Eagles Offseason Outlook: Safety
This week we’ll continue to take a position-by-position look at where the Eagles stand going into the offseason. In the first five installments, we covered the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and offensive linemen. Now, it’s on to the safeties.
STATE OF THE ROSTER
Despite going into the offseason with perilous uncertainty at the second safety position, the Eagles’ safeties were one of the bright spots on an otherwise disappointing defense.
Malcolm Jenkins played his anchor role, remembered how to catch a football, and made a slew of impressive open-field tackles, cementing his status as one of the Eagles’ more valuable pieces on the defensive side of the ball. He finished with two interceptions, one fumble recovery, and a career-high 87 tackles. Jenkins is signed through this season, so he’ll be back to captain the team’s defense again.
Opposite Jenkins, Walter Thurmond was moved to safety and made it work, finishing the season as Pro Football Focus’s 18th-ranked safety in the league. He seemed to make plays when they were necessary, and notched a career-high three interceptions in his first five games. But Thurmond is destined for free agency, so it’s no sure bet he’ll be returning to Philadelphia. He made $3.25 million this year, and he’ll likely demand more next season — and, at 29, he’s probably looking for a multi-year contract after two consecutive one-year deals.
Who fills the spot if Thurmond isn’t back?
Ed Reynolds had some good moments when pressed into action this past season, including his game-sealing interception against the Bills. The question, of course, is whether they can rely on the third-year safety to be reliable when his minutes are increased, and the jury is still out on that.
Intriguing athlete Jerome Couplin is also on the roster, as is special teams expert Chris Maragos.
Eric Rowe has upside as an NFL safety because of his size and skill set, though the preference may be to continue to develop him at corner.
WHAT I THINK WILL HAPPEN
Reeling Thurmond back in will likely take up a good chunk of money that the team would rather allocate to quarterback or the offensive line. Plus, there’s the matter of Jim Schwartz‘s new scheme and whether Thurmond is a fit in it.
If it’s not a match, the Eagles will likely have to invest in free agency or the draft. Even if they are high on Reynolds or Couplin, they are going to want to have options given that neither are close to being slam dunks.
This coaching staff will see many things differently than the previous one, and it’s possible Rowe will be viewed as more of a safety than corner by this regime. However, given the flashes that he showed as a rookie and the value of that position, the move may be to keep him on the outside and look for safety help elsewhere — especially if they don’t bring back Nolan Carroll.
Here are the top free-agent safeties, according to FOX Sports’ WalterFootball.com (includes current teams and age).
1. Eric Berry (Chiefs, 27)
2. Eric Weddle (Chargers, 31)
3. George Iloka (Bengals, 26)
4. Tashaun Gipson (Browns, 26)
5. Reggie Nelson (Bengals, 32)
6. Walter Thurmond (Eagles, 29)
7. Rodney McLeod (Rams, 26)
8. Isa Abdul-Quddus (Lions, 27)
9. Husain Abdullah (Chiefs, 31)
10. Rashad Johnson (Cardinals, 30)
The Chiefs seem intent on keeping Berry in-house. The Eagles may have to pick up a vet, but the only way I see them making a splash at the safety position in free agency is bringing Thurmond back.
Here are the top safety prospects in the draft, according to CBS Sports, including their overall ranking.
1. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State, FS (3)
2. Darian Thompson, Boise State, FS (47)
3. Vonn Bell, Ohio State, SS (48)
4. Jeremy Cash, Duke, SS (54)
5. Miles Killebrew, Southern Utah, SS (80)
6. Sean Davis, Maryland, FS (89)
7. DeAndre Houston-Carson, William & Mary, FS (111)
8. Karl Joseph, West Virginia, SS (112)
9. Keanu Neal, Florida, FS (138)
10. Jayron Kearse, Clemson, SS (152)