What losing Rodney McLeod means for Eagles and possible options

What losing Rodney McLeod means for Eagles and possible options

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.

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Terrell Owens makes it clear there’s no reconciliation coming with Donovan McNabb

Terrell Owens makes it clear there’s no reconciliation coming with Donovan McNabb

As a bunch of people try to figure out ways to stay in shape during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hall of Fame receiver Terrell Owens offered his driveway sit-up routine that he made famous back in 2005. 

In a tweet on Monday, Owens tagged a bunch of celebrities in the post and included NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark, which lead to a lengthy interview on Tuesday. 

Of course, Clark had to bring up Owens’ response to one fan who asked why he didn’t tag Donovan McNabb in the workout tweet. 

Yeah, the gloves are off, but they’ve been off for a while. 

Here’s what Owens had to say: 

I’m just trying to have fun with the situation. I think everybody is aware of how … I wouldn’t say toxic, our relationship is, but at this point, it is what it is. I really considered him a friend, a teammate at one point in time. Over the years, I think the relationship has deteriorated to the point to where right now, I just don’t care anymore. I’ve tried to be the bigger person in a situation but then recent events, he came out and did an interview and started bringing up and rehashing certain things. In the back of my mind, I’m like ’this is what he really kind of thought about me the whole entire time.’ Now I’m like ‘the hell with it.’ I’m just gonna go with whatever flows at this point.

Owens, 46, brought up an interview McNabb gave a couple months ago to Bleacher Report in which he said Owens’ antics were a “major distraction” for the team.

When Clark brought up the idea that maybe he could get the two together on a Zoom call to hash all this out, Owens said, “Absolutely not.” 

So there you have it. 

Anyway, Owens shared his workout plan on Monday and then got into a little detail about the original driveway press conference during his interview with Clark: 

“I just tried to make light of a situation, especially being sent home from Lehigh where I was in training camp,” Owens said. “Andy Reid and I, we kind of bumped heads and we clashed a little bit and we had a disagreement about something. He told me to go home and then when he told me that, he goes, ‘make sure you stay in shape.’ So that was really the reason behind me bringing the ab bench out.”

Owens said he didn’t expect to arrive to his Moorestown, New Jersey, home and see a bunch of media members. But he thought about a way to poke fun of the situation and the impromptu press conference with his then-agent Drew Rosenhaus came to mind. 

And now 15 years later, it’s providing a little levity during a tough time. 

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The 1 game that led to Jalen Mills’ position switch to safety

The 1 game that led to Jalen Mills’ position switch to safety

If you’re wondering how Jalen Mills will fare in his new hybrid defensive back role with the Eagles, he says to look back at the Patriots game last season. 

Because in that game Jim Schwartz used Mills all over the field, as a corner, nickel corner, dime linebacker and more. The Eagles lost 17-10, but Mills and the Eagles’ defense played very well. 

In fact, Mills thinks it was one of his best games of the 2019 season. 

I had fun that game,” Mills said. “I was around the ball almost every play. I think the biggest thing for me is always wanting to be around the ball, whether it’s getting a pass breakup, getting a chance to pick the ball off or make a tackle, blitz. I think that’s the biggest thing, trying to be a tone-setter and a game-changer. 

“Football comes down to two to three plays really every game, whether a guy misses a tackle, whether a guy scored a touchdown on one play, whether a guy got a sack or an interception or a pass breakup on another play. For me, the biggest thing is wanting to be around the ball each and every play if possible and to make those game-changing plays, not only for the defense but for the team.

While the Eagles didn’t approach Mills about a position switch until long after the season was over, that game against the Patriots last November made him think that perhaps his future could look like that. After signing a one-year deal to remain an Eagle — and after Malcolm Jenkins was let go — Mills will assume that type of hybrid role. It’s unfair to expect Mills to simply replace Jenkins, but that’s the type of role he’s expected to have. 

In that 17-10 loss to the Patriots on Nov. 17, Mills played all 74 snaps. It was the only game all season in which he played every snap. He had four tackles and a pass breakup. Overall, he played well. 

Take a look at how those 74 snaps broke down by position. According to ProFootballFocus, this shows how the Eagles used his versatility in that game: 

Left corner: 43 (58%)
Slot corner: 13 (18%)
In the box: 13 (18%)
At the line: 4 (5%) 
Free safety: 1 (1%) 

This was the first time in Mills’ career that he played 10-plus snaps at three different positions. And he wasn’t just playing there, he was good. 

Against the Patriots, his PFF grade in that game was 77.3, his highest on the season and third-highest in his career. He was targeted 9 times and gave up 3 catches for 11 yards. 

Now, it’s also fair to realize that the Eagles put this in their game plan for a week against the Patriots and the Patriots didn’t have a chance to prepare for it. In 2020, opposing teams will be able to game plan knowing about Mills’ hybrid role. 

And just because Mills played well for one game in this type of role, it doesn’t mean he’ll succeed over the course of a 16-game season. But at least the Eagles and Mill shave some sort of idea about how it’ll work. And that’s better than nothing. 

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