Who Are the Eagles' Free Agent Options at DE?

Ray Edwards Minnesota Vikings 2011 NFL Free Agency

Finally, we can see daylight.

Optimism abounds in the NFL world as the lockout looks to be in its final days. And that means free agency is just around the corner - possibly as soon as this weekend. In preparation for that, we should take a second look at some of the Eagles potential free agent targets.

As I said last week, I really think that defensive end will be the major priority, in light of Brandon Graham’s microfracture surgery. Cornerback is arguably a bigger hole to fill, but it seems likely that the position could be filled as part of the Kolb trade.

When looking at the Eagles defensive end targets, there are really three potential names that stand out:

Jason Babin - The most well known among Eagles fans, Babin had a mediocre season as a backup in 2009 in Philly. Since he was unproductive and already over 30, there wasn’t much discussion about keeping him around. Yet Babin went to the Titans and suddenly registered 12.5 sacks, more than his three previous seasons combined. Babin is definitely the least sexy acquisition the Eagles could make, due to his one-year wonder potential and advanced age.

Charles Johnson - Last year was a breakout year for Johnson, who took over as the primary pass rusher in Carolina after Julius Peppers jetted off to Chicago. Johnson is only 25, so he will require a bigger, long term investment than Babin. However, if he can sustain his production from last season, Johnson could be the solution long term.

Ray Edwards - At 26 and larger than the other two, Edwards could be an even better long term fit for Jim Washburn’s new scheme. Edwards has played second fiddle to Jared Allen in Minnesota for the last couple of years, but he’s been a consistent pass rush threat. The Vikings are not expected to match offers for him.

Negative Plays per Rush 2011 Eagles vs. Free Agent Defensive Ends

If you’ve followed the blog for awhile, you’ll know that I’m not a big fan the sacks stat (despite using it above). The truth is that the player can put pressure on the quarterback and get in his face, but ultimately there’s a lot of luck in actually achieving the sack. Sometimes one end gives all the pressure, but the quarterback escapes, right into the arms of a sedentary tackle.

Therefore, I tend to rank pass rushers by “negative plays,” or sacks plus hits plus pressures plus blocked passes. Then divide by the number of pass rushing opportunities, and you have a percentage, higher the better. (Pro Football Focus has a slightly different formula for the stat they calculate.)

As you can see, Trent Cole was the best pass rusher the Eagles had in 2010. But he actually scored lower on this statistic than both Edwards and Johnson. Adding either would probably be a big boost over the former production, assuming they fit Washburn’s system. Hopefully we’ll find out soon who the Eagles like best.

Photo from Getty.