Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Rodney McLeod spurred 2 interceptions and pushed the Eagles closer to the playoffs. A fine farewell? | Marcus Hayes

The Birds' little giant provided two huge plays in what likely was his last meaningful game at Lincoln Financial Field, after six strong years.

Eagles safety Rodney McLeod runs with the football after his third-quarter interception against the Giants.
Eagles safety Rodney McLeod runs with the football after his third-quarter interception against the Giants.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

It was a fitting finish, if a finish it is. At least he went out with a bang.

Rodney McLeod intercepted one pass Sunday and deflected another into a teammate’s arms. The first pick set up the go-ahead touchdown. The second clinched victory. Those plays ensured an Eagles win over the Giants that brought the postseason to the doorstep — an unlikely postseason, considering the Eagles were 2-5 before McLeod’s postgame challenge after a loss in Las Vegas.

“Are you committed to making this run?!”

That’s how McLeod broke down the locker-room huddle on Oct. 24. The team has gone 6-2 since.

The Eagles next play Sunday at Washington, where another win could cement a wild-card playoff berth. That would make the season finale Jan. 9 meaningless. McLeod is 31. He’ll be a free agent in a matter of weeks. Younger, cheaper teammates wait to replace him. After becoming a fixture at Lincoln Financial Field, McLeod may have played his last meaningful game there.

McLeod has been in Philadelphia for six years. Six. Hard to believe. He’s made almost $30 million; good for him. He’s intercepted 10 passes, and he’s won a Super Bowl against the Patriots — he twice felled Rob Gronkowski as Gronk rumbled toward the end zone — but he’s never sniffed a Pro Bowl, nor should he have. He’s been a good player, worth his money, most of the time. McLeod overcame a controversial start; don’t forget that he backed off a goal-line tackle his first season in Philly. Nevertheless, he’s finishing strong.

McLeod is the cortex of a surging defense that could propel the Eagles into the postseason. If that happens, and if his days as an Eagle end, McLeod’s legacy in Philly will be assured. He’ll be one of those players whose profile grows the more distant his playing days become. Players like Barrett Brooks. Ike Reese. An Eagles Hall of Fame candidate, for what that’s worth.

A generous teammate, a gentle man, and, pound-for-pound, one of the NFL’s hardest hitters, McLeod — 5-foot-10, 190-ish, undrafted out of Virginia in 2012 — has been an NFL success story from day one.

Bringin’ it

Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon understands the NFL’s emphasis on player safety, but he still laments the limitations the new rules place on human missiles like McLeod.

“There is a lot of rules right now that protect the offense, and he brings a physical element that people, receivers and people that carry the ball, are very aware of,” Gannon said. “When you talk about being an intense group that wants to outhit people, as we said when we got in here, he’s one of those guys that carries the torch for us.”

The rest of McLeod’s profile depends on dependability. He’s been a solid defender against the pass, but 27 other safeties have at least as many as his 10 interceptions over the last six seasons. More than anything else, McLeod doesn’t make mistakes. That’s the first rule of playing safety. It’s baked into the name.

“The first thing I look for in a safety is reliability. He is the epitome of that word,” Gannon said. “He is always in the right spot. He takes the right angles. He runs the show back there with the calls and adjustments. He’s emotionally stable. When things aren’t going great, there is no panic in his game.”

There was no panic in Las Vegas, either. Just leadership.

The Eagles’ defense lost its voice when safety Malcolm Jenkins left via free agency after 2019. The defense lost its soul when Brandon Graham ruptured his Achilles tendon in Game 2. McLeod spent his first five seasons letting his play do the talking.

In Vegas, McLeod realized, “Time was running out.”

On this season, and on his tenure.


The Eagles offense played sluggishly in the first half against the Giants, and the defense took the field first after halftime facing a 3-3 tie. A loss to this edition of the Giants would be catastrophic. McLeod’s defense wasn’t going to let that happen.

On the second play from scrimmage, Genard Avery, a 250-pound hybrid linebacker/end, stunted from the right defensive end spot, charged up the middle, and ran through 313-pound guard Matt Skura. Jake Fromm, startled, let it fly.

The pass sailed over Kenny Golladay and into the arms of McLeod. He was, as usual, in the right spot.

“It was huge, coming out in the second half. Being able to put our team in the position that I was able to. I think it created a lot of momentum,” McLeod said. “That’s what we talked about at half. Just coming out and showing who wanted it more. We responded the right way. My interception helped.”

By the early fourth quarter, with the game better in hand, McLeod was able to take a chance.

He hawked the play from snap to throw. McLeod crept forward as Kadarius Toney drove toward him. McLeod accelerated when Toney braked, and then McLeod lunged in front of backup Mike Glennon’s pass. Linebacker Alex Singleton was closing in for a tackle; the ball just landed in his arms. Singleton returned it 29 yards, made it 34-3, a margin that gave thirty-somethings like McLeod the rest of the afternoon off.

“Most of the time they were doing option routes with Toney, back-side,” McLeod explained. He’d told Singleton, “‘If he goes out, I’m jumpin’ it. If he comes in, he’ll be in the spot.’”

McLeod was on the spot, too.

“I happened to make a great play,” he said. “It was another huge play for us.”

End of the line?

Honestly, there haven’t been as many huge plays as you’d think. Not after six years.

That’s partly because McLeod blew out his ACL in early 2018, which cost him the last 13 games of that season, then did it again late last year, which cost him first last three games of 2020 and the first three games of 2021. His absence in September allowed the Eagles to look at Marcus Epps, a third-year waiver claim, and K’Von Wallace, whom the Eagles drafted in the fourth round last year and has been relegated to special-teams duty.

Epps has played well. The Eagles almost certainly will give Wallace more chances next season, and they’ll probably draft a safety, too. When healthy, McLeod played virtually every snap in his first five seasons. This season, he’s played less than 75% of the snaps in half of his 12 games, and played just 50% on Sunday, his lowest percentage as an Eagle.

With reason.

Sunday’s big plays aside, McLeod hasn’t done enough to justify an extension: grades him 35th among safeties who have taken at least 500 snaps, at 62.7 overall. That’s his lowest grade since he became a starter in his second season with the Rams, in 2013.

It’s not as if Rodney McLeod has been Brian Dawkins, or even Malcolm Jenkins; but then, he never was expected to be. And now, McLeod’s time in Philadelphia is almost certainly over. So be it.

The team, and the town, are better for it.