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What the Eagles should do at safety

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Eagles roster outlook: position-by-position.

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

The 2020 NFL offseason has begun for the Philadelphia Eagles. Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson have a lot of tough decisions to make as they try to get this team back to Super Bowl contention. Today we continue our position-by-position roster outlook series by examining the safety position. Previously: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive tackle | Offensive guard | Center | Defensive end | Defensive tackle | Linebacker | Cornerback.

THE PLAYERS

MALCOLM JENKINS

Regular season stats: 1015 defensive snaps, 116 special teams, 80 tackles, 8 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles, 2.5 sacks, 1 blocked field goal

Playoff stats: 64 defensive snaps, 7 special teams snaps, 9 tackles, 1.0 sack

Review: Jenkins opted not to attend voluntary spring workouts before returning to mandatory minicamp and telling reporters he feels like he’s outplayed his contract. Instead of holding out, though, Jenkins went about his business and turned in his second straight season where he didn’t miss a single snap. Jenkins was liable for some big gains allowed — such as when he took fault for a blown coverage against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6 — but he also made a number of crucial plays. Jenkins blocked a field goal in Week 3 that should’ve allowed the Eagles to steal a win from the Detroit Lions had the offense not dropped the ball (literally in JJ Arcega-Whiteside’s case). Jenkins stripped Daniel Jones at a crucial moment in Week 17 to help the Eagles clinch the NFC East.

Outlook: Jenkins said that he won’t be returning to the Eagles in 2020 on his current deal, which was one season remaining. Giving more money to a player who turns 33 this year doesn’t seem to fit Howie Roseman’s “we need to get younger” edict but the team might need to make an exception for an exceptional player. The feeling here all along has been that the Eagles need to do what it takes to make Jenkins happy. And, really, what’s the alternative? The team doesn’t have young safeties in the pipeline to replace Jenkins. He’s been incredibly valuable to this team — not just as a player but also as a leader off the field — and I think they’d very quickly realize just how much they miss him. It feels like the Eagles should be able to come to an agreement where Jenkins gets a raise without committing too many more years to him.

Poll

Malcolm Jenkins: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    Stay
    (5098 votes)
  • 15%
    Go
    (959 votes)
6057 votes total Vote Now

RODNEY MCLEOD

Regular season stats: 1012 defensive snaps, 131 special teams, 74 tackles, 6 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 1.0 sack

Playoff stats: 64 defensive snaps, 8 special teams snaps, 2 tackles

Review: McLeod barely missed any playing time in 2019 despite suffering season-ending MCL/ACL injuries in 2018. That was good to see. As far as his impact went, well, it’s tough to say his season was very memorable. He did finish the year ranked 60th out of 101 safeties graded by Pro Football Focus, for what it’s worth.

Outlook: McLeod is going to be a free agent. Jim Schwartz really values him, so it wouldn’t be a shocker to see him back. Maybe he’ll be better in 2020 after being two years removed from significant injury. But Roseman talked about getting younger and McLeod turns 30 in June. The Eagles could upgrade on him if they can land one of the top free agent safeties. But what if the Eagles don’t keep him and then miss out on their targets? Tough to get a good read on what’s going to happen here.

Poll

Rodney McLeod: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Stay
    (3041 votes)
  • 44%
    Go
    (2401 votes)
5442 votes total Vote Now

ANDREW SENDEJO

Regular season stats: 234 defensive snaps, 166 special teams snaps, 26 tackles, 2 passes defensed, 1 interception, 1.0 sack

Review: The Eagles signed Sendejo — the dude LeGarette Blount ran over in the 2018 NFC Championship Game — to a one-year contract last offseason. He took all the first team reps during OTAs with Jenkins not attending and McLeod recovering from injury. It became clear that the coaching staff valued his presence on the team as a third safety in the old Corey Graham role. Sendejo notably blew a coverage to allow a touchdown in the Eagles’ Week 2 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Then he knocked out Avonte Maddox, who had to be stretchered off the field, with a reckless hit in Week 4. The Eagles correctly waived Sendejo prior to Week 10 in order to make sure they didn’t lose a 2020 fourth-round compensatory pick by keeping him on the roster. That draft selection is more valuable than he was to the team. The Vikings added Sendejo back to their roster and he finished the season as a rotational player in Minnesota’s defense.

MARCUS EPPS

Regular season stats: 98 defensive snaps, 112 special teams snaps, 5 tackles

Playoff stats: 13 defensive snaps, 12 special teams snaps, 3 tackles

Review: The Eagles claimed Epps off waivers after the Vikings cut him to make room for bringing Sendejo back to Minnesota. So, the Eagles essentially traded Sendejo for Epps. Epps, a 2019 sixth-round pick out of Wyoming, immediately filled the Sendejo role as a third safety and a special teams contributor. He never really stood out, except for the final play of the season when he was roasted by DK Metcalf to allow the Seattle Seahawks to clinch their playoff win over the Eagles.

Outlook: The 23-year-old Epps will need a very strong offseason to earn a spot on the 2020 roster.

Poll

Marcus Epps: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Stay
    (1062 votes)
  • 73%
    Go
    (2882 votes)
3944 votes total Vote Now

RUDY FORD

Regular season stats: 17 defensive snaps, 212 special teams snaps, 2 tackles

Review: The Eagles traded Bruce Hector to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for Ford in late August. Ford made the 53-man roster despite missing the remainder of the preseason with an injury. At the time, Roseman said the following about Ford:

“Rudy for us was one of though guys on special teams that just jumped off the tape, and he can fill specific roles. We’ve got to get him right and we will, and then when he comes back I think that our fans will see why we liked him on special teams. I mean, he adds some speed, and he can play some roles that we are really looking for through the offseason. So we’re excited about getting him.”

Ford did not show fans why the Eagles liked him on special teams. His four special teams penalties ranked tied for fourth most in the NFL. Pro Football Focus graded Ford 188th out of 190 special teams players (minimum 50% snaps). Ford saw some defensive snaps as a third safety in his final game of 2019 before suffering a season-ending abdomen injury.

Outlook: The 25-year-old Ford will need a very strong offseason to earn a spot on the 2020 roster.

Poll

Rudy Ford: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Stay
    (967 votes)
  • 72%
    Go
    (2600 votes)
3567 votes total Vote Now

JOHNATHAN CYPRIEN

Regular season stats: 15 defensive snaps, 74 special teams snaps, 2 tackles

Review: The Eagles signed Cyppy Cup in training camp. He made the roster as a fourth safety behind Jenkins, McLeod, and Sendejo. At the time, Roseman talked about how Cyprien would need to embrace a new role as a backup/special teams contributor after previously starting every NFL game he ever played. Cyprien struggled when multiple defensive back injuries forced him into playing time in Week 4. He wasn’t excelling on special teams, either. The Eagles traded Cyprien and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2020 seventh-round pick in exchange for Duke Riley and the Atlanta Falcons’ sixth-round pick. That’s a good deal for a player the Eagles were going to cut anyway. Cyprien suffered a season-ending injury in his first game with the Falcons.

FREE AGENCY OR TRADES

The Eagles must retain at least one of Jenkins or McLeod. Finding two new starting safeties is no small task for a regime that once struggled to find stability at safety after letting Brian Dawkins leave. Roseman literally once said: “It’s hard to find safeties in this league.”

If the Eagles need to add a starting safety in free agency, Anthony Harris, Jimmie Ward, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are among options in the Eagles’ ideal age range to consider.

NFL DRAFT OPTIONS

Written by Ben Natan:

The Eagles might have to address the safety position with high picks in th 2020 NFL Draft. Luckily for them, this safety class is deep and varied with lots of different types of players: True centerfielding ballhawks, box defenders, hybrid safeties who can play nickel linebacker and cover the slot. They want it? The 2020 class has it.

Grant Delpit is going to fly off the board well before the Eagles pick. That shouldn’t be a surprise given how talented, versatile and productive he was at LSU. If he starts to slip in the draft, that might be a no brainer pick for the Eagles.

Xavier McKinney will likely be the second safety drafted. The Alabama product has great size, athleticism and brings a lot of physicality to a defense. On day two, the Eagles might be interested in Ashtyn Davis out of Cal, JR Reed out of Georgia or Kyle Dugger out of Lenoir Rhyne. Dugger has had a huge week at the Senior Bowl practices and the 6’1”, nearly 220 pound safety is drawing a ton of NFL attention. Davis and Reed are both solid but unspectacular players who succeed with good discipline at the back of the defense and flash ball skills.

The player I’ve pounded the table for all season and will continue to be enamored with is Antoine Winfield Junior. The redshirt sophomore finally had a healthy season and was one of the dominant defenders in the country. He is a true ball hawk and plays with a chip on his shoulder. Size and health will pose a lot of questions to Winfield’s stock, but play absolutely should not. This is a deep safety class. Lots of players will be available on the first two days who could step in and contribute early in their careers. If the Eagles go into the draft needing new back end defenders, they will absolutely have options to improve the team.