Eagles Free Agent Debate: Defense

With football back on the front page, we are going to take a look at the Free Agent Class of 2011 from the Eagles’ perspective.  Who should they sign?  Who should they avoid?  And in the end, what is going to happen?  We do our best psychic work over the next few days.

Today, we focus on the defensive side of the ball, which is where the Eagles likely will be focusing as well.  Let’s start with the big fish in the pond:

NNAMDI ASOMUGHA (DB, Oakland)

Why should they sign him:
The Eagles desperately need a corner after having allowed 31 passing TDs last season.  Landing the prize free agent in this year’s crop would provide incentive for teams to throw more in the direction of Asante Samuel, who is a premier ball hawk.   The yin and yang of Asomugha and Samuel’s styles are perfect: one is a man-to-man lock down corner, the other is a terrific zone ball hawk.  If the Eagles get Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in a Kevin Kolb trade with Arizona, they can cover spread offenses with three of the best in the game.  Of course, if they get DRC, they probably don’t go after a corner… but why not go for broke, similar to what the baseball team across the parking lot has done with their Starting Rotation of Dreams?

Why shouldn’t they sign him:
Asomugha comes with a prohibitive cost against the salary cap.  He will probably cost big money, likely 14-17 million dollars a year.  Investing a lot in Asomugha might lead to sacrifice elsewhere at other need positions, and that is not the way the Eagles usually do business.  That money would be better spent getting a corner like Johnathan Joseph or even Ike Taylor along with players at other need positions.  Asomugha is coming off a contract that just paid him $30 million over 2 years.  If this is truly about the money, he will sign elsewhere.

Will they sign him:
Unlikely.  Asomugha will likely be offered more money by other teams than the Eagles are willing to offer, especially if they can land Rodgers-Cromartie in a trade with Arizona.

RAY EDWARDS (DE, Minnesota)

Why should they sign him:
The Eagles haven’t really found the answer on the defensive line on the other side of Trent Cole.  Ray Edwards could be that guy.  He played on one of the best defensive lines last year in Minnesota and tallied 8.5 sacks.   The Eagles can’t be sure with the progress of second-year player Brandon Graham.  He played well in his rookie year until going down late in the year with a torn ACL, leading to microfracture surgery in the offseason.   Edwards would immediately solidify the other side of the line, and would not come with as steep a price tag as Asomugha.  The Eagles could likely afford both Edwards and another corner from the free agent pool for the same cost.

Why shouldn’t they sign him:
Edwards could be considered the defensive version of Alvin Harper:  a player who clearly benefits from the talent around him.  He was clearly the least important person on the Vikings’ defensive line and might not benefit by being more of a focused target for offensive lines.   Meanwhile, Trent Cole is locked in under contract, and Brandon Graham is still acclimating to the system.   Darryl Tapp is still in play as a free agent-to-be, but according to a recent tweet, Tapp had a meeting with new DL coach Jim Washburn and was excited to work with him.  If the Eagles had no intention of keeping him, that meeting probably doesn’t happen.  So with a rotation of three established DEs, is there really room for a player like Edwards?

Will they sign him:
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Edwards is likely going to be an Eagle when all is said and done.  Of course, Atlanta resident AndDave claims, “I don’t even use the AJC as toilet paper.”    The Eagles have never been a “go for broke” team, and have only added marquee names at positions where they have been remarkably thin over the years.  By those standards, we expect Edwards will not be wearing midnight green in the 2011 season.

CHARLES JOHNSON (DE, Carolina)

Why should they sign him:
Most of the same statements that apply to Edwards could apply to Charles Johnson.  Of course, Johnson is coming off his breakout year with 11.5 sacks anchoring a Panthers defensive line trying to overcome the loss of Julius Peppers.   Johnson was the featured pass rusher for Carolina, and made the Panthers defense quite respectable despite their poor record.

Why shouldn’t they sign him:
See the section above on Edwards.  Johnson falls into the same mold of the type of player the Eagles usually don’t go after if they already have established men at the position.

Will they sign him:
There will undoubtedly be a bidding war for players like Johnson, as teams throughout the league try to stock up on pass rushers.  Johnson is one of the bigger names with some of the bigger numbers out there, and the Eagles will likely be outbid for his services.

PAUL POSLUSZNY (LB, Buffalo)

Why should they sign him:
A post on Twitter from beat writer Jeff McLane claims that Posluszny would love to join the Eagles linebacking corps.   He is coming off a season where he led the Bills in tackles with 103, and also managed 2 sacks.  He can play both inside or outside, and the Eagles love versatile defensive players. Adding Posluszny to a rotation that could also include Stewart Bradley and promising youngster Jamar Chaney would be a nice upgrade.  With the abundance of spread offenses in the league, usually only 2 LBs are on the field at any given time, meaning that all three would get reps.

Why shouldn’t they sign him:
Posluszny has stated publicly that his preference is to return to Buffalo, but will test the open market in the days to come.  He has missed time due to injury the past two seasons, which doesn’t bode well for a 27-year old linebacker.   This could be his only chance to cash in on a lucrative free agent deal.  Plus, the Bills will have to reach the new salary cap floor, which amounts to 99% of the cap.  That could force Buffalo’s hand into offering him a large sum of money.

Will they sign him:
Posluszny would be more of a complementary player in Philly rather than the “big fish” he is on the Buffalo defense, and the former Penn State standout would be a great fit.   However, Buffalo needs his presence more than other teams do, including the Eagles.  Buffalo will do what they can to re-sign him to anchor their defense.

JOHNATHAN JOSEPH (CB, Cincinnati)

Why should they sign him:
The best cornerback on the market with a pronouncable name.  Although, the extra “h” in his first name still makes it difficult to spell.  He was a shutdown corner on a team that needed a strong defensive presence.   Joseph is younger than Asomugha at age 27, meaning he is under the Eagles unofficial age limit of 30.  With 14 INTs over his five year career, he can be counted on to give Asante Samuel some competition in the turnover department.  He also brings the big play ability, having scored a touchdown himself for each of the past four seasons.  Plus, pretty much everyone on the Bengals is chomping at the bit to get the hell out of there.

Why shouldn’t they sign him:
Joseph comes with a lot of injury baggage, having missed 12 games over the last 3 seasons with various ailments.  With the new rules in the CBA, the Bengals (like the Bills with Posluszny) will have to reach the salary cap floor of 99%.  Cincinnati will likely make re-signing Joseph a priority, and will probably offer him a good amount of money to stick around.   Most importantly, Joseph will not move until Asomugha moves, and the teams that lose out on Nnamdi will add fuel to the bidding war.

Will they sign him:
If the Eagles do not get Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie from the Cardinals, they will probably make a very respectable offer to Joseph.

IKE TAYLOR (CB, Pittsburgh)

Why should they sign him:
Taylor has been a constant presence on one of the top defenses in the league year after year.   He has not missed a game over the last 6 seasons.  Despite numerous changes in the Steelers secondary over the years, he has remained in the starting lineup, which says something about how much he is valued.  At 6’1″, he would be better suited to covering some of the league’s taller receivers opposite the 5’8″ Asante Samuel.

Why shouldn’t they sign him:
Taylor is 31, a little bit older than the Eagles would like.  He is not as much of a threat for INTs, with only 11 in his 8-year career.  He can choose to remain in Pittsburgh in Troy Polamalu’s shadow, and still be productive in that defensive scheme.

Will they sign him:
Again, if the Eagles don’t get Rodgers-Cromartie, they will still need a CB.  Obviously, their preference would be for Asomugha or Joseph, and would only move to Taylor if they fail on all 3 of those fronts.  Taylor wants to stay in Pittsburgh, and they want him back.  It seems unlikely he even reaches the Eagles radar screen.

ALBERT HAYNESWORTH (DT, Washington)

Why should they sign him:
Haynesworth would provide a great test for new defensive line coach Jim Washburn.  He honestly believes he can coach him to a return to his Pro Bowl form of 2007-2008 when he was with Tennessee.  Haynesworth would excel in the Eagles 4-man front as a run stopper.  Plus, he’ll get to face the Redskins twice a year for some extra motivation.

Why shouldn’t they sign him:
We all know that Haynesworth was not motivated last year.  Observe:  Exhibit A.  He even made Mike McGlynn look like a Pro Bowl offensive lineman.   The lingering question remains:  was his poor attitude a product of the toxic environment in Washington, or does it reflect a deeper character flaw?

Will they sign him:
If the Eagles offer him a contract, they will undoubtedly take his character questions into consideration.  The contract will likely be incentive based with provisions that will allow the Eagles to back out if the attitude adjustment fails.  If he agrees to sign with the Eagles, he will definitely be happier for doing so.

Tomorrow, we take a look on the offensive side of the ball.

And don’t worry… we promise this will be a Favre-free zone.

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