety Patrick Chung and linebacker Jason Phillips.

None of the five has been a Pro Bowl player, and the names were unknown to many in the Philadelphia area before Tuesday night. But they did fill some needs: (potential) starting cornerback, nose tackle, competition at safety, another weapon on offense and special teams help.

So, where do the Birds go from here? Three areas to keep an eye on…

Offensive line – The Eagles were linked to Jake Long, but the four-time Pro Bowler will take a physical with the Rams Wednesday and could sign there, according to Albert Breer of NFL Network. Eric Winston doesn’t have a team yet either, although he reportedly visited with the Chargers over the weekend.

Even if the Eagles don’t end up with either player, the fact that they showed interest means they’ve strongly considered the possibility of moving Todd Herremans back inside to guard. That’s something to keep in mind in April – the possibility of drafting a tackle in the first or second round seems very real.

Defensive line – The name to watch is Ricky Jean-Francois. The Eagles have already added Sopoaga from the 49ers, and now Tom Gamble will try to land Jean-Francois, who’s visiting with the team on Wednesday. If he signs, suddenly the Eagles have the framework for a 3-4 with Fletcher Cox, Sopoaga and Jean-Francois. Don’t sleep on outside linebacker either. The Eagles could be in the market for someone with a versatile skill set there too. Connor Barwin and Victor Butler are still available.

Secondary – You don’t think the Eagles are done here, do you? They could definitely add another starting cornerback and safety. Derek Cox, Keenan Lewis and Antonie Cason are corners still on the market. The Eagles don’t appear to be in the mix for Sean Smith anymore.

At safety, they are reportedly not interested in LaRon Landry. Glover Quin and Louis Delmas are still out there though.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Can Chung be the Eagles’ answer at safety?

Here’s the back story on Fletcher, who projects as a starting cornerback.

A look at what Sopoaga and Phillips bring to the table.

How will Chip Kelly use Casey?

The free agency tracker looks at who’s been signed, who’s going elsewhere and available targets.

The Eagles are not going in on Darrelle Revis, Dashon Goldson or Smith.

The team finally released Nnamdi Asomugha.

How would Jake Long fit?

Quintin Mikell wouldn’t mind returning to Philadelphia.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano takes a look at the Eagles’ signings on defense:

The Eagles are a team with more than $40 million in cap room, so there’s no reason to think this is anything but the beginning of what they’ll do in free agency. None of it is eye-popping, but you’re starting to get a sense of what the new regime is looking for and what their priorities are. It’s entirely possible all of these guys will make an impact on the Eagles’ defense in 2013. Possible that only one of them will. But this Eagles defense is something that’s going to take a while to take shape. It’s only now beginning.

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com on Fletcher:

Chip Kelly’s first free-agent acquisitions as Philadelphia Eagles coach came in a five-pack of underrated veterans. That’s a good thing. The Eagles quietly signed five solid veterans including safety Patrick Chung, tight end James Casey, and cornerback Bradley Fletcher. That’s Bradley Fletcher, not Fletcher Bradley as the team sent out in its press release and on Twitter. The former St. Louis Rams cornerback was our No. 56 free agent available overall, but he must not have great name recognition.

His name was repeated as Fletcher Bradley by no fewer than five other news outlets. Fletcher Bradley is the perfect symbol of this new, non-Dream Team Eagles squad.

COMING UP

I’m sure it’ll be another quiet day for the Birds…

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Eagles Look To Chung For Safety Help

The Eagles’ latest search for safety help has led them to 25-year-old Patrick Chung.

Chung was a second-round pick by the Patriots in 2009. He started 29 games in four seasons with New England, including seven in 2012. Chung played his college ball at Oregon and was there for two seasons when Chip Kelly was the offensive coordinator.

The good news is that Chung is a young, physical player. The bad news is he got pushed down the depth chart on a defense that ranked just 23rd against the pass, according to Football Outsiders.

Here’s a recap of Chung’s 2012 season from Field Yates of ESPN.com:

Chung began the season as a starter, but injuries and ineffective play pushed him down the depth chart, as he played just two defensive snaps in the AFC Championship Game. The issues for Chung appeared to be as a deep half-field defender, as he was unable to get to the sideline on deep throws down the field, and he also missed some critical open-field tackles due to poor angles. He had his best performance of the season in registering two interceptions against Jacksonville in Week 16. He has been a physical defender in previous seasons for the Patriots, but that style of play was not as prevalent in 2012.

And in an interview with CSNNE.com last year, here’s what Matt Bowen of the National Football Post (a former NFL safety) had to say about Chung:

“I wasnt that impressed with Patrick Chung,” said Bowen, referring to his play in both games. “I’m not trying to come down on the guy, but it seems like he’s guessing a lot, his eyes are in the wrong place. A couple of times he left the deep middle of the field in the Seattle game. Anytime a safety leaves the middle of the field on a trick play or a deep pass, that’s discipline. That’s looking in the wrong place and not looking in the right place with his eyes.”

Bowen says that Chung’s aggressiveness is a liability. Or was in each of the games he watched.

Staying healthy is also a concern. Chung has missed 14 games in the past three seasons. Last year, foot and shoulder injuries sidelined him for four games.

Chung has the physical tools. He ran a 4.51 at the Combine coming out of college. But clearly, there are question marks. By all accounts, he’s a good special-teams player, and while he’ll certainly get a chance to compete for a starting safety job, I’m not ready to pencil him in there quite yet. Let’s see what else the Eagles do in free agency and the draft.

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Eagles Add CB Bradley Fletcher

Around 4 p.m., the Eagles announced they were officially cutting ties with Nnamdi Asomugha. And about four hours later, they added a new starting cornerback in 26-year-old Bradley Fletcher.

Fletcher (6-0, 200) has 26 career starts under his belt and has appeared in 43 games with the Rams since being selected in the third round out of Iowa back in 2009.

Considered an outside press corner with good size, Fletcher saw significant action in the Rams’ first nine games last season, but then reportedly fell out of favor with Jeff Fisher and the coaching staff, following a performance against the Patriots in which he was called for three pass interference penalties. Fletcher played just 20 snaps in the final seven games, according to Pro Football Focus.

Overall, his charting numbers were good. Fletcher allowed just 16 completions on 34 targets (47.1 percent) for 138 yards, per PFF. He didn’t allow a completion of more than 19 yards, gave up one touchdown and had an interception. The issue, again, was the penalties. Fletcher had five pass interference penalties in nine games, which at the time, was tied for the league lead.

The Rams had invested draft picks in Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, and decided to play them instead of Fletcher the rest of the way.

Injuries have also been an issue for Fletcher. In two of his first three years, Fletcher suffered season-ending knee injuries. He tore the ACL in his right knee in 2011 and only played in four games. As a rookie, Fletcher tore a pair of ligaments in his right knee and only appeared in seven games.

Fletcher has started more than four games in a season just once. That was in 2010 when he started 15. And one good note that this audience will appreciate: He has only missed six tackles in his career, per PFF.

In the coming days, we’ll take a look at Fletcher’s performance from last year and publish an All-22 breakdown.

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Eagles Sign Sopoaga, LB Jason Phillips

The Eagles stayed away from high-priced free agents on the first day of the league year, and instead bought in bulk.

To recap: They signed cornerback Bradley Fletcher to a two-year deal; tight end James Casey to a three year deal; safety Patrick Chung to a three-year contract; linebacker Jason Phillips to a two-year deal; and defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga to a three-year deal.

More on Chung here, Casey here and Fletcher here.

Sopoaga (6-2, 330) provides the nose tackle that the Eagles’ roster is currently missing. At 31, he’s not an ascending player, but Sopoaga would be a two-down interior lineman, capable of anchoring the Eagles’ line. He only played in 32.2 percent of the 49ers’ snaps last season and was originally a fourth-round pick in 2004. He was credited with a sack and six tackles in the Niners’ playoff run this season.

The American Samoa native has amassed 447 tackles and 7.5 sacks in 125 career games (80 starts). He has experience at both defensive tackle and nose tackle.

The Eagles might not be done picking at San Francisco’s D-line. Niners defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois (6-3, 295) will visit the Eagles in the next few days, according to Adam Caplan. The 26-year-old brings versatility to the table, with his ability to line up in multiple spots up front. Jean-Francois is young, but only played in 25.6 percent of San Francisco’s defensive snaps last year, according to Pro Football Focus. His most obvious fit would probably be as a 3-4 defensive end.

The Eagles obviously have a connection to both 49ers players through their new vice president of player personnel, Tom Gamble.

Phillips (6-1, 240) looks like he was signed primarily with special teams in mind. The 27-year old has served as a reserve linebacker and special teams contributor for both the Ravens and Carolina Panthers in his four-year career. He led Carolina with 16 special teams tackles last season.

NO INTEREST IN LANDRY

Earlier, we detailed several big-name defensive backs who are unlikely to land in Philly. Apparently, you can add LaRon Landry to that list.

Mike Silver of Yahoo Sports reports that the Eagles have no interest in Landry.

Tim McManus contributed to this report.

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Eagles, James Casey Agree To 3-Year Deal

The Eagles’ first free-agent addition comes on the offensive side of the ball. The team announced Tuesday night that it has agreed to terms with versatile tight end James Casey on a three-year deal.

Casey, 28, can play a variety of positions – tight end, fullback, H-Back. The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder caught 34 balls on 45 targets for 330 yards and three touchdowns with the Texans last season. He served other roles too, including one as a lead blocker for Arian Foster.

Casey played in 51 percent of the Texans’ snaps, per Pro Football Focus. He was most commonly used as a blocker in the run game (54.6 percent of the time); he went out into pass routes 38.9 percent of the time; and he was kept in for pass protection on 6.3 percent of his offensive snaps. Casey had just one carry.

Drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2003, Casey spent three years playing Rookie League ball before going to Rice and playing football. In 2008, he had 111 catches for 1,329 yards and 13 touchdowns.

He was a fifth-round pick by the Texans in 2009.

So, how does he fit in? We don’t know exactly what Chip Kelly is going to do offensively, but part of his college philosophy was based on getting to the line of scrimmage early and determining what to do based on the look of the defense.

Casey becomes a versatile chess piece in that respect. He can line up out wide, in the slot, on the line of scrimmage or in the backfield. He can start in one place, and once the quarterback assesses the defense, Casey can motion to a different spot to create pre-snap advantages for the offense. His versatility is likely a big part of what Kelly found attractive about Casey.

Casey’s signing shouldn’t affect Brent Celek. If the Eagles show a lot of spread looks, both Casey and Celek could be on the field at the same time. It could, however, be bad news for No. 2 tight end Clay Harbor, depending on how the rest of the roster shapes up.

And it could also signal that Kelly doesn’t plan on keeping another fullback, meaning Stanley Havili might hot have a roster spot.

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