With the draft now over, all eyes in the NFL have turned to free agency. Hundreds of undrafted college players and possibly 500 more veterans are currently marooned on a deserted island, waiting for the labor storm to pass and the churning, violent seas of the open market to calm back down, so they will finally be able to see into the depths and figure out just where they stand.
If and when a new collective bargaining agreement can be settled and signed into effect, in may include a swath of new regulations, rule changes, and contractual amendments in regards to team personnel, so as of now we are not even sure who will or won’t be a free agent when play finally resumes. On top of that, potential changes to the league-wide salary cap make it difficult to figure out which teams will be able to break the bank on big-time free agents, and which will be forced to let some of their top performers go. In short, GMs, head coaches, and personnel directors are dealing with a purely hypothetical chess game right now, mapping out battle plans for every possible scenario. Luckily for Birds fans, this is the kind of situation where it pays to have a veteran head coach, someone who’s been around the league and managing all aspects of the same team for more than just a season or two. Andy Reid, now the longest-tenured active head coach in the NFL, should come in handy.
So which potential free agents should be on the Birds’ radar? Here’s our top five:
1. Nnamdi Asomugha – CB Raiders. Duh. In the same way Eagles’ fans screamed for Anquan Boldin, Julius Peppers, and even Albert Hanynesworth, this year the big rallying cry is Nnamdi. He’s arguably the best corner in football (doing what he does without the luxury of Darrelle Revis’ front seven) and as an Eagle he would create a Scylla and Charybdis situation for opposing quarterbacks. Do you throw at the rock, or the hard place? The best corner in the game, or the third best in the game? Of course, we wouldn’t exactly get him for peanuts. For Nnamdi we’d be looking at a price-tag somewhere between 12 and 14 million dollars a year, for four or five years.
If you look at Andy Reid’s history, however, you’ll notice that every time he breaks out the check book for a big-time free agent, it’s payed serious dividends for the Birds. T.O. took us to the Superbowl, Peters has gone to the Pro Bowl every year he’s worn green, and Asante is still one of the most valuable players on our team, grabbing clutch interception after clutch interception and every now and then knocking someone silly. The Eagles also have some of the deepest pockets in the NFL, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility, financially, to jump in on the Nnamdi sweepstakes. Joe Banner, however, might be more inclined to get more value out of his dollar, in which case we’d be looking at:
2. Johnathan Joseph, CB Bengals. Along with Leon Hall, the Cincinnati cornerback tandem is considered one of the best – if not the best – in all of football. Originally drafted in 06, Joseph has his best years ahead of him, so long as he stays healthy. He would make a great compliment to Asante and could be picked up for a fraction of what it would take to get Nnamdi, which makes me think the Eagles might actually consider him first. As any long-time Birds fan already knows, just because we have the money doesn’t mean that we’re going to spend it. Joseph, however, is still a big step up from Trevard Lindley and Joselio Hanson, and I would definitely do a little happy dance if we picked him up.
3. Marc Bulger, QB Ravens. While it’s obvious that our glaring need right now is cornerback – and possibly right tackle – we still have to consider our quarterback situation. It’s clear, from the way both Andy Reid and Howie Roseman have broached the subject of a Kevin Kolb trade, that they are not opposed to dealing the promising young Texan gunslinger so long as the compensation is right. And seeing as how both the Cardinals and the Seahawks chose not to address their quarterback problems in the draft, the likelihood of losing #4 sometime this offseason is pretty high. While Mike Kafka may hold some promise for the years ahead, I’m not totally confident he could step in and win a couple games right now, should Vick go down with injury. In that event, we’re going to need a practiced veteran on the team, a guy who may not light up the scoreboard but will at least be smart enough to keep the ball out of the other team’s hands. Of all the free agent quarterbacks potentially up for grabs (Rex Grossman, Matt Moore, Troy Smith, probably Vinnie Testaverde) Bulger has the biggest upside and the most comprehensive experience. It would take more than a few duckets to get him away from the Ravens, but if it means the difference between 10-6 and 12-4, I think I’d be alright with that.
4. Jared Gaither, OT Ravens. Gaither, a young, dominating right tackle who actually came out of the 2007 supplemental draft, would make an immediate impact on our offensive line. His size (6’9″, 340) is something we haven’t had on the right side in a long, long time, and his massive, gap-plugging girth could help protect #7’s blindside from all the DB blitzes we saw at the end of the 2010 season. Yes, he’s got health issues. Yes, he’s publicly stated he wants to move over to the left tackle spot, where he played in college. Yes, he’s been criticized for his work ethic . But all of that could change if he were an Eagle. The head/neck injury he suffered against New England last year came in early October, so he will have had plenty of time to recover by the time we get to camp. And as Mike Vick is a lefty, the right tackle spot on our line is the left tackle spot, in terms of coverages, line shifts, etc. Gaither would be more naturally suited to it than he was in Baltimore. And work ethic? Please. Under Howard Mudd and Andy Reid, you can be sure that any problems he has with motivation or determination will be cleaned up in a hurry. If the price is right, Gaither could be the biggest steal of the offseason.
5. Antonio Cromartie, CB Jets. Yes, I ranked him above Champ Bailey. Bailey, in all honesty, is too old to be seeking a long-term deal, and Andy Reid has shown he’s none too keen on throwing multi-year contracts at 33 year olds. Cromartie, on the other hand, is still in his prime. With the right coaching and a good supporting cast, this 12-time baby daddy could bring leadership and swagger to our young, patchwork secondary. The “if” here is whether or not Rex Ryan will decide to let him go, but if he hits the open market he could be a nice value grab while the rest of the league fights over Nnamdi.