NFL free agency 2019: A comprehensive look at Eagles' safeties

NFL free agency 2019: A comprehensive look at Eagles' safeties

Reuben Frank, Dave Zangaro and Andrew Kulp continue the 2019 edition of Stay or Go, trying to figure out the future of the Eagles. 

Today, they look at the safeties. 

Malcolm Jenkins

Roob: After five seasons, three Pro Bowls, zero missed games, a Super Bowl and half a decade of leadership, it’s safe to say Malcolm Jenkins is an all-time great Eagle. Definitely headed for the Eagles Hall of Fame. This may have been his best year as he held it down as the only constant in a chaotic secondary. Hope he finishes his career here.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: It’s hard to imagine where the Eagles would be without Jenkins. He plays every snap, he plays multiple positions, he was the veteran force on a secondary that was decimated by injuries. He’s one of the most important players on the team. It’s hard to overstate how important he is. 

Verdict: Stays

Kulp: The heart and soul of the Eagles’ defense, Jenkins played every snap this season. He’s indispensable, both on the field and as a locker room leader. And in case anybody feels different about Jenkins at 31, trade or release only creates about $2 million in savings.

Verdict: Stays

Rodney McLeod

Roob: This is one of the tougher calls of the offseason. McLeod is really solid and forms a great safety tandem with Malcolm Jenkins. And he’s only 28. But he’s coming off a season-ending injury, he’s got that $7.5 million salary and $9.9 million cap hit and the Eagles need cap space. Will they cut ties with him? Bring him back at a lower salary? It’s going to be tempting to move Avonte Maddox to safety, cut ties with McLeod and clear much-needed cap room. Tough call. 

Verdict: Goes

Dave: This is a tough one because McLeod’s cap hit is over $9 million in 2019 and that’s a lot for a player coming off an ACL tear. But I think he and the Eagles can figure something out to keep him around. Losing him last season was a big loss. He’s still just 28 and has some good football ahead of him. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: McLeod is somebody fans might’ve taken for granted prior to this season, but you saw what a mess the secondary became after he went down in the third game. He provides a lot of stability on the back end. The Eagles only save $5 million or roughly half of McLeod’s cap hit in the event of his trade or release, so knowing what we do now, I would be real hesitant to move on. 

Verdict: Stays

Corey Graham

Roob: Graham played way more than he could have imagined when he re-upped with the Eagles a week into training camp. There was 4th-and-15 against the Titans, but as the year went on he played better. But Graham turns 34 before training camp starts and has 12 years in the books. I think he calls it a career.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: He was pretty close to retiring after the 2017 season but decided to come back and eventually played well in 2018 after that 4th-and-15 in Tennessee. But he made it pretty clear throughout the season that he wasn’t going to play much longer. I think he retires. 

Verdict: Goes

Kulp: Was solid as the Eagles’ third safety in 2017, looked like a 33-year-old defensive back in 2018. Graham simply doesn’t possess the range he used to, and the diminished athleticism got him into trouble a few times last season. He’s a free agent, and I imagine headed for retirement unless another team is in really dire straits. Avonte Maddox is the new third safety.

Verdict: Goes

Deiondre’ Hall

Roob: Hall barely played on defense — six snaps all year — but was a core special teamer for Dave Fipp and is under contract at minimum-wage $720,000 in 2019, so unless the Eagles draft a safety to play that fourth safety/special teams role — which is certainly possible — I’d expect Hall to be back next year simply because of his special teams ability.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: It was telling that even when the Eagles needed help at safety, they refused to play Hall. But he’s a big special teams guy and you need to have a few of them. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Played only six snaps on defense, which is kind of incredible given all the injuries in the secondary. But Hall became a major contributor on special teams as the year went on, which is apparently what the Eagles were hoping when they traded a seventh-round pick to the Bears in September. He’s under contract and inexpensive for one more year.

Verdict: Stays

Tre Sullivan

Roob: Sullivan went from the practice squad to barely playing to a key rotational d-back during the course of the season, and by the postseason was playing at a high level and getting than 60 percent of the defensive snaps while continuing to take a huge load on special teams. He really showed tremendous improvement as the year went on. These are the kind of guys you need on the roster — talented and cheap ($570,000 salary next year).

Verdict: Stays

Dave: Kind of a crazy season for Sullivan. He made the initial 53, but then lost his job when Hall came off suspension. But by the end of the season, he was back on the 53 and contributing on defense. The Eagles probably need some more help at this position, but either way, I think Sullivan has the inside track on a roster spot. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Sullivan was on the field quite a bit during the Eagles’ stretch run — surprising considering some of the bonehead plays he made earlier. Yet, by the end, he seemed to be doing a decent enough job. If nothing else, Sullivan will enter his second NFL season as a cheap backup with regular season and playoff game experience.

Verdict: Stays

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The 1 thing Eagles desperately need to fix after loss to Patriots

The 1 thing Eagles desperately need to fix after loss to Patriots

The Eagles on Sunday had their worst third-down game of the season. 

That was largely because they made it really tough on themselves. 

The Birds converted just 3 of 13 chances on third downs against the Patriots, but nine of those 13 attempts came on 3rd-and-8 or longer. They converted just one of those nine and their average yardage to gain on third downs against the Patriots was 8.32. 

It’s hard to convert in situations like that. 

“That's the thing,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “I think we were in too many 2nd-and-longs. I think we had 12 or more. I think second down and eight, nine plus, and then 3rd-and-8, we had like another eight or nine of those in the game Sunday. You can't — it's hard to overcome.”

Of those nine 3rd-and-longs, three of them were set up by penalties earlier in the set of downs: An ineligible man downfield, and two false starts. Another was set up by a sack. 

To put it really simply: the Eagles have to try to either avoid third downs altogether or pick up yards on first and second downs to give themselves a chance. 

“So that's an emphasis this week,” Pederson said. “We've have to do better on first and second down; obviously that helps third down. If you can create more first downs to eliminate the third down overall, that's even better. But we know that we have to keep it a little bit more manageable.”

Under Pederson, the Eagles have now had eight games in which they’ve converted on 25 percent or fewer third down opportunities and they’re 2-6 in those games. In the NFL this season, teams that have been under 25 percent on third downs are 16-49. 

So you can win without being good on third downs, but it’s really hard. 

Coming into last weekend, the Eagles were actually third in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage at 48.4 percent and after last week’s mess, they’re still fifth in the NFL at 46.0 percent. 

Even with all their offensive shortcomings this year, that’s a pretty significant jump from the 41 percent (12th in the NFL) last season. 

Situational football was a big emphasis for the Eagles this offseason and third downs were certainly included in that. And it’s made a difference. But they really can’t afford to have games like the one they did against the Patriots. This offense lacks firepower, so playing behind the sticks is a recipe for disaster. 

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Why did Eagles draft JJ Arcega-Whiteside over D.K. Metcalf?

Why did Eagles draft JJ Arcega-Whiteside over D.K. Metcalf?

It’s hard not to compare J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and D.K. Metcalf.

They play the same position, they were taken seven spots apart in this year’s draft, and they’ll both be playing at the Linc on Sunday.

Through 10 games?

Metcalf has 35 catches for 595 yards, 23 first downs and five touchdowns.

Arcega-Whiteside has 3 catches for 43 yards, 1 first down and no touchdowns.

It’s still awfully early. But so far the Seahawks’ rookie has a monumental edge in production.

Doug Pederson said Wednesday that the Eagles liked Metcalf coming out of Mississippi. 

They just liked Arcega-Whiteside better. 

“We liked the player,” Pederson said. “He’s a big, powerful, physical guy, and he had some really good tape out there. And then we also liked J.J. We loved his size, his ability to play above the rim so to speak in the red zone and things like that. Similar players and made the decision with J.J. and we’ve been happy with that.”

The Eagles took JJAW with the 57th pick in this year’s draft, and the Seahawks selected Metcalf at No. 64. 

Metalf’s 595 receiving yards leads all NFL rookies, and Redskins rookie Terry McLaurin, a 3rd-round pick, is second with 566. 

The Eagles could have had either one. 

Metcalf and McLaurin are tied with the second-most receptions this year by rookies, three fewer than 49ers wideout Deebo Samuel, the 36th pick out of South Carolina. 

The only Seahawk in franchise history with more yards in his first 10 games of his career than Metcalf is Joey Galloway, a high 1st-round pick who had 650 in 1995.  

Metcalf has played 577 snaps. Arcega-Whiteside has played 195 but only 62 in the last six games.

His 29-yard reception against the Patriots Sunday was his first catch since Week 3.

“He did some nice things in the game, even though the ball necessarily didn’t come his way,” Pederson said. “He ran some really good routes and he played physical. The signs of him getting work in practice kind of paid off in the game and it will just give him more confidence moving forward.”

With Alshon Jeffery’s status still up in the air, there’s a chance JJAW will get more work against the Seahawks.

But it won’t be as much as Metcalf.

The only person who can really explain why the Eagles liked Arcega-Whiteside more than Metcalf is Howie Roseman, and he doesn’t do interviews during the season.

So Pederson sometimes has to answer questions about personnel that really aren’t his department.

“Young players sometimes it just takes time,” Pederson said. “It takes time to settle into their role, to understand their role and then to understand our game, to be able to play fast and to be able to play at a high level, and he showed some of that Sunday.”

Metcalf has been showing that every Sunday. 

It’s still way too early to write off Arcega-Whiteside or speculate who’s going to end up having the better career. There is certainly no reason to think JJAW won’t become a key part of this offense. 

But something is holding him back right now. Whether it’s coaching or just a poor evaluation by Roseman and his scouts, something is keeping him off the field. 

Meanwhile, Metcalf is producing at a high level as a 21-year-old rookie for one of the NFL’s best teams. 

And the way the Eagles’ wide receivers have been playing, it’s hard not to wonder how things would have gone if the Eagles had taken Metcalf instead.

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