Welcome to the 2018 NFL season. It’s opened with a bang around the league, with a slew of high-dollar signings and high-profile trades. The Eagles haven’t been shy, either, making sure to take a salary-cap situation that is extremely tight and make the most of it.
So, at 4 p.m., the Eagles were officially under the salary cap, having reportedly restructured some contracts, releasing tight end Brent Celek and seeing Donnie Jones’s contract (retired) come off the books. With that, the Eagles got busy in free agency. Let’s take a look at the moves and the impact moving forward …
- Eagles acquire defensive end Michael Bennett and a 2018 seventh-round draft pick from Seattle in exchange for wide receiver Marcus Johnson and a 2018 fifth-round draft pick: Bennett is a high-producing (48 sacks in the last six seasons), high-effort defensive lineman with the ability to play inside in the nickel and come off the edge as well. He helps the Eagles a lot as a powerful, relentless presence. Now the Eagles have Bennett to go along with (on the current roster) Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Vinny Curry and Steven Means. This is a loaded group. Bennett is a thoughtful, intelligent man who is deeply committed in the community, as he was the Seahawks’ nominee for the 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. On the field, Bennett gives the Eagles more depth and versatility across the board up front, and he brings it in the pass rush.
An already strong defensive front became even stronger for the Eagles with this move. The cost? With all due respect to Marcus Johnson, the Eagles seem to have given up very little. Johnson flashed in Training Camp last summer and then was inactive for five of the final six regular season games, as well as all three postseason contests. Hopefully, he finds his place in Seattle. The swap of draft picks is workable. Bennett should fit in great in a locker room filled with veteran leadership and he will be a plus-plus for the defensive line.
- Eagles acquire cornerback Daryl Worley from Carolina in exchange for wide receiver Torrey Smith: In his one season here, Smith provided leadership in the locker room, a wise perspective for the wide receiver group and a positive attitude. He made some big plays in the offense and it’s clear that he can still run. For one season, Smith was an excellent addition. But it was hard to see Smith staying, given his price tag. It’s just the business of the NFL. The Eagles invested in Alshon Jeffery and they used two draft picks last spring on Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson. It seemed clear that it would be difficult to retain Smith.
That the Eagles acquired a significant player in return for Smith is major positive. In Worley, a Philadelphia native who played his high school ball at William Penn Charter, the Eagles have another young cornerback in the mix. In fact, the Eagles were high on Worley in 2016, and he was among their candidates in the third round that year. Carolina chose Worley at 77 overall and the Eagles selected offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo. Worley has starting experience, having his share of ups and downs in Carolina. The Eagles have a deep bucket of young talent in the defensive secondary.
- Eagles sign linebacker Corey Nelson: A former seventh-round draft pick from Oklahoma, Nelson worked his way into Denver’s defensive rotation and he made five starts in 2016. An elbow injury ended Nelson’s 2017 season after five games. He’s listed as 6 feet 1, 226 pounds and he’s got some ability in coverage. He’s here to compete for playing time at linebacker and to help on special teams. Nelson was an outstanding special teams player at Denver. This is very much an under-the-radar signing. Let’s see how Nelson fares in this defensive scheme. He’s still young, he has skills and he is being counted on to help on special teams and in the defense.
- Eagles sign linebacker Nigel Bradham: Announced early in the day on Wednesday, Bradham’s return is huge for the defense. The Eagles wanted badly to retain Bradham, and they did. He has been a key part of the defense in the two seasons Jim Schwartz has been here. Bradham, playing behind an even better front four, should be even more of a playmaker in 2018.
- Players lost: tight end Trey Burton signs with Chicago, cornerback Patrick Robinson signs with New Orleans and defensive tackle Beau Allen signs with Tampa Bay: Robinson, Burton and Allen had their chances to make big moves in free agency and they did just that, reportedly signing lucrative deals. Good luck to them. The Eagles will have an answer for replacing Allen, as they’ve made the defensive line a priority to upgrade. Losing Burton and Celek opens holes behind Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz. Robinson played very well as the nickel cornerback last season and the Eagles have to find a replacement, perhaps from a group that now includes Worley, Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas, along with young prospects the team likes.
- Players now unrestricted free agents: You always wait to see how this plays out with the likes of Celek, cornerback Patrick Robinson, running back LeGarrette Blount, running back Darren Sproles, safety Corey Graham, linebacker Najee Goode, defensive back Jaylen Watkins, special teamer Bryan Braman, running back Kenjon Barner and placekicker Caleb Sturgis. Maybe some of them return. Maybe none of them return. Certainly, not all of them are coming back.
Free agency has just started. The Eagles did exactly what they wanted to do, improving their defensive line, adding more competition at cornerback and linebacker and retaining Bradham. All in all, it was a great way to begin defense of the Super Bowl Championship. Officially, of course, the Eagles are on the clock as the Defending Super Bowl Champions.