Today's Philadelphia Eagles mailbag question comes from reader Sam:
What are your thoughts on A.J. Bouye as a possible fit for the Eagles?
The Houston Texans cornerback heads into free-agency red-hot. He had two interceptions in the playoffs -- doubling his regular-season total -- including one against Tom Brady in a 34-16 divisional-round loss to the New England Patriots. He added a forced fumble, two passes defensed and five tackles in that game.
Bouye fits the bill on a couple fronts. The most obvious is that the Eagles are in serious need of an upgrade at corner, and Bouye was one of the best in the business in 2016. Though he had just one regular-season interception, his 16 pass breakups ranked second in the NFL, per ESPN Stats & Information. Bouye allowed just 54.5 percent of the throws in his direction to be completed this season for an opponent passer rating of 73.1, according to Pro Football Focus.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz values confidence and physicality, and those are two elements that are a strength for Bouye (6-foot, 191 pounds), who added 10 pounds heading into this past season and improved in press coverage and against the run (63 tackles).
Bouye also meets one critical requirement when it comes to the Eagles' approach to free agency. Executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman noted at his end-of-season press conference that he wants to get away from the "Band-Aid" approach and find young, longer-term players that will be poised to take off when quarterback Carson Wentz does.
"Ideally in free agency, you're signing 26-, 27-year-old guys who can be part of the core. Unfortunately, teams are doing a good job of locking those guys up as well," Roseman said.
Bouye is 25 and slated to be an unrestricted free agent. That makes him an attractive option. It also could make him an expensive one. Perhaps the lack of track record keeps his salary down to a degree. Bouye nearly played as many snaps (810) this season as he did in his previous three years combined. An undrafted free agent out of UCF, he started the season as the team's fourth corner and emerged only after the injury bug hit the position. Still, he heads into free agency as one of the most coveted players at his position. So while he might not make out like Josh Norman ($50 million in guarantees, average of $15 million per season), the market suggests an eight-figure salary is not out of the realm of possibility. As the Byron Maxwell contract ($22 million guaranteed, $10.5 million per season) showed, recent production plus promise can equal a pretty serious payday.
The Eagles will shed some contracts this offseason but are not armed with a lot of financial flexibility (they currently have about $9.4 million of cap space, per Over The Cap). They don't have the freedom to spend wildly in free agency, nor do they want to philosophically. And there are other areas of need, including wide receiver and pass-rush, to consider. In order to hand out big money, they have to be convinced that the player will be a key part of the nucleus moving forward, and that the ability comes within striking distance of the price tag. The second part of that equation won't fully come into focus until we get closer to the start of free agency in March.
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