Position-by-position look at Eagles defense before free agency

Position-by-position look at Eagles defense before free agency originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The NFL offseason will ramp up early next week with the start of free agency when the negotiating window opens on Monday at noon.

The new league year will begin on Wednesday at 4 p.m.

The Eagles are projected to have nearly $42 million in cap space, according to OverTheCap, when the league year begins. That’s a much better spot than they were in this time last year and the Eagles could be more aggressive in free agency.

We already took a look at offense. So here’s a position-by-position look on the defensive side of the ball:

Defensive tackle

Under contract: Jalen Carter, Jordan Davis, Milton Williams, Marlon Tuipulotu, Moro Ojomo, Noah Elliss, Thomas Booker

Pending free agents: Fletcher Cox

Need level: Low

Thoughts and options: The Eagles are waiting to hear word from Cox about his future. Cox is a pending free agent anyway but there seems to be a good chance he might retire. If he does decide to play in 2024, the Eagles would be wise to bring him back for one season. He played well in 2023 and as long as he won’t break the bank, the Eagles don’t want to see him play anywhere else. Without Cox, the Eagles have invested a ton in this position and bring back Carter, Davis and Williams for this upcoming season. Two first-rounders and a third-rounder. They need to lead the way this season.

Don’t expect the Eagles to go out and sign Chris Jones this offseason. The Eagles have more pressing positional needs and they need to let their young players hold down the fort and grow. But if the Eagles want to add a bit of depth at tackle, there are options. The ageless wonder Calais Campbell might be ring chasing and the 38-year-old is still playing at a high level. Then there are some second- and third-tier free agents like Grover Stewart, Tim Settle or Philly native Teair Tart. Maybe they could even take a shot at former first-rounder Javon Kinlaw, who has had a bit of a disappointing four-years in the NFL.

Edge rusher

Under contract: Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, Nolan Smith, Patrick Johnson, Tarron Jackson, Julian Okwara, Terrell Lewis

Pending free agents: Brandon Graham

Need level: Medium

Thoughts and options: The biggest question at this position is what happens with Reddick. If the Eagles trade their Pro Bowl pass rusher than this immediately becomes a much bigger need. On top of that, Sweat is entering the final year of his contract too. So the future at one of the most important positions on the field is very much in question and their first-rounder last year, Smith, didn’t have a very encouraging rookie season.

Free agency will start with re-signing Graham. He wants this to happen and the team should too. Graham isn’t a major contributor anymore but he can still help in a limited role and can go out with his 15th season, which has always been his goal. After that, one name to watch if the Eagles move on from Reddick is Bryce Huff from the Jets. Huff won’t turn 26 until next month and is coming off a 10-sack season. He’s been a bit of a third-down specialist but has been productive and the Jets might not be able to keep him because of their talent ahead of him on the depth chart. A name with connections to Vic Fangio is Andrew Van Ginkel, who was a bit of an off-ball, edge rusher hybrid. Van Ginkel had a good season under Fangio in Miami in 2023 and would be worth a look.


Under contract: Nakobe Dean, Ben VanSumeren, Brandon Smith

Pending free agents: Zach Cunningham, Nicholas Morrow, Shaquille Leonard, Shaun Bradley

Need level: High

Thoughts and options: The Eagles are never going to prioritize the linebacker position; it’s just not what they do. But they have to try a little bit more at the position than they did in 2023 because that isn’t sustainable. In the year-end press conference, Roseman tried to talk up how Cunningham performed in 2023 and he was OK. But hopefully that doesn’t embolden Roseman to wait until August to address linebacker again. Even if Dean ends up being a solid starter, that’s just one position figured out. And after watching Dean struggle to stay healthy in his first year as a starter, it’s awfully hard to count on him going into 2024.

There’s a chance the Eagles could re-sign Cunningham. Of the linebackers they trotted out there in 2023, he was the best of the bunch. But this is a position where the Eagles could really use an upgrade and the linebacker market might be a bit depressed this offseason, which could benefit the Birds. The option that Fangio might want is Josey Jewell, who was Fangio’s middle linebacker in Denver. The 29-year-old Jewell has been a good starter for several years. There are other options too, like Azeez Al-Shaair, who thrived in his first year as a starter after joining the Titans. He’s an aggressive thumper of a linebacker who was buried behind Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw in San Francisco. Patrick Queen from the Ravens is someone we talked about as a potential trade target last year but he ended up starting all 17 games and was a Pro Bowler in 2023. Queen is a do-it-all linebacker who is still just 24 and has 67 starts under his belt. And if the Texans aren’t able to hold on to Blake Cashman, the 27-year-old would be a nice fit. After struggling with injuries, Cashman started 13 games in 2023 and played at a high level in Houston.


Under contract: Darius Slay, James Bradberry, Kelee Ringo, Eli Ricks, Zech McPhearson, Josh Jobe, Isaiah Rodgers, Mario Goodrich, Mekhi Garner, Tiawan Mullen

Released: Avonte Maddox

Pending free agents: Bradley Roby

Need level: High

Thoughts and options: At the combine, Roseman said Bradberry is under contract and in their plans, but I’m still having a hard time believing that. I know cutting Bradberry would leave a ton of dead cap space but I still don’t see how the Eagles bring him back in 2024 after seeing his play fall off a cliff last year. Slay is older than Bradbery but still played at a high level. But after releasing Maddox, I think there’s a chance the Eagles are replacing two of their three starting corners entering next season. They have some young and talented players with upside but we don’t really know enough about Ringo, Ricks or Rodgers.

The draft is going to be an opportunity to find a cornerback for the future but free agency can offer some stop-gap options to alleviate the need entering April. I wouldn’t rule out a return for Maddox. The Eagles cut him because of his contract but they like the player, even though there are obvious durability concerns. If they want to improve at the nickel spot Kenny Moore II from the Colts is available. He’s 28 and wouldn’t really help the Eagles get younger but the 5-foot-9 Moore has been a ballhawking pro for years. It seems like the Eagles are less likely to spend big money on corners this offseason but there are some guys worth flier: C.J. Henderson, Kristian Fulton, Jeff Okudah, Noah Igbinoghene.


Under contract: Reed Blankenship, Sydney Brown, Tristan McCollum

Pending free agents: Justin Evans

Need level: High

Thoughts and options: This might be the Eagles’ biggest need in the offseason and the most likely spot where they spend in free agency. They need to let Evans walk and then they bring back just Blankenship and Brown, who is coming off an ACL tear so they can’t even rely on having him ready for the opener. And Blankenship was just so-so in his first year as a starter.

The good news for the Eagles is that there are a ton of safeties on the free agent market this offseason. We’ll start with a couple of recently released safeties with ties to Fangio in Justin Simmons and Eddie Jackson. Of those two, Simmons is the more appealing option. He’s 30 now, but Simmons became a star under Fangio and still played at a really high level in 2023. He’s a bit older than the Eagles may prefer but he’s a proven player in this system and has played under Fangio and new passing game coordinator Christian Parker.

If the Eagles want to go in a younger direction, there are a ton of intriguing names out there even after Antoine Winfield Jr. was franchise tagged. And the crazy thing is all of these players are 26 or younger: Xavier McKinney, Kamren Curl, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Geno Stone, Julian Blackmon, Jeremy Chin, Alohi Gilman. The Eagles have hit on free agent safeties before with Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod and it’s time to try it again. There are plenty of options out there and the Eagles might even be interested in more than one.

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