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Eagles free-agency guide: Safety Justin Reid tops list of players to watch

The Eagles could use young, experienced safeties such as free agent Justin Reid to build around. Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA -- NFL free agency is nearly upon us. Beginning at noon ET on March 14, teams can engage in contract negotiations with the reps of prospective unrestricted free agents in advance of the start of the league year on March 16.

The Philadelphia Eagles are expected to be pretty active. They enter with roughly $23 million in cap space, which ranks 13th in the NFL according to Roster Management. They're not in a position to go wild, but should be able to address multiple areas of need from a list that includes receiver, safety, cornerback, linebacker and edge rusher.

"I think what free agency does is it allows us to check boxes so we don't feel the pressure to maybe feel like we have to do something [in the draft]," said general manager Howie Roseman.

Who might Philadelphia hone in on when the light turns green? Here are some players to watch.

(The projected deal figures are from Pro Football Focus.)

S Justin Reid, Houston Texans

Projected deal: 3 years, $21 million

The Eagles' two primary safeties from last year, Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris, are free agents to be. Roseman has no choice but to dive into the safety market.

Reid figures to be one of their targets. He started 53 games over four seasons in Houston, posting seven interceptions and 23 passes defensed to go with over 300 tackles.

"He's a downhill, top-down player. Very strong at running in the alley, tackling in the run game and has on-ball production over his career," said ESPN NFL writer/analyst Matt Bowen. "He has the physical traits to play the position and he would fit with [defensive coordinator Jonathan] Gannon because of his split-field experience."

And he's just 25 years old. If the Eagles are going to sign a player to a multiyear deal in free agency, they're going to want someone who will still be in his prime as the team's young nucleus enters theirs. Reid offers that without breaking the bank.

S Marcus Maye, New York Jets

Projected deal: 1 year, $6 million

Could Philly double-dip at the safety spot? Perhaps. Marcus Epps played pretty well for them last season and K'Von Wallace is fighting for a role, but if both McLeod and Harris walk, the Eagles might feel the urgency to replace them both.

Maye has a history with defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson, who served in a similar role with the Jets from 2017-20. Wilson once called Maye an "eraser" at free safety for his ability to shut down receivers who came into his area. Maye, 28, played under the franchise tag last season after racking up two interceptions, 11 passes defensed, 88 tackles and a pair of sacks in 2020, but suffered a torn Achilles in November and was limited to just six games. He was charged with driving under the influence and two other misdemeanors last February.

Maye could end up taking a one-year prove-it deal, which could be appealing to the Eagles.

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

Projected deal: One year, $8 million

Like Maye, Smith-Schuster's value could be held down as a result of injury. He missed 12 games last season following shoulder surgery. But at 25 years old, he's already caught 323 balls in his five-year career for 3,855 yards with 26 touchdowns. That level of production and experience would benefit quarterback Jalen Hurts, who didn't have a single primary receiver over 23 years old last year.

"I think you need a bigger slot receiver [Schuster is 6-foot-1, 215 pounds], someone who is physical, with catch-and-run traits. Someone who can work the middle of the field and has enough lower-body explosiveness to create after the catch," Bowen said. "I think he would fit what Sirianni wants in the middle of the field. He's tough, he's physical, he's a detailed route runner, and he'll compete inside the numbers."

Edge rusher Haason Reddick, Carolina Panthers

Projected deal: 3 years, $35 million

With Derek Barnett set to be a free agent and Brandon Graham coming off a torn Achilles, the Eagles desperately need pass-rushers to bolster a group that finished 31st in sacks last season with 29. Reddick, 27, has 23.5 sacks over the last two seasons and would provide an immediate shot in the arm in that regard.

He would also allow Gannon's hybrid defense to function properly. This scheme requires the strongside linebacker be a pass-rushing specialist. Genard Avery and rookie Patrick Johnson took on that role last year, but it wasn't a major success. Reddick, a Temple grad and Camden, New Jersey native, has experience as both an off-ball linebacker and edge rusher, and could fill a major need for his hometown team.

Other players who could fit the bill include Uchenna Nwosu (Los Angeles Chargers) and Emmanuel Ogbah (Miami Dolphins).

Edge rush is a likely target in the first round of April's draft as well.

"The bottom line is we didn't get enough pressure on the quarterback. We have to have pressure on the quarterback," Roseman said. "It's a priority to us. We'll have opportunities this offseason to do it, and I would be very surprised if we didn't do something there."