It’s not every year that NFL teams sign significant contributors after training camp begins. Most of those players are off the market by then. But there are exceptions, and Corey Graham was one for the Eagles last year.
After signing with Philadelphia in August, Graham went on to play 36% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps during the 2017 regular season. He then played 60% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps in the playoffs, including 64 snaps in the team’s Super Bowl win. For context, only six Eagles defenders played more often in the final game of the year. Fletcher Cox, the Eagles’ highest paid player, played exactly four more snaps than Graham did.
It’s clear, then, that Graham’s presence didn’t just give the Eagles good depth at safety behind starters Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins. It also allowed the latter to line up all over Philly’s defensive formation. According to Pro Football Focus, Jenkins played his snaps at four different positions in 2017: linebacker (42%), slot cornerback (30%), safety (24%), and outside cornerback (4%).
Having a quality third safety unquestionable paid off for the Eagles last year. But looking ahead to 2018, will they be able to enjoy that same luxury again?
It’s unclear. Graham, who turns 33 in July, is a free agent. Retirement isn’t out of the question. But maybe he’s considering one last run. It seems like the Eagles are keeping the door open for that possibility, at least.
As the always astute @igglesnut pointed out, the Eagles still haven’t given out Graham’s No. 24 jersey. It’s possible this is a coincidence, but I’m not so sure.
The recently signed Matt Jones wore No. 24 in college. One would think he’d prefer using that in Philly but he ended up getting No. 38 instead. (He wore No. 31 in Washington, which is currently being used by Jalen Mills.)
But it’s not just about Jones. The Eagles have made a number of free agent signings and a total of 20 draft pick/undrafted free agent signings this offseason. And 24 still hasn’t been taken.
Now, it’s not like Graham wouldn’t come back because someone took his old jersey (I think?). Still, it could be a clue. Or maybe I’m just too wrapped up in watching Evil Genius on Netflix.
Graham or no Graham, the Eagles’ third safety spot warrants discussion. The good news is the Eagles have a bunch of intriguing young talents. Tre Sullivan and Jeremy Reaves stick out as the favorites. Other undrafted free agent signings include Dominick Sanders, Stephen Roberts, and Ryan Neal. Then there are some cornerbacks who could see playing time at safety, such as Jalen Mills, maybe?
The ideal situation is for these young players to ball out this offseason and make the Eagles feel good about their safety depth.
But that’s not a given. These players were all undrafted for a reason. They aren’t proven commodities in the NFL. And if Jenkins and/or McLeod gets hurt, they’ll suddenly be starting on the back end of the defense.
And that’s where Graham comes in. If the young guys struggle (and/or injuries occur), the Eagles could look to sign Graham back on a one-year deal late in the summer once again. It’s not necessarily the preferred course of action, but it is nice to know that potential insurance policy is out there.
It’s also possible the Eagles could surprise us by bringing in a different veteran free agent safety. As of today, the likes of Kenny Vaccaro, Eric Reid, Tre Boston, Tyvon Branch, etc. are still on the market.
The Eagles’ roster is pretty loaded, on the whole. There aren’t a lot of glaring areas of concern. With that said, the third safety spot is that bears watching this offseason. Whether one of the young guys steps up, or Graham comes back, or an entirely new veteran is signed ... it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.
Who should be the Eagles’ third safety in 2018?
This poll is closed
One of the non-Reaves UDFA rookies
One of the non-Graham veteran free agents