The Eagles are going to have to play the rest of the season without Rodney McLeod, who had surgery to repair his MCL on Thursday morning (see story).
This is a huge blow for the Eagles.
For now, this means 33-year-old veteran Corey Graham will take on an even greater role in the defense. Graham was seriously considering retirement after the Eagles won Super Bowl LII, so now it’s a big deal that they were able to bring him back for what he has already said will be his final season.
Most teams don’t have an experienced backup with 66 career starts waiting to take over. Graham, when asked about the possibility, said he doesn’t think much will change for him without McLeod.
“We’re going to run our same packages, do the same thing we’ve been doing,” Graham said on Sunday night. “Instead of playing 30 plays a game, I’ll play 60. It don’t really change too much for me. I’ll still be doing the same exact thing, but more.”
The real problem for the Eagles is that they rely on that third safety position. It’s a spot that was a big weakness until they brought Graham back. Having a good third safety allows the Eagles to deploy Malcolm Jenkins in a multitude of ways.
Over the past couple years in Jim Schwartz’s defense, Jenkins has played nickel corner and linebacker, as well as safety. Some of that was based on need, but the Eagles really value Jenkins’ versatility. And when Jenkins is close to the line, McLeod has been the last line of defense.
So what happens with McLeod out?
“We plug in the next guy or I just play free and strong by myself,” Jenkins said on Wednesday.
If cloning Malcolm Jenkins is a possibility, they should do that. But unless we’ve skipped ahead a century or two, the Eagles will have to find another way to get over the loss of McLeod.
• Obviously, Graham is going to start. He’ll go from playing a relatively limited role to playing an awful lot. While Graham has proven himself in this league, suddenly asking a 33-year-old safety who was considering retirement a couple months ago to take on a huge role is problematic. You have to wonder if Graham is going to be able to last for the entire season playing this much.
• Deiondre’ Hall is the only other safety on the active roster. He was brought in via a trade but was suspended for Week 1. He’s played some in the NFL, but is still learning the Eagles’ defense.
• Tre Sullivan is on the practice squad. There’s probably a good chance they’ll call him up once McLeod hits IR.
• Chris Maragos is still on the PUP. The earliest he could return, according to the rules, is Week 7. But I’m not even sure his health will allow to return that early.
• The Eagles could trade for one. The name that’s going to come up is Earl Thomas. He’s in a bad situation in Seattle that probably won’t end well. But how much would the Eagles have to give up and how much would they be willing to pay to keep him happy? This seems like a pipe dream.
• The free agent pool took a hit when Eric Reid was signed on Thursday. There are a few guys available who you’ve heard of: Quintin Demps, T.J. Ward, Tyvon Branch. Bringing in an outsider might help eventually, but it would take anyone some time to learn the defense.
• Then there’s the possibility of moving a corner to safety. Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas seem to have the right skillsets, but the coaching staff has been very hesitant to make a move. Maybe this will force their hand.
For now, I think the Eagles are going to ride with Graham. That’s why he’s here. As for that third safety job, I have serious concerns that Hall is ready. Without a move, even from the inside, the defense is going to be limited. Losing McLeod hurts, but this team has overcome injuries before.