The Eagles brought in a couple of veteran safeties, but the key addition is the return of a starter from injury. When the depth chart shakes out, will the unit be better or worse in 2019?
Key additions: Andrew Sendejo (free agent, Vikings), Blake Countess (waivers, Rams)
Key departures: Corey Graham (free agent)
Why they could be better: Rodney McLeod
How disastrous was Corey Graham thrust into a full-time role after Rodney McLeod’s injury three games into the season? You could point to any number of plays where the 33-year-old’s lack of closing speed was evident, but Graham’s brain fart on 4th and 15 in Tennessee stands out. The blown coverage let the Titans in the game, they came back and the Eagles wound up losing in overtime.
One play shouldn’t define a player, yet it serves as a pretty good example of the drop-off from McLeod to Graham, or Tre Sullivan for that matter. Heck, Avonte Maddox might’ve been the Eagles’ best safety not named Malcolm Jenkins, and he was a rookie cornerback! McLeod started practicing with the team toward the end of OTAs, so it looks like the torn MCL is behind him. From 2013 through 2017, only one other safety totaled at least 362 tackles, 11 interceptions, 31 pass breakups, and 9 forced fumbles, so McLeod’s return is a big deal.
Why they could be worse: Jenkins is getting kind of up there…
This may be grasping at straws here, but for the sake of this exercise, one does wonder when Jenkins’ abilities will begin to decline. He’ll be 32 in December, and while the fact that he’s played something like 99 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps since 2014 is great for contract negotiations, it’s a lot of mileage on the human body.
On the bright side, Jenkins showed no signs of slowing down in 2018, earning his third Pro Bowl invite in four years. Yet, he does so much for this defense — playing safety, nickel cornerback, even a hybrid form of linebacker — any dip in performance would likely be felt across the entire back seven. His holdout might’ve got some people upstairs thinking about how indispensable he is, but the harsh reality is that won’t be the case forever, or even all that many more years most likely.
The X-factor: Whoever wins the third safety job
Graham was clearly overextended in a starting position, though the truth is he was probably getting a little long in the tooth for the third safety job, too. It’s not an unimportant spot, either, as Graham played about 35 percent of the time in 2017 purely in that role. So the question becomes who replaces him, and will it be a safety at all?
Sullivan is now in his third season in the Eagles’ system and actually got some significant playing time in ’18. Andrew Sendejo is a nine-year veteran with 68 career starts under his belt, though if age is a concern, he’s only two years younger than Graham. And Countess served as a capable reserve in LA the last three years. No option is bad, nor exciting, which makes one wonder if the extra defensive back on the field could actually be a corner, like Maddox. Whatever the Eagles decide, this is somebody who could play quite a bit.
Are the Eagles’ safeties better or worse?
The Eagles simply didn’t have the depth to withstand McLeod’s injury last season. Now, Sullivan has some experience under his belt, and Sendejo and Countess are vets. As long as Jenkins doesn’t take a step back, this group appears to be much better prepared. BETTER
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