Colts’ Rodney McLeod prepares to face Eagles: ‘Emotions are going to be running high for me’
The safety forged a lot of friendships and won a Super Bowl in his time here. “Rod had such a big impact on me,” safety Marcus Epps said.
Rodney McLeod is nearly 10 months removed from playing his final snap in an Eagles uniform.
After spending six seasons in Philadelphia, the 32-year-old safety signed a one-year deal with the Colts during free agency. Despite relocating 650 miles away to Indianapolis, McLeod maintains special ties to the Philadelphia region.
He became sentimental while discussing his expectations for the matchup on Sunday featuring his current and former teams.
“It’s going to be exciting,” McLeod said in a conversation with The Inquirer. “Knowing the history I have in Philly, emotions are going to be running high for me. I’m looking forward to going out and competing, making my presence felt.”
McLeod’s tenure with the Eagles included his contributions toward the team’s only Super Bowl championship in the 2017 season. He became well respected across the locker room thanks to his vocal presence and veteran leadership.
“Rod had such a big impact on me,” safety Marcus Epps said. “Just a phenomenal teammate, great dude overall, great person. He’s somebody who, ever since I got here, he was always very helpful, supportive. He never withheld any information, he always looked out, always tried to pass along as much knowledge as he could.
“It’ll be a little different seeing him on the other side. But playing against one of my brothers, it’s going to be a special moment.”
Outside of football, McLeod was a fixture in the Philadelphia community. Around the beginning of the pandemic, he and his wife, Erika, launched their “Change Our Future” foundation, which aims to empower the youth through education, advocacy, and developmental programs. McLeod also served on the team’s social justice leadership council.
His efforts didn’t go unnoticed. At the conclusion of his career with the Eagles, McLeod was named recipient of the 2022 NFLPA Alan Page Community Award.
“Philly is a very special place that breeds leaders,” McLeod said. “Philly taught me not only how to handle my business on the field, but also in the community. One guy I always point to is [former safety] Malcom Jenkins. Together, it was very special with what we were able to experience. I wanted to make sure when he left, whenever his time was up, that I was going to continue to carry on the torch and standard that he set.”
McLeod’s “Change Our Future” foundation is hosting its annual turkey drive on Friday in Philadelphia. The event will provide frozen turkeys, along with other food, to families in need. Over the last three years, the foundation has provided food for 700-plus families during the holiday season.
“We realized there were communities that we wanted to touch,” Erika said. “In order to get further in life, we have to bring others along with you. Working our way through and filling the needs of our communities in Philly, we’re just looking for extra support because we want to change more lives, more youth — because they’re the next generation of the future.”
Along with players in the Eagles’ secondary, McLeod developed strong relationships with several teammates. He still maintains bonds with quarterback Jalen Hurts and left tackle Jordan Mailata, among others.
Watching the Eagles from afar this year, McLeod has quietly cheered for Hurts, who has emerged as an MVP candidate while leading his team to eight victories over nine games.
“That’s my lil’ bro,” McLeod said of Hurts. “So, so happy for all the success he’s having. He’s developed so much as a man and a leader. I’m not surprised by his success one bit.
“They’re a great team. They just experienced their first loss, so they’re going to be hungry. I know how it is in that locker room, that Philly way. They’re hungry dogs. After a loss, they’re going to want to come out for redemption.”
After McLeod’s departure, the Eagles had a gaping hole at safety. The position was considered one of the team’s few unproven spots throughout the summer. Before the season began, the Eagles traded for C.J. Gardner-Johnson, pairing him alongside Epps. The duo has experienced success together in the post-McLeod era, but McLeod’s impact is still felt through the eyes of many.
“One thing I learned here my first two years was how much of a team-first type of player Rodney was,” Mailata said. “Being in the same locker room, having our better halves getting to know each other, us hanging out outside of here. For us, we built such a strong relationship off the field.
“He’s a big team guy. He’s everything you want. The guy leads by action. When he speaks, that [stuff], man — everybody listens. Everyone is attentive in that huddle.”
When Mailata flipped on the tape earlier in the week, he noticed that McLeod has been deployed sporadically as an extra rusher in the Colts’ blitz packages. Mailata hopes to engage with McLeod at some point on Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“I can’t wait to see Rodney,” Mailata said. “If he wants to blitz on my side, I welcome him with open arms.”
He concluded with a smirk: “… And maybe even a little shoulder.”
Inquirer Eagles beat reporters EJ Smith and Josh Tolentino preview the team’s Week 11 game against the Indianapolis Colts. Watch at Inquirer.com/EaglesGameday