<
>

Eagles turn to barren safety market

PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly swung for the fences during the first week of NFL free agency. At one position, at least, he may have swung too hard.

The Philadelphia Eagles were reportedly in the mix for New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty last week. McCourty, 27, was widely considered the best safety available in free agency. A former cornerback, McCourty was a vital cog in the Patriots' Super Bowl-winning defense.

So it wasn't a shock that he decided to remain with the team he'd just won a ring with. McCourty signed a five-year, $47.5-milion contract with the Patriots.

Credit Kelly for aiming high. It worked with Byron Maxwell, who was lured away from the team with which he had won a Super Bowl. But once McCourty signed, the safety market wasn't exactly what you would call attractive.

Nate Allen, who spent the past five years in bad secondaries in Philadelphia, signed with the Oakland Raiders. The price: $23 million, $11.8 million of it guaranteed, over four years.

Ron Parker, who was cut eight times by NFL teams before landing a job in Kansas City, signed a new deal with the Chiefs. The price: $25 million, with a $5 million signing bonus, over five years.

Da'Norris Searcy, a solid player for the Buffalo Bills, decided to cash in with the Tennessee Titans. The price: $24 million ($10.5 million guaranteed) over four years.

In a market where Allen is getting $11.8 million guaranteed, the Eagles were probably smart to cool it after losing out on McCourty. The problem is, they are still going to have to play football in six months and they will very likely need someone to play safety alongside Malcolm Jenkins.

There are some internal candidates. Nolan Carroll, who signed as a free agent last year, has played mostly cornerback during his career. But the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Carroll lined up in a quasi-linebacker role in the Eagles' dime package last season. That suggests he could adapt to playing safety.

And then there is Earl Wolff, who missed most of his first two seasons with knee problems. Wolff underwent what he described as "mini-microfracture" surgery on the knee. It isn't a lock Wolff will be healthy enough to play this season. And it's still unknown just how good the 2013 fifth-round draft choice can be.

Jerome Couplin, who was signed off Detroit's practice squad late in the season, and Ed Reynolds, a sixth-round draft pick in 2014 who spent his rookie season on the practice squad, will get a look. Neither seems like a sure thing, but both have potential.

Chris Maragos and Chris Prosinski are special teams players who have yet to convince coaches they are ready for bigger roles on defense.

The Eagles could still add a veteran through free agency. Both LaRon Landry and Dawan Landry are still available.

The draft is the other avenue for filling the hole at safety. Alabama's Landon Collins is widely considered the best safety in this year's pool. The Eagles would probably have to use their first-round pick to get him.

If they wait until the second day of the draft, there are a few candidates: Arizona State's Damarious Randall, Samford's Jaquiski Tartt and Fresno State's Derron Smith are all likely second- or third-round picks.

The safety position has vexed the Eagles for years. They have drafted Allen, Reynolds, Wolff, Kurt Coleman and Jaiquawn Jarrett since 2010. They have signed Jenkins, Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips just in the past two offseasons. And still, they found themselves trying to pry McCourty away from the Patriots.