The Philadelphia Eagles’ woeful secondary was the biggest concern for the team heading in to free agency. With the release of Nnamdi Asomugha and the signing of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie by the Denver Broncos, the team’s starting corners of the past two seasons disappeared into the sunset in just a matter of days.
It soon became apparent that some of the biggest defensive backs available in free agency, like Darelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, would not be heading to town, and concerns began to increase. How were GM Howie Roseman and head coach Chip Kelly ever going to address the dire needs on the team’s defense? We’re trying to trust you, Chip, what is it that you have up your sleeve?
Tuesday brought five solid signings but with no “wow” factor. But that’s okay—we had enough of that in the shortened offseason of 2011, didn’t we? But then the Eagles went silent on Wednesday while the anticipation grew. Okay guys—what’s the plan here?
Then came Thursday and with it, sighs of relief. Philadelphia added three players—all to defense, and two of those to the secondary, bringing safety Kenny Phillips, cornerback Cary Williams and linebacker Connor Barwin to the City of Brotherly Love. All are players who didn’t break the bank but should add immediate improvements to the team’s defense.
In a low-risk, high reward scenario, Philadelphia signed 26-year old safety Kenny Phillips (6-2, 217) to a one-year deal. The safety is quite familiar with the Eagles, as he comes from the division rival New York Giants. But we’ll try not to hold that against him. In his time with Big Blue’s secondary, Phillips totaled eight interceptions and 26 passes defensed, in addition to 263 total tackles. He was a first round draft pick for New York in 2008 out of the University of Miami. Phillips was a standout in the team’s 2011 championship season with career-high four interceptions and ranking fifth in tackles with 72.
The downside of Phillips is that he has a history of knee injuries. However, as pointed out by Roseman after the signing,
“It’s different looking at players that are 25, 26 coming off injuries than guys who are 31, 32.”
If he can stay healthy then Phillips can make a real impact for the Birds.
28 year-old CB Cary Williams (6-1, 190) comes to Philadelphia from the Super Bowl winning Ravens with a three-year, $17 million deal. With the Ravens, he started in all 16 regular season games and recorded four interceptions (as well as two in the postseason) with 17 passes defended and 67 tackles. Originally drafted by Tennessee in 2008, he joined Baltimore and 2009 and moved to the role of starter in 2011.
According to Pro Football Focus, Williams was targeted 102 times last year, the 10th most of any corner in the league. He joins only three other players in the league to be targeted over 100 times in the 2011 and 2012 seasons (along with Sean Smith, Tim Jennings and Tramon Williams). And, prepare yourselves, Eagles fans: the man can tackle, missing only three last year.
Williams and Jeremy Maclin have enjoyed a loving relationship in the past, and I’m sure that that will continue (see below).
The Eagles expressed quite a lot of confidence in their move to sign linebacker Connor Barwin (6-4, 268), inking him to a six-year, $36 million deal ($8 million guaranteed). Barwin comes to the Birds from the Texans, where he recorded 109 tackles, 19 sacks, two fumble recoveries and 16 passes defensed. Barwin was acquired by Houston in the second round in 2009 from the University of Cincinnati. He shifted to outside linebacker from defensive end following the 2010 season. The change turned out to be a wise decision, as Barwin notched a team high 11.5 sacks in 2011, ranking third in the AFC.
As Philadelphia is widely expected to make the change to a 3-4 defense, they need versatile players who are proven in that type of scheme. Barwin meets both criteria. But more than that, according to Roseman the real reason the Eagles inked the linebacker is for his pass-rushing ability.
“We want to be able to make sure we can get pressure on the quarterback. Getting pressure on the quarterback, preventing pressure, that’s always going to be stuff that’s important to us.”
Us too, Howie.
So, what do you think. Has Philadelphia successfully managed a blueprint for a much improved defense, particularly in the defensive backfield, in the 2013 season based on their moves thus far in free agency?