clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What the Eagles should do at safety

Eagles roster outlook: position-by-position.

Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Today we continue our Philadelphia Eagles roster outlook series by examining the safety position. Previously: Defensive end | Defensive tackle | Linebacker | Cornerback.

THE PLAYERS

JALEN MILLS

STATS: 1013 defensive snaps, 82 special teams snaps, 74 tackles, 3 passes defensed, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 1.5 sacks, 5 QB hits

REVIEW: The Eagles re-signed Mills with the intent of moving him from cornerback to safety to be Malcolm Jenkins’ replacement. And it actually ended up being a reasonable plan? The Green Goblin played fairly well last year, especially when one accounts for how he didn’t even have a full offseason to make the transition to a (somewhat) new position. Pro Football Focus had Mills graded 24th out of 99 safeties. Tackling was an issue with 12 misses but he still graded out solid in coverage and run support. Mills had some success as a blitzer as well. In addition to playing strong safety, Mills had to kick outside to play cornerback due to multiple injuries at that position. Far from unbeatable, he at least offered a level of competency out there.

OUTLOOK: Mills only signed a one-year contract with Philly last offseason so he’s going to be a free agent in March. If Jim Schwartz was still the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, there’s no doubt Mills would be back. It remains to be seen how Jonathan Gannon values him, though, with the Eagles expected to utilize more Cover 2 looks. The guess here is that Mills won’t have some crazy robust market and the Eagles will try to bring him back on another short-term contract (one or two years). Given their cap limitations, keeping him might be one of their most sensible options at the position. But not so sure they’re ready to make a long-term commitment to Mills if that’s what it takes.

MY TAKE: Stay.

Poll

Jalen Mills: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    Stay
    (2617 votes)
  • 25%
    Go
    (873 votes)
3490 votes total Vote Now

RODNEY MCLEOD

STATS: 873 defensive snaps, 114 special teams snaps, 66 tackles, 7 passes defensed, 1 interception, 1 defensive TD

REVIEW: Whereas Mills was expected to take on Jenkins’ role as a player, McLeod was being counted on to replace Jenkins as a vocal leader. He seemed to do well in that regard. McLeod was also having a good season (22nd highest-graded safety) on the field before suffering another ACL injury in mid-December. He hadn’t missed a single defensive snap prior to that point. It was a shame to see the Eagles’ Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee go down like that.

OUTLOOK: There would be a case to trade McLeod if he was healthy since he turns 31 this year and dealing him clears $2.7 million in cap space ($2.4 million dead money). But McLeod’s value is hampered by a recovery that will likely linger into the 2021 season. The Eagles will bring him back hoping he can get healthy sooner than later and be one of the team’s two starters on the back end.

MY TAKE: Stay.

Poll

Rodney McLeod: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    Stay
    (2425 votes)
  • 23%
    Go
    (750 votes)
3175 votes total Vote Now

MARCUS EPPS

STATS: 364 defensive snaps, 245 special teams snaps, 47 tackles, 4 passes defensed, 2 interceptions

REVIEW: You’ll probably be surprised to read that Epps finished the 2020 season as PFF’s 13th highest-graded safety. He only allowed a 59.5 passer rating when targeted, which was the eighth-best mark in the NFL. Epps boasts an elite athletic profile so it makes sense that he’s adept in coverage.

OUTLOOK: Epps turned 25 last week and he’s under contract for cheap through 2022. No-brainer to keep him around. He’s on track to start at safety at least until McLeod returns. Perhaps he takes on a bigger role than expected in Gannon’s defense.

MY TAKE: Stay.

Poll

Marcus Epps: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    Stay
    (2447 votes)
  • 15%
    Go
    (449 votes)
2896 votes total Vote Now

K’VON WALLACE

STATS: 202 defensive snaps, 221 special teams snaps, 21 tackles

REVIEW: Wallace was arguably the most popular pick from the Eagles’ 2020 NFL Draft class. There was thought he might be able to make some immediate contributions as a rookie. Schwartz tempered those expectations, though, by saying it’s tough for safeties and linebackers to quickly have success in the NFL. Sure enough, it was a lackluster season for Wallace as he struggled to make an impact. He graded 135th out of 172 safeties in part due to poor tackling with four misses.

OUTLOOK: Perhaps Wallace, who turns 24 this offseason, will make a leap from Year 1 to Year 2. Wouldn’t rule it out. Also wouldn’t merely bank on it happening. The current expectation is that he contributes as a role-player in 2021.

MY TAKE: Stay.

Poll

K’Von Wallace: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 94%
    Stay
    (2659 votes)
  • 5%
    Go
    (163 votes)
2822 votes total Vote Now

WILL PARKS

STATS: 114 defensive snaps, 63 special teams snaps, 13 tackles

REVIEW: Parks reportedly took a hometown discount to come to Philly and that didn’t turn out to be a great decision. It looked like he was going to have a significant role in the Eagles’ defense but he got hurt in training camp and then didn’t play all that much when he finally got healthy. The Eagles waived Parks after shopping him on the trade market and he rejoined the Denver Broncos, where he had some success. Parks will be a free agent again this offseason and I don’t think he’ll be coming back to Philly.

GRAYLAND ARNOLD

STATS: 82 defensive snaps, 76 special teams snaps, 11 tackles, 1 pass defensed

REVIEW: This undrafted rookie free agent spent time on the practice squad before getting promoted to the main roster after Parks was let go. Arnold played sparingly and it didn’t go great for him with four missed tackles.

OUTLOOK: Arnold showed some potential in training camp last year before struggling in game action. He’ll need to fight for a spot on the 2021 roster during offseason practices.

MY TAKE: Stay.

Poll

Grayland Arnold: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    Stay
    (1011 votes)
  • 53%
    Go
    (1162 votes)
2173 votes total Vote Now

RUDY FORD

STATS: 46 defensive snaps, 139 special teams snaps, 15 tackles

REVIEW: Ford missed a good chunk of training camp due to injury but the Eagles kept him around anyway. He justified their faith by making some nice special teams tackles as a gunner on punt coverage. But then injuries plagued him for the rest of the season.

OUTLOOK: Ford is a free agent this offseason. He’s a good special teams player when healthy ... but he hasn’t proved to be very durable. He’s missed 24 career games, including 15 over the past two seasons. If the Eagles want to re-sign him to a minimum contract and have him compete for a roster spot, fine. Shouldn’t be giving him any kind of guaranteed money, though.

MY TAKE: Go.

Poll

Rudy Ford: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Stay
    (457 votes)
  • 78%
    Go
    (1658 votes)
2115 votes total Vote Now

BLAKE COUNTESS

STATS: 6 defensive snaps, 21 special teams snaps, 3 tackles

REVIEW: The Eagles signed Countess to their practice squad in mid-December after McLeod went down for the season. He saw some limited playing time in Week 17, marking his first regular season action with the Eagles since being drafted by the team in the sixth-round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

OUTLOOK: The Eagles signed Countess to a future contract so they’re giving the 27-year-old a chance to compete for a spot on the 2021 roster. Not impossible he plays his way onto the team but he’s fighting an uphill battle.

MY TAKE: Go.

Poll

Blake Countess: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Stay
    (286 votes)
  • 85%
    Go
    (1703 votes)
1989 votes total Vote Now

ELIJAH RILEY

STATS: 4 defensive snaps, 65 special teams snaps

REVIEW: Secondary injuries allowed Riley to see some limited playing time as a rookie. He spent most of the season on the practice squad.

OUTLOOK: Riley has an opportunity to push for a roster spot but spending another year on the practice squad might be more realistic.

MY TAKE: Go.

Poll

Elijah Riley: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    Stay
    (348 votes)
  • 80%
    Go
    (1462 votes)
1810 votes total Vote Now

FREE AGENCY OR TRADES

Colts safety Tavon Wilson, who turns 31 in March, doesn’t fit the Eagles from an age perspective. But perhaps Gannon would pine for him as an inexpensive stop-gap option. The Eagles aren’t going to have the proper funds to sign the younger Malik Hooker. DeAndre Houston-Carson could be a name to watch since the Eagles previously tried to sign him off the Chicago Bears’ practice squad back in 2017.

NFL DRAFT APPROACH

The Eagles need to find some long-term answers at the safety position. They won’t be taking one at pick No. 6 but they could reasonably address the spot as early as the second round.