A lot of Eagles fans have been getting sucked into all the hype surrounding impending free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. I can’t say that I’ve been very successful in avoiding it myself. I would like to make clear that he’s my top priority for this coming offseason if I’m the Eagles front office, but the problem with that is he will probably be the top priority for some other teams as well. Detroit, Jacksonville, and Houston all come to mind. So, if we get outbid for Aso, the Eagles need an alternative in place. The situation is that they will likely have around $45 million in cap space, give or take ten percent of that, once free agents hit the open market, if they hit the open market. They would need to make sure they had at least $10 million left over for the draft and emergency training camp signings or late offseason trades. That leaves at least $30 million for free agents this offseason, but keep in mind the Eagles don’t like to cut it close when it comes to the cap. I doubt they will spend more than $20 million, which will be my budget as I lay out several scenarios, none of which include Nnamdi Asomugha, who would cost us around 80% of our budget on his own.
1. Operation AFC North
Cincinnati cornerback Jonathan Joseph is not the elite player that Asomugha is, but he’s three years younger and has now put together two very, very solid seasons in Cincinnati. He has forced 16 turnovers in his last 46 starts and had 6 picks in 2009, his breakout season. He has good size and speed and is a very complete corner. He would be perfect, though not dominant, across from Asante Samuel. Cincinnati may let him go if they feel like they need to rebuild and dump all their big contracts. The other primary target would be Jared Gaither, the Ravens offensive tackle. He’s only 24 years old and is 6’9″, the frame the Eagles prize in their pass protectors. He spent 2010 on injured reserve and isn’t getting along with his coaching staff very well. He has some maturity issues, and some question his commitment to the game. This hasn’t affected his play though, as he can anchor the right tackle spot for eight to ten years for the Eagles. If he’s not available, his backup, Marshal Yanda would be a great option as well who can play either guard or tackle.
Price: Joseph – 6 years, $45 million, Gaither – 6 years, $40 million ($14 million per year average)
2. Operation 3-4 Transition
This scenario is only possible if the Eagles decide to switch to a 3-4 defense. The Eagles would be in desperate need of some defensive ends to fit the new scheme, so who better than 305 pound Cullen Jenkins? He plays for the Packers, and could follow one of his coaches here if the Eagles hire a member of the Green Bay staff, which is likely. Jenkins is an ideal 3-4 player, and would team nicely with Antonio Dixon and either Mike Paterson or Brodrick Bunkley to form a solid defensive line. Paul Soliai would be the other addition to the line, who could be the prototypical nose tackle the Eagles need. He will be in high demand in the offseason, but Miami could let him go with Randy Starks and Jared Odrick already anchoring their trenches.
Price: Soliai – 5 years, $35 million, Jenkins – 5 years, $25 million ($12 million per year average)
3. Operation Big Apple
Teams always look to steal good players under other organizations’ noses, especially when it comes to division rivalries. The Eagles may look to beef up their pass rush with Mathias Kiwanuka, who can be effective in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. He had a scary injury in 2010 that will scare teams away from offering him big money. Should the Eagles switch to a 3-4, the Jets’ Shaun Ellis could be a great short-term answer at the 5 technique spot while the Eagles groom a young player for that plot. The final addition would be Jet cornerback Antonio Cromartie, the flashy and loud playmaker who can generate turnovers, something the Eagles love.
Price: Cromartie – 6 years, $48 million, Kiwanuka – 3 years, $12 million, Ellis – 2 years, $6 million ($15 million per year average)