The Philadelphia Eagles’ reported signing of Johnathan Cyprien is a bit of a curious move. Let’s try to make sense of it.
Cyprien barely missed out on being a first-round pick as he was selected by the Jaguars with the No. 33 overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft. Cyprien started and played in 60 games with Jacksonville over four years before leaving the Jaguars to sign a four-year, $25 million contract with the Titans in March 2017. Cyprien started and played in 10 games in his first season with Tennessee before suffering an ACL injury in August 2018. The Titans then released Cyprien earlier this year in March.
Over the course of five NFL seasons, Cyprien has logged 506 total tackles, 16 passes defensed, four forced fumbles, two interceptions, and three sacks.
More safety depth
The 6-0, 223 pound Cyprien is listed as a safety so this seems like a natural place to start. Perhaps the Eagles signed Cyprien simply because they feel like they need more depth at this position.
Malcolm Jenkins will be starting for the Eagles but it’s not unreasonable to wonder about the state of his body given that he’s played nearly 10,000 snaps since 2009 and he turns 32 this season. Jenkins plays a lot of snaps for the Eagles in the box as opposed to lining up as a free safety. The same is true for Cyprien, who played 48% of his 2016 snaps and 43% of his 2017 snaps as a box defender. So, Cyppy Cup could give the Eagles insurance if Jenkins goes down.
Another reason for the Eagles to add a safety to the roster is that Rodney McLeod is still making his way back from the ACL injury he suffered in September 2018. McLeod, who is sporting a knee brace, participated in 7-on-7 and 1-on-1 drills during training camp earlier this week. He also said he’s hoping to be full go by the Eagles’ third preseason game (August 22). In the unfortunate event that McLeod has a setback, though, Cyprien gives the Eagles another safety competing for a roster spot.
Speaking of that competition, the Eagles now have seven safeties behind projected starters Jenkins and McLeod. Those include: Andrew Sendejo, Tre Sullivan, Blake Countess, Deiondre’ Hall, Trae Elston, Godwin Igwebuike, and Cyprien. I’ll be writing about Sendejo more later but for now I’ll just say he’s probably making this team. That leaves the other six guys likely competing for one or two roster spots behind the trio of Jenkins, McLeod, and Sendejo.
Sullivan has the most in-house experience, including suiting up for the Eagles in the playoffs earlier this year. Countess has a good special teams reputation and the Eagles made an effort to reacquire their 2016 sixth-round pick when he was available on waivers back in May. The Eagles traded a seventh-round pick for Hall last year but he never really got on the field. Elston and Igwebuike are camp bodies.
So, I think the Eagles will keep two (at most) from this trio: Sullivan, Countess, and Cyprien. The remainder of camp and preseason games will go towards determining that battle. My early guess is that Sullivan might be the one on the outs.
Compensatory pick considerations
It’s been suggested that the Eagles could be signing Cyprien to allow the team to move on from Sendejo, who is currently preventing Philadelphia from receiving a 2020 fourth-round compensatory pick by being on the roster.
I don’t see that happening.
Sendejo hasn’t looked bad during offseason practices. He’s also taken ALL the first team safety reps in 11-on-11 with McLeod still recovering.
Beyond that, the coaching staff has had unprompted praise for him. Doug Pederson brought up Sendejo when asked about some of the “unheralded” standout players from camp so far. Pederson also praised Sendejo in a recent radio interview:
Doug Pederson was asked about the Eagles’ offseason additions on @SiriusXMNFL. Specifically DeSean and Malik Jackson. After talking about those two guys, he brought up Andrew Sendejo. Wasn’t shy to praise the veteran safety. pic.twitter.com/WsCQ4uCezD— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) July 30, 2019
If you’re still not convinced, allow me to point out that Cyprien doesn't project as a direct replacement for Sendejo. The former Vikings safety has a reputation for being a box defender but that’s not what the snap counts suggest. Sendejo’s lined up way more as a free safety since becoming a full-time starter back in 2013. Numbers via Pro Football Focus:
Free safety: 231
Free safety: 538
Free safety: 594
Free safety: 667
Free safety: 111
Free safety: 549
But while I’d say Sendejo is a lock to make the roster, there’s another comp pick angle to consider.
Cutting Sendejo isn’t the only way the Eagles could get that 2020 fourth-round comp pick. They could also move on from L.J. Fort. And guess which newly signed Eagles safety has experience playing in the box like a linebacker? That’s right, it’s Cyprien!
With that said, I don’t think the Eagles will be cutting Fort either.
Fort hasn’t stood out in a big way this offseason but he’s had some nice moments. It also must be noted that Howie Roseman called him a “free agent target” after signing him shortly after the new league year began. Oh, and let’s not forget the fact the Eagles signed him to a three-year, $5.5 million contract worth $1.9 million guaranteed.
So, I don’t think the Eagles will be cutting Sendejo or Fort. They don’t want to hurt their safety and linebacker depth in a year where they’re aggressively trying to win another Super Bowl title, even if it means losing out on a 2020 fourth-round comp pick. I can understand that.
What’s unfortunate, though, is that the Eagles may be losing not just one but TWO projected 2020 fourth-round comp picks. In the realistic situation that the Eagles keep both Sendejo and Fort on their 53-man roster AND the 49ers cut Jordan Matthews (which ESPN is currently projecting), the Eagles will receive zero 2020 fourth-round comp picks. Put another way, it’s essentially liked the Eagles traded two 2020 fourth-round picks for a 32-year-old backup safety on a one-year contract and a 29-year-old backup linebacker. That’s not exactly top-notch resource management, especially when you add the context that the Eagles need draft picks more than ever. They’ve made the fewest selections in the league over the past two NFL Drafts (10) and now they have an expensive franchise quarterback contract to deal with.
Roseman is one of the league’s best general managers and he’s done a good job of building the Eagles into a Super Bowl contender. No doubt about it.
So, call it a nitpick, if you must, but I do think he could’ve done a better job addressing safety and linebacker depth without potentially losing two fourth-round picks.
The nerdy comp pick rant is over now.
It can’t hurt to take a look at what Cyprien’s got over the next month before final roster cuts take place. PFF graded him out as an elite run defender back in 2016 and a good one in 2017. Maybe he’s worth keeping around as a boost to the Eagles’ safety and/or linebacker depth. If not, well, no harm done.