ESPN's NFL Insiders like what the Eagles have done thus far in free agency. I'd have to agree, but with an asterisk, because free agency always comes with one.
The Insiders gave the Eagles a B grade -- only six teams received a higher one. So they were definite fans of Philadelphia’s acquisitions: free safety Malcolm Jenkins, strong safety Nate Allen and running back Darren Sproles. Yes, the latter was acquired in a trade, but they lumped him in as an offseason pickup. And the grade was assessed before the Eagles landed backup quarterback Mark Sanchez. But his arrival would only strengthen the B, giving the Eagles what should be a solid backup to Nick Foles.
They also did a good job re-signing their own players, losing only receiver Jason Avant. So their strategy thus far has been sound. Hence the B grade.
"They are set up to take the best defensive player available throughout the entire draft. That is how I look at it," said former NFL scout Matt Williamson, now ESPN’s scout.
Jenkins should be an improvement, but how much of one? He was up-and-down in New Orleans, who opted to sign safety Jairus Byrd instead of retaining Jenkins. But, as Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said Tuesday, Eagles coach Chip Kelly knows what Byrd can do having coached him at Oregon. But the Saints know Jenkins and opted for the more expensive Byrd. Still, the Eagles liked Jenkins’ versatility and that should help. But he needs to play more consistent.
Sproles is a big one, too. He potentially makes the Eagles’ offense even more dangerous and does not have to duplicate, say, his 2011 success. The Eagles don’t need him to, not with their other weapons. They just need him to be a playmaker when he does get the ball. Sproles still looked spry this past season, albeit with fewer chances. The big question: What does he have left?
“There are some down there in New Orleans who thought Darren's best days were long behind him and the wall was approaching faster than outsiders think,” said ESPN Insider Louis Riddick, the former Eagles director of pro personnel. “They made a calculated bet, and we'll see which team is right there. You just know the Saints know more about him than anybody else knows about him."