The Eagles signed CB Cary Williams, S Kenny Phillips, and OLB Connor Barwin. This is an interesting trio of signings.
Williams comes to town to be a starting CB. He has good size at 6-1, 190. Williams can be a tough, physical corner. Is he going to dominate any receiver and be a lockdown guy? No. The stats for him last year aren’t pretty. He struggled at the beginning of the season. The Pats attacked him in the early season meeting and had good success. Getting burned by Tom Brady is nothing to be ashamed of, but the fact they targeted him so blatantly isn’t good.
Here’s the thing to like about him. While Williams isn’t nearly as talented as DRC or Nnamdi (in his prime), Cary will give you everything he’s got, on every play. There will never be a question of effort or intensity. Williams is comfortable pressing or playing off. He’s able to jam receivers and throw off the timing of their routes. He’s able to play off and then break on the ball. Williams has a good combination of speed and quickness. He started the last 32 regular season games (plus some playoff games). You like that durability. He turns 29 in December so the Eagles are getting years 28, 29, and 30 out of him. CBs should still be good at that point. He broke up 35 passes and picked off 4 in his 2 seasons as a starter.
The thing to love about Williams is that he will hit and tackle. In the last 2 seasons, Nnamdi and DRC combined for 174 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 FF. Williams alone had 153 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 FFs. Cary plays with an attitude, not a sense of entitlement. I promise you that he’ll be a much different corner than the guys we watched the last 2 years.
Here is a highlights video. I’ll watch tape and give a more detailed evaluation, but for now this should at least be entertaining.
Kenny Phillips is the mystery man. When healthy, he’s a good starter. He had injuries in 2009 and 2012 that cost him most of those seasons. There is talk about him possibly having a degenerative knee. Phillips started 31 games over 2010 and 2011. He had his best season in 2011. He still started 6 games last year, but the Giants let him walk. That tells you something is up.
Howie said that Phillips is healthy. The Eagles also told us Marlin Jackson was healthy. We’ll see. I love the signing. This is like buying a lottery ticket. Don’t make any firm plans around Phillips, but if he wins a job and plays well, that’s great. LaRon Landry did that for the Jets last year. I’m just going to need to see Phillips out at practice before I pencil him into the starting lineup. The beauty of this is that he could be the starting FS or they could move him to SS if Patrick Chung gets hurt. This should be a huge wake-up call to Nate Allen. I don’t care if it is him or Phillips, I just need one of them to step up and play well. And the Eagles will add a Safety in the first 4 rounds of the draft.
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Connor Barwin is the one who confuses me. Roseman said that he is here to play on the “open side” as a pass rusher. This would make him the Predator in Bill Davis’ 4-3 Under. I have no problem with that move by itself. Barwin played that very same role for the Texans in 2011 and had 11 sacks. Barwin is young and athletic. He has good size at 6-4, 268. What’s not to like?
The question is what this means for Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, and Vinny Curry. I honestly don’t know. I’m going to throw out some possibilities, but I really don’t know what they are going to do.
The Eagles could put Graham or Curry at SAM. I just can’t see Trent in that role. Graham doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, but they could decide that they want him on the field and the risk is worth it. Curry has the size. Question is if he has the skill set.
The Eagles could draft Dion Jordan or Ziggy Ansah to be the SAM and make either Graham or Curry the backup. Cole would be the backup Predator.
The Eagles could get rotational. They could say that Barwin is the Predator in the base and then designate Graham the LDE and Cole the RDE in the Nickel/Dime defenses. That would keep them in roles they are used to. Curry would get worked in somewhere.
It’s possible that Trent Cole or Brandon Graham gets traded. Cole would be very tough to move and would bring little in return. He’s 30, coming off a poor season, and has a high cap figure. You won’t get much for that guy. You could instead keep him as the backup Predator and deal Graham. I know some of you are going to go nuts at this suggestion. You’ll quote me the PFF stats and talk about how he was our best DE. I’m not advocating for his trade. I’m telling you what is possible. I would have stuck with the old 4-3 and truly built around the guys we had. That isn’t happening.
Graham would get you a mid-round pick, most likely. The reason he’s an odd fit is that Kelly wants tall guys and Brandon is just a hair over 6-1. That’s fine in general, but Kelly just had us sign a guy that is 6-4. At Oregon he had a lot of 6-4, 6-5, and 6-6 guys. If Graham isn’t what he wants, the smart thing is to move him and get your kind of players. Coaches have a specific vision of how their systems should work and how players fit those systems.
Maybe Davis, Kelly, and Roseman have a vision for how this can work. We’ll see.
One thing Howie said did make me nervous. He talked about getting as many pass rushers as possible and then figuring out how to use them. I hope this was just a comment that came out wrong. In 2011 we collected big time corners and tried to find a way to make that work. It blew up in our face. Pass rushers are different. You can rotate them. You can move them around. It isn’t nearly the same thing, but the comment still got my attention. I hope there is a specific plan in place and their just not sharing it.
The Eagles can’t explain everything because it affects their draft plans and could weaken their hand if they do want to trade Graham or Cole. I understand the need for ambiguity, but I sure do look forward to the time when Kelly or Davis sits down and explains exactly what they want to do. You can’t avoid specifics forever. Players need to know how they’ll be used. And it sure as heck would help those of us who cover the team.
Barwin does give the Eagles a guy who has played 3-4 OLB in the NFL. That can be helpful. Everyone else is going to be learning on the fly. Barwin signed for 3 years, $13.5M so he was a good deal. If he gets back to 2011 form, that’s a steal. If he doesn’t and gets pushed to being a backup, that’s not the end of the world. Wouldn’t be good, of course, but it isn’t like you handed this guy a mega-contract with all kinds of pressure and high expectations.
The good angle is that this does give the Eagles good depth and lots of options. I do not think Barwin’s arrival affects us drafting a SAM at all. The Eagles can still go get Dion Jordan or Ziggy Ansah.
Barwin is also a better athlete than Cole, Graham, or Curry. That will help in the era of mobile QBs.
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Kudos to Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly for the way they’ve used free agency. The Eagles have added the right kind of players. Time will tell if the Eagles added the right players or not. I think in order to get the old complacency and entitlement vibes gone it was important to bring in tough, hungry players. None of these guys signed a huge deal. They all come here with something to prove. History tells us that some of the moves will fail. That’s just the numbers. The key is that I don’t think anyone will fail for lack of effort or focus on football. We added grinders…blue collar, worker bees. That’s exactly what this team needed.