Don't expect Eagles to dive into free agency like last year By LES BOWEN Philadelphia Daily News
A YEAR AGO, the Eagles kicked off free agency by signing the top player available, cornerback Asante Samuel. They went on to take a run at Samuel's New England teammate, wideout Randy Moss, before Moss decided to re-up with the Patriots.
Hard to see anything like that happening this year, when the free-agency period begins at a minute past midnight tonight. The Eagles don't have a pressing need at linebacker (for Baltimore's Ray Lewis) or defensive tackle (for Tennessee's Albert Haynesworth). Those are the top names. Elsewhere, there really isn't much to excite a fan base, after last week's franchise tagathon, which resulted in 14 players leaving the market via the tag. Channel 10 has reported that the Eagles had hoped to sign tight end Bo Scaife, who ended up getting tagged by Tennessee.
There is a decent chance the Birds will join the long list of teams parrying over Cincinnati wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh - a group that reportedly will include the Giants. (All the more reason to sign him!). Houshmandzadeh, 31, wouldn't be the second coming of Terrell Owens, but he has caught 294 passes the last three seasons. That's a lot. Is it enough to convince Donovan McNabb he wants to remain an Eagle? Or would Donovan prefer 31-year-old Laveranues Coles, set free by the Jets.
If Baltimore center-guard Jason Brown hits the market - the Ravens apparently still hope to sign him - he could interest the Eagles, at either position. Brown might make it easier to move guard Shawn Andrews outside to right tackle. There's also 33-year-old former Colts center Jeff Saturday, who was a leader on a Super Bowl team.
If the Eagles really wanted Scaife, and feel they need a significant addition to Brent Celek at tight end, with L.J. Smith leaving in free agency, would they do something daring like target Texans restricted free agent Owen Daniels? Until Houston tenders Daniels, we don't know what that would cost, but the Texans would have the right to match an offer, so it would have to be pretty darned generous.
The Birds also could add a fullback, such as Seattle's Leonard Weaver, who would excite fans at least a little because he's the kind of throwback fullback who can actually carry the ball (and catch it, crucial in the Eagles' scheme). Minnesota's Jim Kleinsasser is a fullback-blocking tight end, something Andy Reid might find appealing.
Of course, there's a continuing parade of older players being cut loose in cap-reduction moves - Tampa began its rebuilding yesterday by releasing 36-year-old linebacker Derrick Brooks and 34-year-old running back Warrick Dunn, among others. Earlier, Indianapolis parted ways with star wideout and Philadelphia native Marvin Harrison, who will be 37 next season. Historically, the Eagles have been very leery of bringing in last-legs veterans.
With more than $30 million in cap room - maybe as much as $10 million more, when likely-to-be-earned incentives from last season are added in - the Birds have the money to make moves. And they probably will make moves, just not gasp-worthy ones.
At this point, fans probably care most about bringing back one of the franchise's all-time greats, 35-year-old free safety Brian Dawkins, whose 13 seasons here make him Philadelphia's longest-tenured pro athlete. Dawkins has not returned calls from the Daily News this week, and his agent, Jim Steiner, said yesterday he didn't want to comment on the chances that Dawkins will head into free agency. Chances are he won't - the Eagles are believed to have made an offer to Dawkins, who told reporters late last season that he knew his big-money days were over, and that he expected to stay. As we mentioned yesterday, the Birds are using Dawkins' image on their Web site to promote a fan cruise next month, which could get awkward if Dawk was a 49er or something by then.
If, somehow, Dawkins' deal doesn't get done, the Eagles might look at Will Demps, cut loose by Houston, or Gibril Wilson, the ex-Giant released by the Raiders. There will be a safety roster spot open if the Birds don't bring back free agent Sean Considine, but it's hard to imagine Demps or Wilson signing here as a backup.
The Eagles also are expected to retain left tackle Tra Thomas, 34, even if Thomas and agent Peter Schaffer were less than thrilled earlier in the week about what was on the table. Schaffer and Thomas made it clear Tuesday that the 11-year vet was ready to head elsewhere if necessary, but Schaffer did not reiterate that when given the chance to do so last night, a sure sign that talks are moving.
Nothing will happen with 35-year-old right offensive tackle Jon Runyan until his recovery from right knee microfracture surgery is much further along. If 30-year-old pending free-agent running back Correll Buckhalter signs a deal right away, it won't be the Birds, who seem content to let him assess the market.
The Eagles have to either sign or tender three players today - restricted free agents Hank Baskett and Nick Cole, and exclusive-rights free agent Tank Daniels. In the cases of wideout Baskett and center/guard Coles, because they entered the league as undrafted free agents, the Eagles will have to offer them the "middle tender'' to retain the right to match offers they get elsewhere. If the Birds middle-tendered either player and did not match an offer from another team, they'd get a second-round draft choice. Playing under the tender, Baskett or Cole would make $1.545 million next season.
Talks are believed to be continuing in both cases - the Eagles don't want to lose either player. Their intentions regarding Daniels aren't clear, but if they make him a minimum offer, they retain his rights.