This is the last of an eight-part series previewing the Eagles’ roster before organized team activities start next Tuesday.
Here is the entire series, with links to previous installments:
Who’s back: Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Avonte Maddox, Tre Sullivan, Deiondre’ Hall.
Jenkins’ value to the Eagles defense always has been exceedingly high. But he was absolutely indispensable last season in a secondary ravaged by injuries. His safety partner, McLeod, tore his ACL in Week 3, and the team’s top three corners missed 22 starts because of injury. Jenkins kept the young secondary together with both his leadership and versatile play, lining up all over the place.
He played every snap of every game, leading the Eagles in tackles (136) and forced fumbles (3) and finishing third in passes defensed (11) and fourth in tackles for losses (10). He also blitzed a career-high 55 times.
Jenkins is 31 and clearly a lot closer to the end of his career than the beginning. But he still played at a high level last year as he earned his third Pro Bowl invitation. He and McLeod were one of the league’s top safety tandems before McLeod went down last year. McLeod doesn’t have as much positional versatility as Jenkins, but they complement each other well in Jim Schwartz’s packages.
This could be the last hurrah in Philly for one or both of them. McLeod, who will turn 29 next month, can become a free agent after the season, and Jenkins’ contract has no more guaranteed money left on it.
The Eagles liked what they saw of Maddox last season. The 5-foot-9, 184-pounder started nine games as a rookie because of all the injuries, including four games at safety. He was drafted as a corner, but his fast, physical style served him well when they moved him to the back end of the defense.
It will be interesting to see where Maddox gets most of his reps in OTAs and training camp. Because of Maddox’s size, the predraft thinking on him seemed to be that his best position in the NFL would be inside covering the slot. That still could be the case. But Cre’Von LeBlanc did such a good job of solidifying that role late last year after the Eagles signed him off the street that Maddox could stay at safety, though it’s likely he’ll be cross-trained at both spots. That McLeod and/or Jenkins possibly might not be back in 2020 also could influence where Maddox spends most of his time.
Sullivan saw a lot of action in his second season with the Eagles, which should help him in Year No. 3 (he spent his rookie year on the team’s practice squad). He played in 12 games, including one start. While he was one of the team’s better special-teams players, he also played 219 defensive snaps.
The Eagles acquired Hall from the Bears right before the start of the season, but he was used almost exclusively on special teams. He played just six defensive snaps. With a better grasp of Schwartz’s scheme, perhaps he’ll have an opportunity to make a greater defensive impact this season.
That the Eagles didn’t draft a safety or even sign one after the draft would seem to be a pretty good indication that they like the potential of players such as Maddox, Sullivan and Hall.
Who’s new: Andrew Sendejo, Blake Countess, Godwin Igwekbuike
Sendejo was a good one-year signing for the the Eagles. He’s a big (6-1, 210) safety with nine years of NFL experience on his resume who should be an asset to them in Schwartz’s four-safety, one-linebacker sub-packages. Sendejo started 40 games for the Vikings from 2015-17, but a groin injury last year limited him to five starts. He spent the rest of the year on injured reserve.
Countess, a sixth-round pick of the Eagles in 2016, was claimed on waivers after the Rams released him. At the very least, Countess gives them an exceptional special-teamer who can return kicks. He was the Rams’ No. 4 safety last season, playing just 59 defensive snaps.
Who’s gone: Corey Graham, Chris Maragos.
Graham was a late-summer signing for the Eagles each of the last two years when they needed safety help. But he shouldn’t expect a call this summer. For starters, the Eagles have more depth at safety than they’ve had in a while. Second, Graham is almost 34, and while he was effective in a limited role during the Eagles’ Super Bowl season two years ago, his age showed last year when he had to play more snaps because of injuries to McLeod.
Maragos was the Eagles’ special-teams captain, but was used at safety only in emergencies. He was sidelined with a knee injury most of the last two seasons, and wasn’t re-signed.