Eagles Outlook: 3 defensive free agents to keep an eye on ahead of training camp
The Eagles 2023 roster is almost set in stone. Offensively, the only position that’s a little unclear is right guard. On the defensive side of the ball, Philadelphia has some real question marks.
The team lost several key defensive starters during the free agency period this offseason. While Howie Roseman has done a nice job replacing most of the lost talent, some positions are still very much up for grabs.
If the Eagles decide to add any pieces before the start of training camp, it’ll most likely be on the defensive side of the ball. Here are three defensive free agents to keep an eye on as we move through the summer.
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S John Johnson III
After cashing in during free agency two years ago, signing a three-year, $33M deal with Cleveland in 2021, S John Johnson is once again looking for a new home. And his price tag won’t be as high this time around, which is good news for an Eagles team who could very well dip into the safety market before the 2023 season gets underway.
Johnson was supposed to be a key acquisition in the Browns revitalization efforts heading into 2021. After posting an impressive 85.6 PFF defensive grade in his final year with the Rams in 2020, he never reached that ceiling again while in Cleveland. But it’s important to note that Johnson was still solid during the two years he spent there.
From 2021 to ’22, Johnson started 32 out of a possible 34 games, tallying four interceptions, three forced fumbles, and 107 solo tackles. In coverage, Johnson allowed a completion percentage of 56.7 and a passer rating of 76.5 on 86 targets during that time.
At 27 years old with no significant injury history, Johnson is worth taking a flier on at this stage of the offseason. As it stands, the Eagles will roll into camp with Reed Blankenship and Terrell Edmunds as their primary starters at safety, with rookie Sydney Brown vying for playing time behind them. Johnson would instantly be the most accomplished safety on the roster if the Eagles acquired him, and honestly, he’d probably be the best overall player in the room as well.
The safety trio the Eagles have in place is certainly intriguing. If all goes well and Blankenship/Brown blossom into solid starters, the position isn’t even a concern. But both players are still mostly unproven and Edmunds has been a middle of the road starter for his entire career.
At the very least, Johnson adds a little more certainty to the group. At best, he plays like he did in LA and becomes a pivotal piece in Sean Desai’s defense.
DL Matt Ioannidis
Defensive line is the least of the Eagles worries heading into 2023. Despite losing DT Javon Hargrave in free agency, the rest of the defensive line from 2022 was kept intact. Not to mention the two first-round additions from this year’s draft, Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith.
There’s no logical reason for the Eagles to target a free agent defensive lineman right now. They have enough. But the Eagles have never operated that way when assessing their defensive line. It’s part of the reason why they racked up 70 sacks last year – 15 more than the next closest team, Kansas City.
Matt Ioannidis doesn’t necessarily fill a need for the Eagles, but he adds another element to a defensive front that’s already loaded with x-factors. Standing at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, Ioannidis is the type of lineman you can put anywhere and get production.
He reached his peak in the 2018 and ’19 seasons with Washington, where the pass rusher accumulated 16 sacks, 27 QB hits, and 17 tackles for loss. Ioannidis spent most of those years flipping between the three-tech (between the center and guard) and lining up over the tackle. His frame and skill set are perfect for any odd-front. Based on the coaching tree Desai spawns from, that’s the type of front we’ll likely see in Philly this season.
Like I said earlier, the Eagles don’t need Ioannidis. Even if you were to make the “he provides a ton of versatility” argument, the Eagles have that in spades as well.
Don’t think of Ioannidis as the final piece to the puzzle; he’s more of the icing on the cake than anything else.
Truthfully, I’d expect Howie to address either safety or linebacker before dipping back into the defensive line well. But signing another defensive lineman is never out of the question when it comes to the Eagles.
LB Rashaan Evans
Looking through the Eagles roster, there isn’t a bigger question mark than linebacker. The team lost both of their starters from last year (TJ Edwards and Kyzir White) to free agency and will have to rely on second-year LB Nakobe Dean, along with free acquisition Nicholas Morrow.
I like Dean a lot and expect big things out of him. As for Morrow – or any of the other LBs on the roster – I’m far from sold. Free agent Rashaan Evans has been a very productive backer when healthy and would be a much-needed veteran presence in the LB room.
Last year with the Falcons, Evans posted a career-high 159 combined tackles while starting all 17 games. His coverage ability does leave a little bit to be desired, however. He allowed a 112.6 passer rating when targeted last season, tied for the worst mark of his career.
The truth is, there just aren’t any standout backers remaining on the open market. At 27 years old and fresh off a career-year in Atlanta, Evans at least brings some potential to the position and at this stage of the offseason, should be relatively cheap.
Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports