Eagles

Are the 2020 Eagles better or worse at safety?

Are the 2020 Eagles better or worse at safety?

Executive vice president and general manager Howie Roseman says the Eagles are a better football team after free agency and the draft. We're putting his claim to the test, breaking down the depth chart position by position to examine whether the roster really improved or actually took a step back this offseason.

Up next: Safety, where Malcolm Jenkins' exit created either a hole or an opportunity for a younger player.

Better

It's a good thing Jenkins and Rodney McLeod were on the field for almost every snap last season. There was nobody to take their place, especially once Andrew Sendejo was released.

While Jenkins' departure in free agency created a hole (more on that), at least the Eagles have bodies. Jalen Mills moves over from cornerback to take the spot. Will Parks brings four seasons and 15 career starts with the Broncos. And fourth-round pick K'Von Wallace has starter potential, if not in 2020, certainly beyond. Last year's backups, Marcus Epps and Rudy Ford, no longer appear to be part of the equation as long as Mills sticks at safety.

Worse

Depth is important, but Jenkins ensured those guys never saw the field in the first place. The three-time Pro Bowler lined up for 100 percent of the snaps for a second consecutive season in 2019. His demise was greatly exaggerated, too. Jenkins has definitely lost a step and made a few more mental mistakes in coverage than usual last year. He still finished with 81 tackles, 6 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, 9 quarterback hits, 8 pass breakups and 4 forced fumbles.

Jenkins is a playmaker and a leader. The Eagles didn't want to extend a 32-year-old safety with declining skill, which is understandable — but it's virtually certain his presence will be missed.

The same

The Eagles wisely chose not to make changes at both safety positions in the same offseason, opting instead to re-sign McLeod after another solid campaign.

McLeod is a perfectly cromulent center fielder for Jim Schwartz's defense. He hits hard and flies to the football, finishing last season with 76 tackles, 1.0 sack, 6 pass breakups, 2 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles in 16 games after an injury-shortened 2018. With McLeod in the room, the Eagles shouldn't miss Jenkins' leadership, either. It's welcome stability on the back end, especially in the wake of such a major departure.

The unknown

Mills actually seems like he might be a good fit for the Jenkins role — a box safety who can man up on bigger slot receivers. Thinking Mills will perform at Jenkins' level his first year playing the position is expecting a lot though.

The switch from cornerback isn't as outrageous as it might sound. Mills possesses a high football IQ and undoubtedly already knows where he needs to be. He's mentally tough as well and is going to compete.

Knowing the job and working hard are half the battle though. There are nuances he can only pick up on with experience, and while Mills did play some safety in college, that feels like ages ago. Some kind of learning curve feels inevitable here.

Better or worse?

While there's no getting around the fact that he's slowing down, Jenkins' demise was greatly exaggerated by some critics. He's still a quality football player, and one can easily make the case the Eagles made a mistake letting him go.

Mistake might be a tad strong given his age, and there's enough talent at the position now that the defense should be able to get by with some combination of Mills, Parks and Wallace alongside McLeod. But there's really no question that — in 2020 at least — the Eagles would've been a better team with Jenkins than they are without him. 

Worse 

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How the NFL’s perception of Carson Wentz has changed

How the NFL’s perception of Carson Wentz has changed

Two years ago, Carson Wentz came in at No. 3 on NFL Network’s list of the top 100 players in the league.

All he’s done since then is throw 48 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, complete 66 percent of his passes and fashion a 96.7 passer rating.

And drop out of the top 100.

It’s stupid, of course. We all understand Wentz should be in the top 100. He’s a really good player. But instead of complaining about it, let’s consider what it means.

Because it didn’t just happen. Nobody was out to get Carson. His fall out of the top-100 may be ridiculous, but it happened for a very real reason and represents a very real national perspective.

When he got hurt in L.A. late in the 2017 season, Wentz was 24 years old and the best young quarterback in football. Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were rookies and Lamar Jackson was still at Louisville. 

Now Wentz is 27 and going into Year 5, and he’s just as talented as ever. His numbers considering his lack of receivers are crazy. That 96.7 passer rating throwing to Nelly, Mack Hollins and Alshon is 9th-highest in the NFL over the last two years. Yet he’s dropped from No. 3 entirely off the list.

It's all about perception.

Carson is no longer seen as this hot young quarterback taking the league by storm. He’s now perceived as injury prone and incapable of carrying a football team from opening day through a deep playoff run.

It’s amazing how perception can change so quickly, but that’s what happens. This year’s Next Biggest Thing is next year’s Washed-Up Has-Been.

The reality for Wentz is somewhere in between. When he’s been healthy, he’s been really good. But he’s going into Year 5 and the sum total of his postseason career is a 3-yard completion to Boston Scott.

So it’s really hard to fairly rank Wentz because he’s 27 and hasn’t won a playoff game. Hasn’t even finished one.

And this is a fickle business. 

Kyler Murray had a nice rookie year and I think he’s going to be really good, but he has no business being ranked ahead of Wentz. Josh Allen did some exciting things last year, but he has no business being ranked ahead of Wentz.

But people look at those guys now the same way they looked at Wentz two years ago. Young, exciting, improving, full of potential. Part of a new wave of NFL quarterbacks.

And when you look at the big picture, there’s a sense that young QBs are leaving Wentz by the wayside.

Mahomes and Watson are three years younger than Wentz. Jackson is four years younger. 

They’re now the hot young QBs. Now they're the future.  

That’s just natural.  Maybe it’s not fair that while you’re out there throwing 48 TDs and 14 INTs your reputation takes a hit, but that’s life.

I liked Carson’s answer when I asked him last week about not being in the top 100

“You can always use anything and everything as just a little bit of extra motivation,” he said. “I'm not going to let that cause me to lose any sleep or anything, but I do look forward to going out this year and showing what I can do.”

I’m glad he’s pissed. Or as close to pissed as Carson gets. I want angry Carson. 

Because you can hang your head and feel bad about being snubbed by somebody’s list or you can shrug it off and go do something about it and win some games and get to the playoffs and prove you really are one of the 100 best players in the league or maybe one of the 10 best.

In the end, only Carson truly controls how he's perceived. In the end, Carson's vote is the only one that counts. 

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Fletcher Cox spills details from Eagles D-line getaway at his ranch

Fletcher Cox spills details from Eagles D-line getaway at his ranch

Eagles defensive tackle Bruce Hector grew up in Tampa, Florida, and went to college at South Florida. Bruce Hector is 6-foot-2, 296 pounds. 

Bruce Hector had never ridden a horse. Of course he hadn’t. 

That changed in May when Fletcher Cox hosted most of his defensive line teammates at his ranch in Texas. 

Hector and Derek Barnett rode horses for the first time. The guy shot skeet — “everybody sucked at first until about 20 minutes into it,” Cox said — and Malik Jackson, whom Cox affectionately referred to as a “Cali Kid” got to spend some quality time with mosquitos and flies. 

It was one of those things, it was very important to me that I did that, to let those guys know ‘hey, I’m here for you, let’s all get together and get it done,’” Cox said. “Once the guys got there, we had everything laid out, food, places to stay. And guys enjoyed it.

In addition to all the activities Cox’s ranch has to offer, the Eagles’ defensive linemen also worked out together while trying to stay safe during COVID-19. 

Aside from the horses who had to support 300-pound linemen, the real MVPs of the getaway were Stephanie and Sue, two women who work on Cox’s ranch and were in charge of making sure everything was clean for the Eagles as they got together during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Eagles’ Pro Bowl defensive lineman said Stephanie and Sue “really stayed on top of it.” 

“I asked them, ‘hey when guys wake up go in their room, make sure you’re spraying everything down, make sure you’re washing the bedspread, making sure that everything is getting sprayed every day,’” Cox said. 

And they did. 

Aside from that, the only people working out on the fields were Cox and his teammates. In an offseason where the Eagles lost all of OTAs and minicamps, Cox felt like he had to step up and get the group together. Without those workouts, the Eagles’ defensive line wouldn’t have been together until training camp this month.  

“I knew I had the place to get all the guys down to my place in Texas,” Cox said. “I reached out to all the guys. I told the guys, ‘hey if you feel safe coming down, let’s all get together as a group, as a D-line unit and try to knock some things out.’ Let’s get a couple days where we can get some work in and just kind of hang out and be around each other.”

Cox, 29, has really grown into his role as a leader on the team, similarly to Carson Wentz, who got a group of receivers together this offseason in Houston. 

On Wednesday, Cox said the defensive line will need to lead the Eagles in 2020 and he’s probably right. That makes his role even more important. He’s the leader of the group that has to lead the team. 

Give him a lot of credit for getting his teammates together during a difficult and unusual offseason. Give that horse a ton of credit too. 

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