By Andrew Porter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The two names that keeping popping up in conversation when discussing who the Eagles should target in free agency, are safeties T.J. Ward and Jairus Byrd. Yesterday, both the Bills and Browns did not put the franchise tag on their respective safeties. Many wonder, which one the Eagles should pursue, if either at all.
Why not both?
Here are five reasons why the Eagles should sign, if possible, Ward AND Byrd.
1. The Eagles Need Safeties
Let’s get this out of the way. The Eagles biggest need this off-season is safety.
Nate Allen—an unrestricted free agent—is improving and the Eagles may bring him back, but he would be better suited in a more limited role. Patrick Chung—under contract through the 2015 season—was awful last season and could be cut. Earl Wolff—just finished his injury-riddled rookie season—can’t be relied on yet. The Eagles need safeties.
2. Ward And Byrd Are Both, Good Safeties.
Both Ward and Byrd have their strengths and weakness (we’ll discuss later), but both players are very good at what they do.
Ward started all 16 games last season, finishing the season with 112 tackles, 1.5 sacks, five passes defended, and two interceptions. Ward was named to his first Pro Bowl, and was also a 2nd-team All-Pro selection for the first time.
Despite missing five games last year to a foot issue, Byrd didn’t miss a game from 2010-2012. He has 22 career interceptions, 11 career forced fumbled, and 260 career tackles in five NFL seasons.
3. Ward And Byrd Play Contrasting Style And Can Co-Exist Together
How can they co-exist? Simple. Ward is a traditional strong safety, while Byrd is a cover free safety.
Byrd’s strength is being a deep safety, who likes to play in zone formations rather than man-to-man, and has phenomenal cover skills. He is superb against the pass, has uncanny instincts and ball skills, and can be an impact play maker. His weakness is his physicality. Byrd is just average against the run and while he isn’t necessarily a bad tackler, he is by no means a dominant “hitter”.
Bring in, Ward. Ward’s strength is his physicality. He loves to play near the line of scrimmage and is one of the best safeties against the run in all of football. He even saw some snaps at inside linebacker last year. However, Ward’s cover skills, while still solid, are not what he’s known for.
A free safety who can cover and make plays around the ball, along side a strong safety who loves to play on the line of scrimmage and stop the run. Oh, it gets better…
4. Worried About Chemistry?
There has been a huge fuss about the Eagles being reluctant to bring in free agents, especially big personalities that could change the dynamic of the locker room. The Eagles are building within and are rewarding their own guys for, as we saw with new contract extensions for Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin, and Cedric Thorton the past few days.
And I agree. Chemistry within the Eagles locker room seems to be perfect. Everyone is buying into Chip Kelly’s system and players genuinely want to be here. It’s really refreshing, actually, from a fan’s perspective.
Both Ward and Byrd, fit perfectly into what the Eagles are building. Both Ward and Byrd will turn 28 during the 2014 NFL season. Both Ward and Byrd played at Oregon together for four seasons (2005-2009). Guess who was on the staff as the offensive coordinator at Oregon in 2007 and 2008? Yup, Chip Kelly.
Ward red-shirted his freshman year, so he got to play a fifth season during the 2009-10 season, Chip Kelly’s first year as Oregon head coach. During that season, Kelly lead the Ducks to the school’s first Rose Bowl since 1995, where Ward recorded ten tackles.
5. Can They Even Afford Both?
The Eagles are at least $24.5 million under the cap. Yes, they can afford both.
The Eagles, who have most of their entire starting offense locked up through the 2016 season, have a strong core and seemingly a three-to-five year period where they can seriously compete for a Super Bowl. With at least $24 million in cap space, the Eagles need to go after it.
While just Ward OR Byrd would incredibly improve the Eagles defense, Ward AND Byrd would fit perfectly and instantly make the Eagles a perennial favorite in the NFC. Nevertheless, the Browns and Bills will respectively attempt to sign Ward and Byrd to long-term deals over the next few days. NFL teams can begin to negotiate with free agents on Saturday, March 8th, but are not allowed to execute a contract with a new team until 4pm on Tuesday, March 11th.
Here’s to hoping the Eagles can land, not one, but two new safeties.
Andrew Porter is the Audio Roadshow Coordinator for SportsRadio WIP, editor and writer for The School Philly, and a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly. You can follow him on Twitter @And_Porter.