Three Free Agents the Eagles Should Consider
It’s no secret that the Eagles are in need of some help for this team to be competitive again. With an aging roster, some bad contracts and a team without a true identity, whether it be the offense or defense, the Eagles look like they’re in Detroit Lions level of dysfunction. With that many issues organizational, and the cap space of a small market team, the Philadelphia Eagles are on the cusp of a rebuild now that the team pushed the loan out three more years to keep the winning window open a little bit longer. However, even on the cusp of a down year for cap space after the year of the pandemic, the Eagles are seemingly going to luck out and have a higher cap number than expected. ($171M expected, $180M floor, ~$185-195M new expectation). So with all the new found money that the Eagles will have to play with, after the cuts of Malik Jackson and Alshon Jeffery, let’s take a look at some free agents that the Eagles could look to bring in to replace the old core.
Justin Simmons, Free Safety
It’s no secret that the Eagles were missing their defensive leader on the back end of the secondary. Darius Slay and Rodney McLeod filled in for Malcolm Jenkins admirably this season but it still wasn’t enough to take this team over the edge. Even with the additions of Slay, K’Von Wallace and Javon Hargrave, this defense lacked a true identity and had difficulty creating turnovers for the offense. Enter Justin Simmons.
I know that this isn’t the sexiest pick for a high priced free agency acquisition, as most people will be looking onto the offensive side of the ball during free agency, but Simmons is exactly what this defense is missing. A hard-hitting, playmaking free safety that can play anywhere on the field, including as a slot corner in sub-packages or blitzing off the edge. Since becoming a full time starter in 2018, Simmons has never missed a single SNAP on defense, and even played on special teams for the Broncos at times. A sure tackler, Simmons has tallied at least 93 total tackles in all of these seasons and has added 12 turnovers to the mix as well, including a career high, 5, in 2020. In addition to all of this, Simmons’ statistical comparisons mirror those of Kevin Byard, Eddie Jackson, Tyrann Mathieu and Budda Baker. Of those players, Simmons ranks #1 in games played, tackles per game, interceptions per game, coverage catch percentage and passer rating allow.
Simmons’ market value is slightly inflated due to his playmaking ability and having never missed a snap but due to his age, 27, Spotrac estimates that he will have a linear regression in his value to the tune of a 3 year, $43.125M contract, for an average annual salary of $14.375M. Not bad for a guy who can transform your defense the minute he steps onto the field. With Jonathan Gannon looking to run more a split safety, cover 2 look in Philadelphia, this makes Justin Simmons a prime candidate to take over as the next generation safety in Philadelphia.
Soloman Thomas, Defensive End
I know, I know, another pass rusher in free agency? What are you doing here, guy? I understand your reservation on this front. However, with high priced fifth-year option guy, Derek Barnett, still on the roster and standing to make $10.051M of non-guaranteed money this offseason, he’s a prime cut/extension candidate. If Barnett is extended at a lower cap number, this won’t even be considered as option and I’ll have written this all for nothing so you can take solace in that. However, with the unique situation of having to manipulate the cap from Howie Roseman this offseason, you’re going to see a lot of value in the defensive end market. This is where Soloman Thomas comes in.
Formerly the number three overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2017 NFL draft, Thomas has had a hard time finding his footing in the NFL. A torn ACL in the 2020 season didn’t help matters for him either. However, Thomas will be just 26 years old at the start of the 2021 season and will have a full offseason to work on rehabbing his knee. Going back to the last season in which he played, Thomas compares closely to DaQuan Jones, Angelo Blackson, Romeo Okwara and Quinton Jefferson. Of that time, Soloman never missed a game, had the second most sacks per game of the group, led in tackles, hurries and stops per game, and was again second in pass rusher rating. The stats may not have always been there for Thomas but at least he was around the ball.
Spotrac estimates his contract to be somewhere in the 3-year, ~$15M range, with an AAV of around $5.6M. If the Eagles are unable to extend Barnett to lower his cap hit, and Josh Sweat having a breakout 2020 campaign as a rotational pass rusher, Soloman Thomas is likely someone to pursue, as they will not be in need of premier defensive end, just someone to eat up snaps and pressure the QB, which Thomas has done very well.
Avery Williamson, Inside Linebacker
A linebacker on this list? Howie will never spend money on a linebacker, right? Well, it’s my list so I’m putting him on here! Avery will be 29 years old at the start of free agency so there’s no reason that the Eagles should give him a long term contract. Something in the ball park of two years with an average annual salary of around $6M should be able to get this deal done. Avery was traded last offseason from the New York Jets to the Pittsburgh Steelers after the Steelers lost Devin Bush for the season. Williamson saw the Steelers drop their final two games, including a loss to the Cleveland Browns on Wild Card Weekend, and likely will be on his way out regardless of the circumstances due to the Steelers’ cap situation.
Williamson’s recent statistical years mirror those of Jordan Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski and Chrsitian Kirksey closely. Given those contracts and a linear regression based on Avery’s age, Spotrac predicts a contract of two years with an AAV of $7.630M. Given the Eagles’ bad history with linebackers, I wouldn’t EXPECT them to sign Avery but this is something they desperately need to look at. Of the above names, Avery ranks second in games played, second in tackles per game, third in sacks per game, second in stops, first in coverage catch percentage and allowed the lowest passer rating of the group by over 20 points. It’s no secret that Avery is a coverage linebacker and that’s something that the Eagles haven’t had in years.
So there it is. The three free agents that I think the Eagles should pursue this offseason. It’s not going to be a pretty offseason for Philadelphia, especially given their cap situation, but these are the names that the Eagles will need to take seriously this offseason in order to turn their draft assets into an explosive offense. As always, follow 4th and Jawn on all major social media platforms and follow me on Twitter at @SokoNFL to stay up to date on all your offseason content. Thank you for reading and Go Birds!