By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sun
PHILADELPHIA—For all the talk about what the Eagles are going to look like on the offensive side of the ball with new head coach Chip Kelly, improving a porous Birds defense took center stage in the first week of free agency.
The Eagles finished the 2012 season with a 4-12 record and the defense or lack thereof was a major culprit. It was a squad that had corners and safeties couldn’t cover or tackle anybody. The Birds had defensive linemen and linebackers who weren’t that much better.
“I think it’s important that we get guys who can get guy down and we want to be a physical defense,” said Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. “You get guys that really want to tackle and have the willingness to tackle. That’s not any shots at anybody that’s been here before, but we had some holes in our secondary.”
It was not surprising the Eagles spent the first three days of free agency upgrading the defense, bringing in seven players. The biggest signing so far was former Houston Texans linebacker Connor Barwin to a six-year deal worth between $36 and $40 million.
With the Eagles looking to implement a 3-4defense, Barwin (6-foot-4, 268 pounds) is slated to compete for an outside linebacker spot along with Trent Cole and Brandon Graham, who played defensive end in the Eagles 4-3 scheme. In his three seasons with the Texans, the 26-year-old Barwin had 19 sacks-including 11.5 sacks in 2011playing in a 3-4 scheme.
In 109 games (82 starts) with Houston, he has 109 tackles.
For a team that hasn’t had a hard-hitting safety since Brian Dawkins, the Birds are hoping that former Giants safety Kenny Phillips, who signed a one-year deal with the team, can finally fill that void.
The problem with Phillips is that he has had knee injuries. Last season, he played in just seven games. In 2011, Phillips had a career-high four interceptions and was a key part of the Giants run to the Super Bowl.
When Phillips is healthy, he is arguably among the better safeties in the league. If he can avoid the injury list and play to his potential, the Eagles will have a pretty decent player.
“I’m one hundred percent. It feels good, it feels good. Since the season ended, I’ve been rehabbing five days a week and continue to get strong,” Phillips said on Friday. “I took my physical today and the doctors liked what they saw. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting here. Like I said, I’m one hundred percent right now and I’m just ready to get back to work.”
If there’s a common thread in this crop of Eagles free agent signings is that most of the players come from teams that have played in the Super Bowl in recent years. The Eagles signed former Baltimore Ravens cornerback Cary Williams (6-1, 190), who had 75 tackles and four interceptions during the regular season and two picks during the postseason.
The Eagles also signed former New England Patriots safety Patrick Chung (5-11, 210), who played in Super Bowl XVLI against Phillips Giants team. The team also added former St. Louis Rams cornerback Bradley Fletcher (6-0, 200).
While there are no projected starters just yet, the Eagles newest secondary players, especially those with Super Bowl experience talked about the importance of establishing chemistry, something that has been sorely missing from the Birds for the last two years.
“I think it starts right now in the off‑season,” Williams said. “I’m definitely going to get Kenny’s phone number. We’re going to communicate. I think you have to build those relationships. It starts in the off‑season, it starts in OTAs. … That’s how it was in Baltimore, and it matriculated into success.”
The Eagles also added former San Franciso 49ers defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga (6-2, 330) and linebacker Jason Phillips (6-1, 240) who played with the Carolina Panthers and the Ravens.
“These guys come from winning programs and football’s very important to them,” Roseman said. “When you watch them on tape, you see a physical aspect of their play. That’s exciting for us.”
Notes—The Eagles acquired wide receiver Arrelious Benn and a seventh-round pick from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a sixth-round pick 2012 and a conditional pick in 2014 on Friday. In three years with the Buccaneers, Benn has 59 receptions for 862 yards and five touchdowns.