Wake-Up Call: On the Safety Front

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Some safety-related  free-agency activity to catch you up on:

TJ Ward is drawing interest from about 11 teams across the league, according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Broncos, Jets and Lions have all been linked to the 27-year-old safety. Cabot mentions the Eagles as another team that might be on the list, citing the Oregon ties that Ward and Chip Kelly share.

They could very well be interested — but at what price point? Read more »

Open Thread: Free Agency Begins

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The “legal tampering” period of free agency is underway. From noon Saturday through 4 p.m. Tuesday, teams are allowed to negotiate with the representation of pending free agents. No deals can be executed during this time, but this is when many of the contracts get hammered out.

We’ll update the post with all the latest. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Read more »

Combine Notes: On Worilds and the OLB Hunt

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INDIANAPOLIS – Billy Davis began his professional coaching career in Pittsburgh, learning from the likes of Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau, and in some respects is trying to build the Eagles defense in the Steelers likeness. To do so, he will have to bolster the outside linebacker position, which has long been a critical component of Pittsburgh’s attack.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has had a hand in the assembly of the Steelers’ roster  since 2000. We asked him what he looks for in an outside linebacker. Read more »

Wake-Up Call: On OLB Free Agent Mike Neal

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is the fourth-best outside linebacker 0n the free agent market, according to Rotoworld. It’s a bit of a feat that he is listed as an outside linebacker at all.

A four-year down lineman at Purdue, the Packers selected Neal with the 56th overall pick in 2010. He weighed a shade over 300 pounds when he entered the league, and was used as a rush defensive tackle in Green Bay. His career got off to a slow start. He appeared in less than half of the Packers’ games over his first three seasons, in part because of injury, in part because of a four-game suspension for violating  the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances. (He claims it was for taking Adderrall).

Things turned around for the 26-year old in 2013. Knowing that he had good feet and mobility for a big man, the coaching staff made a pretty bold move and asked him to switch to outside linebacker. The gamble paid off. Read more »

Eagles Wake-Up Call: DRC And the Corner Market

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie signed a one-year deal with Broncos late Wednesday night.

Nobody knows the holes in DRC’s game better than Eagles observers, but many believed there would be some competition for the talented 26-year-old. It never developed, and DRC finds himself on a prove-it contract in Denver.

His signing solidifies the fact that the Eagles will go into 2013 with two new starting corners. They inked former Ram Bradley Fletcher to a two-year deal on the first day of free agency to compete for a job, but the all-important position remains paper thin at the moment.

Where to go from here?

There are a healthy amount of corners still available, although the market appears to be heating up. Not only did DRC find a home late Wednesday, but so too did 26-year-old Derek Cox, who goes from Jacksonville to San Diego on a four-year deal. (We were told it was down to the Chargers, Saints and Browns for his services. The Eagles never got serious about him.) This could very well start a run on corners.

Ideally, the Eagles would land a young cornerback with decent size. Here are a few options that appear to fit the criteria, and what we know about them:

Sean Smith, Dolphins (6-3/218/25) -We were hearing at the start of free agency that the Eagles were not going to be players for Smith, as they were staying away from the hefty contracts and looking more at the next tier down. Unless his price tag really drops, we’ll continue to operate under the belief that they are not in on him.

Keenan Lewis, Steelers (6-0/208/26) –  Lewis has good size and led the NFL with 16 passes defensed last year, per Pro Football Focus. He was heading to New Orleans Wednesday to visit with the Saints.

Antoine Cason, Chargers (6-1/195/26) – The former first-round pick has 49 starts under his belt and has never missed a game in five seasons. He is reportedly scheduled to visit the Cardinals. 

Also of note: Aqib Talib (6-1/205/27) is supposedly on the Redskins’ radar, though it’s questionable whether they could fit him under their cap…There was a report that Brent Grimes (5-10/183/29) was heading back to Atlanta, but that proved to be erroneousAntoine Winfield (5-9/190/35) was recently released by the Vikings, but at 35, it’s hard to see him as a fit.

There are still some options out there, but the time to act is drawing near for the Eagles.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Ricky Jean-Francois left town without a deal.

What to make of the Geno Smith workout? Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman were asked about the QB.

Kelly references the Patriots’ Aaron Hernandez when talking about his new tight end, James Casey.

Isaac Sopoaga promises that Eagles will “shock the world.”

The Eagles will reportedly look at tackles Andre Smith and Sebastian Vollmer.

A round-up of analysis and reaction to the Eagles free-agent signings.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Bill Barnwell over at Grantland talks about the Eagles’ approach early in free agency.

They added Bradley Fletcher from the Rams and Patrick Chung from the Patriots on relatively small deals, signing players who were out of favor in their old organizations but exhibited some signs of above-average play in the recent past. The sort of logic that went into those moves — buying low on a low-risk, medium-reward player — seemed absurdly out of place on the dumbest day of the NFL year. Some of the teams that made headlines Tuesday by following a now-infamous Eagles plan that didn’t work might have done well to follow the new Philadelphia brain trust’s lead.

Mel Kiper has an updated mock draft out. He sees the Eagles taking Alabama corner Dee Milliner.

Pick analysisNnamdi Asomugha won’t be wearing an Eagles uniform in 2013, and in a division with Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III, the Eagles can’t simply attempt to piece together the secondary. They need talent, and Milliner offers the best cornerback talent in the draft. Not a tough pick.

Free-agency factor: There isn’t much in the way of top-end talent available in free agency if you want to improve your secondary, so I’m not sure any shopping will change the basis for this pick.

COMING UP

Bradley Fletcher and Patrick Chung to meet the media at 4:15. Plenty of action before then.

Free-Agency Buzz: News On Moore, Delmas And Winston

The three-day negotiating period for unrestricted free agents begins Saturday at midnight. (Details on what exactly that means here.) While nothing can become official until free agency officially open at 4 p.m. on March 12, there will be plenty of activity over the next few days. There is some news bubbling up already, in fact.

The latest:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Falcons have “ramped up” negotiations with safety William Moore.

Moore, who went to the Pro Bowl last season as an alternate, could demand a deal near the top of the safety market. The top safety salary belongs to San Diego’s Eric Weddle, whose deal last July averaged $8 million.

If the Falcons gave Moore a deal that averaged $8 million, they could lower his cap number by spreading out the signing bonus over the term of the contract.

Meanwhile, the Lions are getting in front of their free-agent safety before the clock strikes midnight.

The 25-year old has been hampered by knee issues over the past two seasons, missing 13 games in that time.

Albert Breer has the latest on recently-released tackle Eric Winston.

Les Bowen reported that the Eagles were one of the first teams to inquire about Winston after Andy Reid released him.

The Jaguars will reportedly cut safety Dawan Landry. The 30-year-old played in all 16 games last season and had 100 tackles and an interception. Landry played five seasons with the Ravens.

We’ll continue to update you throughout the weekend.

Dashon Goldson ‘Open To Pretty Much Anywhere’

Dashon Goldson stated his desire to return to San Francisco in a recent interview with Sirius XM, but allowed that there “hasn’t been much talk” of a new deal with the Niners as of yet. Free agency is just six days away.

“Hopefully something picks up and if they [don’t], I will be interested in what other teams would have to say,” Goldson said, adding that he would be open to playing “pretty much anywhere.”

Several stars would have to align for him to end up in Philadelphia.

One factor is money. Goldson is reportedly seeking a contract worth $8 million a year. The Eagles have the cap room to make it happen (they have more than $33 million worth of space even before you factor Nnamdi Asomugha‘s numbers into the equation), it’s a matter of whether it is viewed as the most sound investment. There are a lot of pieces that need to be filled in, and a long-term plan that needs to be mapped out. Does it make sense to commit that kind of money to the 28-year-old Pro Bowler, or can you get better value elsewhere?

Whether it is Goldson or otherwise, it’s a safe bet that the Eagles will attack their safety need in free agency. Howie Roseman on Wednesday said there are more safeties with draftable grades in the upcoming NFL Draft than there have been in recent years. The problem is, there’s no way of guaranteeing that you will walk away with one.

“Where are they going to come off?” said Roseman. “You think that there is a strength and then there is a run and you look at your board and you go, ‘OK, I thought that was a strong position but I guess not.'”

Given that they can’t really afford to walk away empty-handed this offseason, chances are they will secure a safety in free agency so they don’t have to reach come April.

A look at the free-agent safeties can be found here.

Eagles Watching Tag Game Closely

There have been some moves (and non-moves) around the league in recent days that could have an impact on the Eagles’ offseason plans.

Teams have until Monday to use the franchise tag. So far, five clubs have opted to do so:

Bengals — DE Michael Johnson
Bears – DT Henry Melton
Broncos – OT Ryan Clady
Bills – S Jairus Byrd
Colts – P Pat McAfee

With the Bengals’ tag going to Johnson,  right tackle Andre Smith remains unprotected.  The 6-4, 332-pounder was the fourth-highest rated tackle in the game last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He was selected sixth overall back in 2009 out of Alabama. Jeff Stoutland did not join the Tide until 2011 so their paths would not have crossed, but surely the O-line coach could call his former boss, Nick Saban, to get the lowdown.

Smith is reportedly seeking a contract that will pay him $9 million a year. Then again, so am I.

Similarly, the Bills’ decision to tag Byrd means 6-2, 306-pound guard Andy Levitre will become a free agent assuming he doesn’t strike a deal with Buffalo prior to March 12. A 2009 second-round pick out of Oregon State, Levitre was PFF’s ninth-rated guard in 2012, yielding one sack.

Both Smith and Levitre are 26.

Age could be a factor in Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman‘s thinking when it comes to free agency this year. They are looking big picture, and may not want to allocate resources to players who are entering the twilight of their careers.

Also of note:

— Atlanta released John Abraham, Dunta Robinson and Michael Turner. These moves should help the Falcons in their effort to re-sign some of their own free agents to-be, including safety William Moore and cornerback Brent Grimes.

— The Cardinals released 28-year-old cornerback William Gay, formerly of the Steelers, as well as linebacker Stewart Bradley.

— The Titans are expected to use the tag on tight end Jared Cook.

— The Niners reportedly will not tag safety Dashon Goldson. The 28-year-old has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons, coming up with nine picks and 20 passes defensed in that time. Billy Davis mentioned the Niners’ physicality when talking about the kind of defense he would like to bring to Philadelphia. Former San Francisco personnel man Tom Gamble now works for the Eagles.

Become a fan of Birds 24/7 on Facebook.

Eagles Wake-Up Call: FA Options At Defensive Tackle

If there was any doubt that the Eagles  would be addressing defensive tackle this offseason, it was erased when both Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins were released Monday.

With Derek Landri poised to become a free agent, the Eagles currently have four interior linemen under contract: Fletcher Cox, Antonio Dixon, Cedric Thornton and Ronnie Cameron. No matter the eventual scheme, they will need to add players to the mix.

Howie Roseman, Chip Kelly and company could look for reinforcements in April’s draft (Florida’s Sharrif Floyd and Utah’s Star Lotulelei could both go early), but also have the opportunity to bolster the position via free agency, which kicks off on March 12.

Evan Silva over at Rotoworld.com just released his top 50 free agents to be, five of which are defensive tackles. They are (by rank):

9. Henry Melton (Chicago)
Age: 26
Height/Weight: 6-3, 295
2012 stats: Six sacks, two forced fumbles, 43 tackles (14 games)

13. Desmond Bryant (Oakland)
Age: 27
Height/Weight: 6-6, 311
2012 stats: Three sacks, forced fumble (16 games)
* Bryant was recently arrested on a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief. His mugshot is getting plenty of attention.

33. Randy Starks (Miami)
Age: 29
Height/Weight: 6-3, 305
2012 stats: 4.5 sacks, interception, four passes defensed (16 games)

44. Jason Jones (Seattle)
Age: 26
Height/Weight: 6-5, 276
2012 stats: Three sacks, four passes defensed, fumble recovery (12 games)

47. Terrance Knighton (Jacksonville)
Age: 26
Height/Weight: 6-3, 330
2012 stats: Two sacks, two forced fumbles (16 games)
* Knighton played college ball at Temple

It is important to remember that teams can use the franchise tag to hold onto a coveted player. The tag number for interior linemen this year is expected to be about $8 million.

One player not named by Silva is 49ers D-lineman Ricky Jean-Francois. Adam Caplan over at the Sideline View did a little digging, and discovered that there could be a market for the 26-year-old.

I asked three high-ranking NFL executives this week for a quick list of players some under-the-radar players for free agency. While their opinions differed quite a bit, one name that showed up on all three lists was San Francisco 49ers DL Ricky Jean-Francois.

Jean-Francois has only started five games in his career and hasn’t played in more than 27 percent of the defensive snaps in any season, but one of the executives noted that the fifth-year pro brings outstanding interior pass rush in nickel situations. And his versatility is a big reason why he could receive a lot of attention at the start of the new league year on March 12.

Jean-Francois has lined up at NT and DE in the 49ers’ 3-4 defensive scheme.

Given that former San Francisco personnel man Tom Gamble is now in Philly, the 6-3, 295-pounder could be worth keeping an eye on.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Sheil takes a look at defensive prospects Dion Jordan and Ezekiel Ansah.

The Eagles parted with  Jenkins on Monday. Then followed that up by cutting Patterson.

Could there be interest in Matt Barkley? The team met with him in Indianapolis, and came away impressed.

Kapadia offers three parting thoughts from his time at the Combine.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

The Niners have a deal in place for Alex Smith. Or they don’t. PFT sorts through it all.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reports that the 49ers don’t have a deal in place to trade Smith once the trading period opens at 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12.

Barrows notes at the outset of his tweet that it’s lying time in the NFL.  But if the Niners are letting it leak that a deal is “effectively done” (whatever that means) and not identifying the name of the team, there’s a good chance that there is no team — and that the tactic is aimed at smoking a team or two out of the weeds.

Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei was forced to withdraw from the Combine because of an abnormal heart exam. Mike Garafolo of USA Today reports that Lotulelei has been told that he can work out on his own.

The person said it’s hoped that it’s not a heart condition but rather dehydration, too much sodium in his diet or rapid weight loss in a short timeframe that prompted tests to reveal his heart wasn’t pumping at full capacity. Lotulelei dropped almost 10 pounds in three days recently, in part because of the hectic schedule of traveling to the combine and the long days in Indianapolis.

Lotulelei did not fail his physical but rather was given an incomplete designation pending the consultation with the specialist, the person said, adding it was Lotulelei’s decision to withdraw from drills after hearing the doctors’ recommendation that he sit them out.

COMING UP

Plenty to get into with March coming up on us fast.