Over the next three weeks leading up to training camp, we’ll be counting down the top 20 most important Eagles for the 2021 season.
13. Anthony Harris
The Eagles’ defense is going to look at least slightly different in 2021 with the arrival of new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and a big key to the implementation of his new unit will be Anthony Harris.
The Eagles this offseason signed the 29-year-old safety to a one-year deal worth $4 million but were able to keep his cap hit under $1.6 million in 2021. In any case, this looks like a bargain for the Birds.
It was just two years ago when Harris led the NFL with six interceptions and while he didn’t have a single pick in 2020, he did have a career-high 104 combined tackles.
Harris is a few years younger than Rodney McLeod but the two have their similarities. Like McLeod, Harris starred at Virginia, where the two were briefly teammates, before going undrafted and carving out a really nice carer. Like McLeod, Harris has never risen to the level of a Pro Bowl player, but he has become a really solid player with 81 career games and 47 starts under his belt.
In Minnesota, Harris was part of a safety tandem that also included five-time Pro Bowler Harrison Smith. So while Harris was getting overshadowed by Smith in Minnesota, McLeod was getting overshadowed by Malcolm Jenkins in Philly. Jenkins’ last season in Philly was 2019.
It will be interesting to see how Harris and McLeod fit together in the Eagles’ secondary because they more or less play the same position. Both have spent the majority of their time as free safeties. In Minnesota, Smith would be the safety in the box and in Philly that job belonged to Jenkins and then Jalen Mills last season. So the fact that the Eagles sort of have two deep safeties could be a hint that we’re going to see more Cover 2 in this first season under Gannon.
In 2019, Harris had those six interceptions as well as 11 pass breakups in just 14 games. That season, Harris was snubbed by Pro Bowl voters but was ProFootballFocus’s No. 2 safety in the entire NFL behind just Denver’s Justin Simmons. (His teammate Smith was ranked third.)
But last season, despite the increase in tackles, Harris fell to the No. 38 safety in the PFF rankings. Had Harris been a free agent after the 2019 season, he probably would have really cashed in.
So the Eagles are obviously hoping they’re paying the 2020 version of Harris but get the 2019 version. Perhaps he’ll end up somewhere in between.
Even if Harris doesn’t pick off six passes (the Eagles haven’t had a player with more than three since Patrick Robinson in 2017), he can still be a really valuable piece this season. Because as Gannon implements his new defense, we assume it will have a lot of carryover from Mike Zimmer’s defense in Minnesota and Harris has started in that defense for a few years.
And on a team with a major question mark at the corner position opposite Darius Slay, the presence of Harris and McLeod will go a long way. And then when you factor in McLeod’s coming off an ACL injury, it makes Harris’s role even more important.
Harris is here on a one-year deal and McLeod is entering the final year of his two-year deal. If Harris has a good enough season, perhaps the Eagles will be willing to switch it up and get younger, letting McLeod walk and signing Harris to a long-term deal.
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