Eagles play it safety, bring back Allen
When the first big flurry of free agency ended and Nate Allen was still sitting on the market unclaimed, bringing him back on a one-year deal seemed like a prudent move to the Eagles.
The nicest, most easygoing man in the world wasn't offended when a bunch of free-agent safeties got rich last week, and he sat unclaimed on the market.
"It kind of felt like the draft all over again. I wasn't worried about it too much. I knew the Lord had a plan for me," Nate Allen said Monday after the Eagles announced he had returned on a one-year deal that ESPN's Adam Schefter said would pay $2 million, with another million possible in playing time incentives. "I expressed my feelings on being back here, let everybody know I'd love to be back here, and everything was able to work out ... I'm excited. I'm just grateful that they gave me another opportunity ... You could drive yourself crazy trying to figure it all out. I just kind of stepped back and let everything fall into place. Knew that at the end of the day, if it was meant for me to be here, I'd be back."
Allen was working out at NovaCare Monday when the Eagles asked him to speak with reporters. He's been there all offseason, took the week off when free agency started, went down home to Florida, got back over the weekend. Though Allen said there were discussions with other teams, it sure seemed this was the backburner plan all along, if there was roster space and if nobody out there really wanted to commit to the safety the Eagles drafted in the second round, 37th overall, in 2010.
Maybe it would have been nice to have seen a little fire, some sign that Allen felt overlooked or disrespected, that he would set out to show the league or even the Eagles that he deserved more, but for better or worse, that is not who he is. Allen, 26, who started all 16 games last season and has started 54 of the 59 games he's played since he entered the league, said once it was clear he wasn't getting more than a one-year deal, anywhere, he very much wanted it to be with the Eagles. He said he didn't get any assurances that he would start, and that he was fine with that, that he welcomes the chance to compete.
"I'm just going to try to get better this year and improve, whatever I can do to help the team win ... I wouldn't want anything just handed to me," said the man who was the second part of the Eagles' toxic 2010 miscalculation, when they traded up to 14th overall, took defensive end Brandon Graham instead of safety Earl Thomas, then figured they'd be just fine at safety by tabbing Allen 37th.
'It's all a blessing, in my eyes ... I'm a pretty simple dude, so any amount of money I get is good for me. A lot of times, it's not even about money. I'm just happy to be back here, in a system I'm comfortable in," Allen said. "I've been in Philly for four years. It's all a blessing."
So what does bringing back Allen say about the Eagles? It gives them another layer of insulation in the 2014 draft. After signing Malcolm Jenkins from the Saints (and special-teamer Chris Maragos from Seattle), they don't have to reach for a safety early, if there isn't one on the board that's worthy of a high draft pick, and better value is available at another position. Of course, if there IS a difference-making safety available, they certainly are still free to jump on him; Chip Kelly attended Louisville's pro day Monday, and we're going to say it was more for safety Calvin Pryor than for quarterback Teddy Bridgewagter.
Jenkins presumably will start, but he and the Eagles talked last week about moving him around the defensive backfield, maybe even playing him some as a nickel corner. It's hard to say what role might be available for Allen, whose competition includes promising 2013 rookie Earl Wolff.
Allen has been a major target of fan vitriol, as part of an epic organizational failure to address the safety situation since the departure of Brian Dawkins in 2009 -- the other notable names are Quintin Demps, Macho Harris, Jaquiawn Jarrett, Marlin Jackson, Kenny Phillips, O.J. Otogwe, Kurt Coleman and Patrick Chung, if you're keeping score at home-- but the venom seemed to ease a bit in the second half of the 2013 season, when Allen actually settled into Billy Davis's scheme and seemed to at last have more of a clue about what was happening in front of him.
"That pressure, that was there, right when I came in. Everybody was saying, 'you've got big shoes to fill,' (meaning) Brian Dawkins. But like I've said from Day 1, I'm not BDawk. He's a future Hall of Famer," Allen said. "I'm going to be Nate and play my game and not put any more added pressure on myself, and just go out and play football."
Davis, who was not available to speak with reporters Monday, has talked of working on Allen's eye level, on getting him to better read what the offense is doing. Certainly, the safety position seems less impossible to play now than it was behind Jim Washburn's wide-9. But even with the improvement, Allen was little better than OK last season, which was why he didn't attract a big-money deal elsewhere, or here.
'I'm comfortable in the system, I know the system. I love the coaching staff and the players," Allen said. "we've brought in a lot of new guys, and it's going to be fun, a fun year."
General manager Howie Roseman said, in a statement released by the team: "We are glad to have Nate back and add competition to the safety position. You saw the comfort level in his play improve and now he knows what is expected from coach Kelly, coach Davis and the rest of the coaching staff. He has played under four defensive coordinators in his career, so we believe the stability will help him continue to grow as a player."