The 2018 NFL offseason has begun for the Philadelphia Eagles, which means it’s time to look at what this team needs to do to repeat as Super Bowl champions next year. We continue this roster outlook series by looking at the safety position.
Regular season stats: 948 snaps, 57 tackles, 8 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Playoff stats: 13 tackles, 1 pass defensed
Review: Is it even accurate to put Jenkins in the safety position review? Consider:
Jenkins’ versatility makes him so valuable to Philadelphia. The Eagles were thin at linebacker after injuries to starting MIKE LB Jordan Hicks and his primary backup, Joe Walker. And so the Eagles relied on Jenkins to play more of an “in the box” role than he usually would. The Eagles also tasked him with matching up against bigger, physical slot targets, such as Jordan Reed and Larry Fitzgerald. He did a really good job on those guys. Overall, it was just another strong season for Jenkins, who was named to his second career Pro Bowl berth.
Outlook: Jenkins turns 31 in December this year. He probably has some good years left in him as long as he wants to keep playing. His current deal runs through 2020. The Eagles are in good shape with him around but they should start thinking about drafting his potential long-term replacement.
Regular season stats: 846 snaps, 35 tackles, 6 passes defensed, 3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble
Playoff stats: 12 tackles, 1 pass defensed, 1 sack
Review: The best way to describe McLeod’s play in 2017 is probably “uneven.” There were times when he whiffed badly (see as early as Week 1 against Chris Thompson) or got beat in coverage. Perhaps the hamstring injury he suffered early in the season lingered throughout the year. But it’s not like McLeod was an unmitigated disaster at safety. He was quietly good in the biggest game of the season: Super Bowl LII.
Outlook: The Eagles aren’t moving on from McLeod this offseason. Cutting him would cause the Eagles to actually lose cap space. Trading him would result in a savings of a mere $1 million compared to $7.2 million in dead money. Next year, however, is a different story. McLeod has a $9.9 million cap hit in 2019. The Eagles can save $5.1 million by either trading or cutting him. I think the Eagles will try to draft a McLeod replacement this offseason. McLeod could be a goner after the 2018 season unless he’s just so good that you can’t move on from him.
Regular season stats: 370 snaps, 28 tackles, 4 passes defensed, 2 interceptions
Playoff stats: 11 tackles, 1 pass defensed, 1 interception
Review: The Eagles signed Graham during a time in training camp where the corners were struggling so bad that there was thought Graham might get a look there. That wasn’t the case, though. Graham ended up being the No. 3 safety behind Philadelphia’s starters. In addition to being the top backup to both Jenkins and McLeod, Graham got some regular snaps as a role-player. His presence allowed the Eagles to move Jenkins around the formation.
Outlook: Graham, who turns 33 in July, is currently a free agent. I think the Eagles would have interest in bringing him back on the cheap but I don’t think Graham is rushing to sign anywhere right now. I also think the Eagles would prefer to get young at the No. 3 safety spot. Maybe the Eagles will look into bringing Graham back if they strike out on adding a quality safety in the 2018 NFL Draft. Maybe Graham is just done playing, though. Hard to tell because everything’s been quiet on his front.
Regular season stats: 168 snaps, 16 tackles
Playoff stats: None
Review: Watkins did enough in camp to make the team but he didn’t do enough to earn a role as the team’s third safety. That role went to Graham. Watkins began the season as the fourth safety and the top backup at corner. He started one game while filling in for Ronald Darby before suffering a hamstring injury that caused him to miss time. He saw some limited action in a rotational role once he got back, along with mostly playing on special teams.
Outlook: The Eagles declined to tender Watkins as a restricted free agent, which means he’s an unrestricted free agent available to sign with any team. Philadelphia could bring him back on a minimum deal if the 2014 fourth-round pick doesn’t draw a lot of interest on the market.
UPDATE: Watkins signs with the Chargers.
Outlook: Sullivan flashed nice potential last summer. He quietly made a good impression in offseason practices and then really stood out when the preseason games started. Sullivan’s big hit on Malachie Dupre actually hospitalized the Packers rookie. It’ll be interesting to see if Sullivan makes a jump in his development this offseason. He could potentially step up and win the Eagles’ third safety job, though it won’t be handed to him. At the very least, he should push to make the roster.
Outlook: Elston spent one game (the first Giants game) on the Eagles’ roster. He was only with the team for 10 days.
WHO COULD SIGN
The Eagles could try to re-sign Graham. He might find better offers from a team more desperate for safety help.
Ron Parker, Tyvon Branch, and Nate Allen are some other veteran safeties with connections to the Eagles. They could fit in as backups to Jenkins and McLeod.
NFL DRAFT OPTIONS
It won’t be surprising to see the Eagles invest in the safety position during the 2018 NFL Draft. Philadelphia needs to start thinking about the future of the position. Jenkins turns 31 this season and McLeod could potentially be a cap casualty next offseason.
BGN draft writer Ben Natan gave some thoughts on which safety prospects could interest the Eagles this year. I’m partial to Stanford safety Justin Reid.
Another thing to consider is that the Eagles could always move one of their 50 corners on the roster to safety. Jalen Mills seems like the most obvious candidate since he played safety at LSU. Some have suggested Rasul Douglas or Daryl Worley could move to safety as well.