Signed P Donnie Jones to 1-Year Deal: A+
Donnie Jones was easily Howie Roseman’s best signing of this past offseason, finally establishing punter as a position of strength for the Eagles. After seeing guys like Sav Rocca and Mat McBriar struggle mightily over the past few years, it was nice having a punter the Eagles could count on to pin the opposing team deep or even swing a nice change in field position at a key point in the game. Jones had a net average of 40.5 yards per punt, among the top in the NFL, and had a career-high 40% inside-the-20 rate.
Getting this much value out of the punting position from a 33-year old veteran on a one-year deal was an excellent move on the part of the Eagles front office.
Signed CB Cary Williams to 3-Year Deal: B+
After letting go of busts Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, the Eagles needed a complete rebuild at the cornerback position. They did not know what to expect from young nickel corner Brandon Boykin—who ended up emerging as a star—so they decided to use free agency to add starters on the outside. That started with adding veteran Cary Williams, formerly of the reigning Super Bowl champion Ravens, who was coming off of the strongest season of his career.
Williams, however, did not get off to a great start in this city. He missed many of the optional OTAs, instead deciding to go to his daughter’s dance recital and “shop for sconces.” That, obviously, did not go over well, and his rough-around-the-edges personality did not help to ameliorate the situation. He also started off the season badly, getting beat by guys left and right in the preseason and then getting burned early in the season, like when he gave up two touchdowns to Demaryius Thomas.
Then, however, things started to change as the defense came together. Williams finished the season playing his best ball of the season, and ended up being a serviceable starter on the outside, finishing with 67 tackles and 3 interceptions.
Signed SS Patrick Chung to 3-Year Deal: F
Chip Kelly knew this team lacked talent at safety, and decided to take a chance on former Patriot and Oregon Duck Patrick Chung. That simply did not work out, and he ended up finding his starting strong safety in the form of a rookie out of NC State.
It was hard to find a position on this year’s defense that really disappointed fans this year. And then you get to strong safety. Chung struggled mightily in the starts he had to make this season.
Chung, who the Eagles signed this offseason to a three-year deal worth $10 million, started out the season playing reasonably well. He was strong in run coverage and made the occasional nice play in coverage. But when he went down with an injury, rookie strong safety Earl Wolff came in and played much better, solidifying his spot as the starting safety in Billy Davis’ mind. When Wolff went down with an injury late in the season, however, the Eagles had to go back to Chung, who was horrendous in coverage.
From the long touchdown he gave up to Dez Bryant in Week 17 to the big plays to Robert Meachem and Lance Moore in the playoffs, Chung showed he was a liability in coverage in the team’s biggest moments. Do not be surprised if the Eagles cut him before the draft, select a safety, and just accept the $1M in dead money his contract would take up.
Signed CB Bradley Fletcher to 2-Year Deal: A-
To fill up the rebuilt cornerback position, after adding Williams, the Eagles decided to sign former St. Louis Rams corner Bradley Fletcher to a two-year, $5.25 million deal a month before the draft. Many fans did not know what to expect from the oft-injured, former 3rd-round pick out of Iowa. After a great 2010 season, he had struggled/been injured for much of 2011 and 2012.
Fletcher impressed nearly everyone this season; after some early struggles in coverage, Fletcher started being more physical at the line of scrimmage and getting inside of his receivers, finishing in the top 20 in the NFL with 15 passes defended. He also had 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, and 70 tackles. While the safety play behind him was poor, Fletcher was key in the transformation of the defense near the midway point of the season, always coming up with a big deflection or tackle to get his unit off the field.
Expect him to be another key contributor on defense next season, and if he continues this play, to sign an extension in the 2014-2015 offseason.
Signed OLB Connor Barwin to 6-Year Deal: A-
Switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in one season is extremely difficult, but the Eagles were able to pull it off for the most part in thanks to free agent addition Connor Barwin from the Houston Texans. Barwin, who flourished as both the SAM (coverage, delayed blitzes) and LEO (primary pass rusher) in two seasons with Houston, came in with the most 3-4 experience of anyone on the defense.
He was great for the Eagles this season, probably having the second- or third-best season of any player on the defense (behind Brandon Boykin and maybe DeMeco Ryans). Not only did he finish with 59 tackles and four stuffs from his OLB position, but he also did the little things that do not show up the stat sheet. Rarely did you find him losing contain and allowing a runner to bounce back to the outside, which helped Bennie Logan, Cedric Thornton, and Fletcher Cox mightily.
Barwin was also great in pass coverage, with 11 pass deflections and an interception. He was always in the QB’s face, forcing a batted pass, or right on his man preventing the ball from coming to him.
While the deal was rather lengthy, bringing Barwin to Philly was still another great move by Howie Roseman.
Signed TE James Casey to 3-Year Deal: C
People might be surprised that I do not put this move in the “D” or even “F” category, but I thought bringing in James Casey was a good move when it happened and I still think he has value. Although he was brought in to run two tight-end formations with Brent Celek, Chip Kelly’s drafting of Zach Ertz put those plans to rest, with Ertz and Celek seeing most of the snaps at tight end for the Eagles.
Casey, however, is still a very versatile player that this offense can use. First, he is insurance for Celek and/or Ertz; there is no guarantee either will be able to play al 16 games like they did this season. If one of them happens to go down, Casey can step right in and fill the void without the offense missing a beat. He is a good pass-catcher and an even better run-blocker, and is not a big step down from either of the Eagles’ starters.
If he ends up not finding a place on this team, however, he has some trade value. There are plenty of teams in the league who are starting to look at more two tight-end formations, and acquiring a guy like Casey would help them do it. The Eagles could get a decent draft pick in return for Casey’s services.
Still, paying him approximately $4 million for three catches and 31 yards seems extremely unfortunate, which is why this move earns a “C”.
Traded for WR Arrelious Benn, Re-Sign Through 2014: B
The Eagles traded back a round in the 2013 NFL Draft (from 6th to 7th) to acquire the services of 6’2″ wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who was placed on injured reserve before the season started due to a torn ACL suffered in training camp. They re-signed him through 2014, however, so they’ll have him for this upcoming season.
There are certainly arguments that can be made for Benn’s value: he’s big, pretty fast (4.42 40-yard dash), and probably just need a change of scenery from Tampa Bay. He’s only signed for one more year, and it cost the Eagles a seldom-used guard (whom the Vikings picked with the pick Tampa Bay eventually sent to them).
If Benn works out, the Eagles will have a solid 3rd or 4th receiver to use on the outside. If he doesn’t, they can cut him loose after this season with little harm to show for it. Not a bad move by Roseman and Co.
Traded Havili for DE Clifton Geathers: B
This move was not all that momentous, but the Eagles definitely improved at an important position while dealing a player who would not have played a single snap in Chip Kelly’s system.
Geathers did not see much time, stuck behind Thornton and Cox, but he played well when asked to, recording 13 tackles and one stuff. With no fullback utilized in the Eagles’ offense, the value lost in Havili is statistically indistinguishable from zero.
Traded Lewis for LB Emmanuel Acho: B-
Another not-very-momentous move for the Eagles, as they traded 4th-string running back Dion Lewis for a backup linebacker. While Acho impressed in training camp, productive seasons from DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks kept him buried on the depth chart. When Kendricks went down for two games midseason, veteran ILB Najee Goode took his place instead of Acho. Overall, the Eagles probably got more value out of this trade but not enough to merit a great grade.
Re-Sign LS Jon Dorenbos to 4-Year Deal: A-
A veteran with not a single bad snap under his belt, signing Jon Dorenbos to a four-year deal was a no-brainer. He had another great season this year, snapping for Donnie Jones and Alex Henery. You rarely saw Jones even have to work to position the ball once he caught it, either on field goals or on punts, and this 2009 Pro Bowler probably deserves one more accolade or two for his great work.
Re-Sign S/ST Colt Anderson to 1-Year Deal: B+
Colt Anderson remained one of the NFL’s top special teamers, which makes this deal good in and of itself, but we saw this season how much of a liability he is at the safety position. It never hurts to have too many good special teamers, especially if you can get them cheap, but with Casey Matthews emerging as an elite coverage guy, the Eagles might look elsewhere, either in free agency or in the draft, to fill Anderson’s shoes, especially someone who can actually play his position on defense serviceably.
Signed NT Isaac Sopoaga to 3-Year Deal: C-
This is one of two signings, the other being Chung, where I actually think Tom Gamble and Howie Roseman misread the value of a player. When they brought in NT Isaac Sopoaga, they expected a run-stuffer who could play 50% of snaps and eat up space in the middle of the offensive line.
What they got, however, was an out-of-shape veteran who could not generate any sort of push at the line of scrimmage, allowing teams to push him back and open up holes between the guards. And since he could not play on passing downs, the Eagles got very little out of him. Trading him to New England and allowing Bennie Logan to take over his job was addition by subtraction, salvaging what was otherwise a relatively poor signing.