Desperately needing to rebuild their secondary, the Eagles have added a pair of players who could have a major impact in that area. The Eagles announced Thursday afternoon that they have agreed on a one-year contract with former New York Giants safety Kenny Phillips and a three-year contract with former Ravens cornerback Cary Williams.
Let's take Phillips first, because I think it's a fantastic signing by the Eagles. When healthy, Phillips is a complete player who makes the entire defense better. He can help direct the coverage on the back end and allow the other safety to move up into the box and play the run. But he's also strong in run support, which allows him to switch roles with whoever the other safety is (currently Patrick Chung, it appears, in Philadelphia) and keep the offense guessing. I have been of the opinion that one of the main problems the Giants' defense had in the second half of the 2012 season was the absence of Phillips, who was dealing with persistent knee problems. I just think his presence helped make fellow safety Antrel Rolle a more effective player and even had an impact on the pass rush.
If the Eagles can keep Phillips healthy, this will have been a steal. If not... well, it's a one-year deal, and they cut their losses. But at 26 years old and with a Super Bowl ring, Phillips is the kind of free agent smart teams love to sign -- young and somewhat established but still with something to prove. Phillips will be motivated to show he's healthy, and signing in the NFC East allows him the opportunity for extra motivation playing twice a year against the Giants, who let him go. I have to think the main reason the Giants didn't make more of an effort to sign Phillips is that they don't trust his knee, so we'll see whether they or the Eagles end up being right about this one.
(*By the way, I'm not buying the Steve Smith comparison from a few years back. Phillips' successes in New York weren't tied to Eli Manning to the extent Smith's were. Totally different cases.)
As for Williams, he's 28 and has a Super Bowl ring that probably hasn't even been designed yet, since he won it as a member of the Ravens a month ago. He's a tall cornerback with good speed who didn't grade out well in coverage last year (78th in the league, per Pro Football Focus) but is viewed as a good athlete who obviously has experience as a starter in a high-pressure environment. Obviously, you project him now as one of the Eagles' starting cornerbacks along with newly signed Bradley Fletcher or Brandon Boykin or, if they decide to go this way in the draft, a rookie such as Dee Milliner.
We have talked more than once this offseason about how the Eagles could field four new starters in the secondary in 2013, and it appears they intend to do just that. If one of them is Kenny Phillips, the other three will be better for it.