BY JARED NAGLE, Staff Writer
This year’s class of unrestricted free agents will be even more diluted than usual because of the new requirements brought about by the lack of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. A mix of declining veterans, fringe starters, and young players who their previous team has apparently given up on will make up the majority of this year’s class.
Still, undoubtedly, NFL teams will look for the rare exceptions in this year’s depleted pool of free agents. Here is a list of six unrestricted and restricted free agents that the Eagles may be interested in as March 5th approaches. All I can say is buyer beware!
1. DE Julius Peppers, Carolina Panthers (unrestricted)- If any player set to hit free agency falls into my exception category it would be Peppers. Usually when a player of Peppers caliber hits free agency it is because of unforseen circumstances. Due to the Panthers inability to reach a longterm contract with Peppers, they were forced to slap him with the franchise tag each of the past two seasons. If the Panthers had decided to tag Peppers for a third season, he would have received a 1-year contract worth around $20 million. This contract is too rich for the Panthers blood and they have decided to move on. It is understandable, as $20 million is too much for anybody not named Manning, Brees or Brady in my opinion.
Julius Peppers is a top-five DE in the NFL when he wants to be. Ever since he entered the league there have been questions about his work ethic and attitude. However, there is no doubting his talent level. Peppers walks into ten sacks a season minimally and when his light is on he is a game changer. If the Eagles prioritize the DE position opposite Trent Cole this off-season, I expect Peppers to be a target.
There are three concerns about Peppers in my mind: His age (he is 30), his motor, and his price tag. Peppers will demand likely at least $15 million per season and $30 million guaranteed, he is on the wrong side of 30, and at times he lacks consistency.
That being said, Julius Peppers is not Jevon Kearse (he actually can stop the run and stay healthy). He is a game changing DE who will dramatically upgrade the Eagles front four. Though Peppers may not be Dwight Freeney or Jared Allen who bring it on every play, his addition would do wonders for the Eagles defense going into next season.
2. DE Aaron Kampman, Green Bay Packers (unrestricted)- Kampman when healthy is an All Pro caliber 4-3 defensive end. He is a two-time Pro Bowler with 54 career sacks. Last season he was miscast as an outside linebacker in the Packers new 3-4 alignment, and then he tore his ACL towards the end of the season. Even though Kampman has been one of the Packers best defensive players for the last five seasons he is likely to be let go in free agency because of his injury status and his lack of scheme versatility.
If the Eagles are looking for a run stuffing DE who is likely to produce 8 to 10 sacks then Kampman would be a nice fit. He would be a nice consolation if Julius Peppers goes elsewhere and, like Peppers, would be an immediate upgrade at right defensive end.
3. RB Chester Taylor, Minnesota Vikings (unrestricted)- Going into his 9th season in the NFL, Taylor is no spring chicken. Contrary to popular belief, running backs don’t struggle after 30 because of age, they struggle because of the amount of carries a 30-year-old running back typically has accumulated.
In recent seasons backs like the Dolphins Ricky Williams and Jets Thomas Jones have defied age barriers because of a relative lack of carries compared to their peers.
Chestor Taylor has been a backup to Pro Bowl RB’s Jamaal Lewis and Adrian Peterson for eight of his nine seasons in the league. In Taylor’s one starting season in 2006 he eclipsed 1,200 yards for the Vikings and I believe that, similar to the aforementioned Williams and Jones, he still has life in his legs even at age 30. Taylor would be a huge asset to the Eagles as a compliment to Lesean Mccoy because of his pass catching ability, pass blocking ability, and still fairly low career carry totals.
4. G Bobbie Williams, Cincinati Bengals (unrestricted)- Though some younger Eagles fans may not remember Bobbie Williams, he was actually a 2nd round pick by the Eagles way back in 2000. Williams was never able to establish himself as a starter for the Eagles in 4 seasons with the team. He signed with the Bengals in 2004 and has since become a fixture on their offensive line. Williams is a 10 year veteran and probably only has a few more years left in the NFL. In spite of his age, he would be an upgrade over disappointing G Stacy Andrews and stretched starter Nick Cole. He is known in NFL circles as an excellent run blocker and is well-regarded for his leadership abilities.
5/6. S O.J. Atogwe, St.Louis Rams/S Nick Collins Green Bay Packers (restricted)- It is no secret that upgrading at the free safety position is a priority going into this off-season. If the Eagles are willing to part with a 1st round pick then Collins and Atogwe would both be of heavy interest on the restricted free agent market. Collins is a ball-hawking free safety who has quietly amassed 17 interceptions and reached two Pro Bowls in his five year career. Atogwe, who has 19 career interceptions in five seasons, was the Rams franchise player last season but because of new restrictions is headed for restricted free agency.
While I highly doubt that the Eagles would give up a 1st round pick (plus the hefty contract) to get one of these stud safeties, they are interesting possibilities if the Birds deem free safety a major need and their current teams decide to accept the draft pick compensation.