Philadelphia Eagles training camp is right around the corner ... maybe? Players are currently scheduled to report to the NovaCare Complex on July 28. As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles’ roster. We continue today by taking a look at the safety spot. Previously: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive line | Defensive end | Defensive tackle | Linebacker | Cornerback.
The Eagles have big shoes to fill both on and off the field after declining to pick up Malcolm Jenkins’ 2020 option. To what extent will they miss him? Let’s take a look at what remains in his absence.
The Eagles re-signed McLeod to a contract that locks him in as their starting free safety for at least two more seasons. The team is also really counting on the 30-year-old to fill Jenkins’ leadership void in the locker room. The pressure is on.
A review of the many big passing plays surrendered by the Eagles’ 2019 defense raises questions about McLeod’s effectiveness on the back end. The team doesn’t agree with the assessment that he was culpable to a concerning extent, though. The Eagles have confidence in him.
One can wonder if McLeod might be more effective in 2020 given that he’s further removed from his 2018 ACL/MCL injuries. McLeod missed some portions of the 2019 offseason as he recovered from those ailments. He’s now fully healthy heading into his ninth NFL season. The Eagles are expecting McLeod to at least be a solid starter ... if not better. It’d be nice to see him looking good in camp.
Whereas there’s pressure on McLeod to fill Jenkins’ off-field role, there’s pressure on Mills to fill Jenkins’ on-field role.
2020 brings a new look for the Green Goblin. Mills is transitioning from cornerback to safety. He also even made a jersey number change from No. 31 to No. 21. Regarding that alteration, he brought how both LeBron James and Kobe Bryant changed numbers during their careers. Mills said he’s “recreating” himself.
Mills putting himself in the same breath as two of the best players in NBA history speaks to his extremely high confidence. That quality contributes to why Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz loves him so much. They trust him to not be mentally defeated by any mistakes he makes.
The Eagles are counting on Mills’ confidence to serve him well as he transitions to a new role. Mills also has a background at safety considering he played the position at LSU. His skill set could better lend to lining up all over the defense as opposed to being vulnerable to getting roasted deep at corner.
Still, there are reasons for skepticism here. The Eagles’ coaching staff was previously so adamant that Mills wasn’t a safety. He hasn’t truly played the position since 2015 and he’s going to make this position change during an offseason where practice reps as more limited than ever.
It’ll be fascinating to see if Mills can succeed in his new role. It’s hard to ask him to be what Jenkins was but can he at least be competent? Mills is playing on a one-year, $4 million contract in 2020. This year marks his audition for a long-term deal.
The Eagles re-signed this Philly native to a one-year, $1.4 million contract in free agency. Some have suggested he could beat out Mills to be a full-time starter but I don’t think that’ll be the case. Parks seems bound to play the No. 3 safety role instead. The 25-year-old figures to be an upgrade on previous over-the-hill options at that spot such as Andrew Sendejo and Corey Graham. Parks could be a nice defensive role player for his hometown Eagles. He should get ample playing time in subpackages should he establish himself well in camp.
Wallace is easily one of the top two rookies that Eagles fans are more excited about. The Clemson alumnus already has the makings of being a fan favorite. It’s possible that Wallace could make an instant impact. He could push for the No. 3 safety job, though not having a real offseason works against him as he transitions to the NFL. Even if he doesn’t contribute much as a rookie, Wallace could eventually prove himself as Jenkins’ long-term replacement. He fits that mold in terms of his on-field skill set and his leadership experience. It’ll be fun to watch where Wallace lines up in camp.
Epps, 24, could push for a fifth safety spot should he stand out on special teams.
Ford was really bad on special teams last year. Maybe a full offseason with the Eagles would’ve helped him ... but he won’t have that now. The odds are stacked against him.
The Eagles had a draftable grade on Arnold and they paid him the fourth highest guarantee out of their 13 undrafted rookie free agent signings. Howie Roseman also brought up Arnold — unprompted — in several post-NFL Draft interviews. Methink the team like the Baylor product’s potential. Arnold has experience at both corner and safety so it’s not perfectly clear where he’ll start out. Safety seems more logical with Mills and Parks only signed through this year.
Riley also has experience at corner but I’m grouping him in with the safeties for now. The undrafted rookie free agent signing likely tops out as a practice squad candidate.
HOW WILL IT PLAY OUT?
McLeod will be the starting free safety. Mills will fill Jenkins’ role as a box safety/quasi-linebacker who lines up in multiple spots. Parks and Wallace will view for the No. 3 safety role.
The Eagles made an effort to roster a number of defensive backs that they consider to be “positionless” players. We could see these safeties used in a number of different ways as they try to replace Jenkins. They have some intriguing pieces but it won’t be easy.
WHO COULD BE A SURPRISE CUT?
No surprise cuts in store here. McLeod, Mills, Parks, and Wallace are all locks to make the team.
We’ll see if someone can step up for a fifth spot. The Eagles might not want to risk exposing Arnold to waivers.
On a scale of 1-5, what’s your confidence level in the Eagles’ safety position? (5 being the most.)
This poll is closed