They were $11 million over the NFL’s salary cap only a few days before free agency began on March 14. The question then wasn’t what the Eagles would do in free agency, it was how in the world would they trim all of those dollars without compromising the integrity of the roster?
Well, the Eagles are pretty much through the first phase of the roster-building process and they’ve come out far ahead of the game.
Yes, the Eagles lost some key players and some household names, players we’ve come to know and love through the years. But the net-net is that the Eagles have strengthened themselves at key positions — the defensive line, wide receiver — and kept a key defender, linebacker Nigel Bradham. They’ve navigated the salary cap to give themselves breathing room and flexibility.
And they’re in position to actually improve over last year’s Super Bowl roster, with some caveats. The recent legal troubles of newly acquired defensive end Michael Bennett bear watching and certainly the locker room chemistry has been altered and will need to be developed starting when the players report to the NovaCare Complex in mid-April, but there is no denying that the Eagles have bolstered the roster with some smart moves during the free-agency period.
• Projecting that Bennett’s legal picture clears up in time for training camp and the season, his presence gives the Eagles a boost along the defensive line. He’s a three-time Pro Bowl player who is an excellent pass rusher. He also plays the run physically. Bennett is a high-energy player and a winner, and the Eagles can use him as an end or move him inside to tackle in pass-rushing situations. The depth chart at defensive end is loaded: Brandon Graham, Bennett, Derek Barnett and Chris Long make up a fearsome foursome of pass rushers.
• Signing veteran Haloti Ngata gives the Eagles depth at defensive tackle as Ngata, in theory, replaces Beau Allen (who signed with Tampa Bay). Ngata is a massive body, an experienced hand, and when he’s good, he’s one of the best in the league. Now, he’s also 34 years old and coming off a biceps injury that limited him to five games last season with Detroit. But he’s been to five Pro Bowls, has twice been a first-team All-Pro and he’s a disruptive force. Ngata won’t have to play 60 snaps in a game. He can do some damage in 25 to 30 reps each week. The Eagles have great depth up front.
• Mike Wallace is a speedy, big-play wide receiver who has averaged 15 yards per reception in his career. He’s an upgrade over Torrey Smith, who was traded to Carolina. Wallace is exactly what the Eagles offense needed. The vertical threat is very real in this passing game.
• Cornerback Daryl Worley, brought to the Eagles in the Smith trade, adds more competition to the position. The Eagles are young and very talented at cornerback. Now they have to sort out the depth chart, which will happen in time.
• Linebacker Corey Nelson will help on special teams and compete for playing time at linebacker. Who knows? He’s a talented young player here on a one-year contract. Let’s see if he blossoms as an Eagle.
There’s more to be done. The Eagles need help at tight end, they need another running back and the linebacker position could use more depth. But two weeks into free agency, the Eagles are ahead of the game, and that’s promising for the season to come.