The Inquirer/Daily News beat reporters have been previewing the Eagles’ offseason. Free agency will begin on March 14, and the draft will be April 26-28.
Schedule of previews:
Tuesday, Feb. 20: Quarterbacks/specialists
Wednesday, Feb. 21: Offensive line
Thursday, Feb. 22: Running backs
Friday, Feb. 23: Wide receivers/tight ends
Monday, Feb. 26: Defensive line
Tuesday, Feb. 27: Linebackers
Wednesday, Feb. 28: Cornerbacks
Thursday, March 1: Safeties
Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Chris Maragos
Jenkins and McLeod are one of the best safety tandems in the league and were a big reason for the Eagles’ defensive success this past season. But Jenkins turned 30 in December, and the team’s two primary backups at the position – 32-year-old Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins – both will be free agents (Watkins is restricted). So the Eagles need to address the depth situation there and possibly even give some thought to an eventual — eventual, I said — replacement for Jenkins.
Jenkins’ versatility — he can drop down and play in the slot or even be used as a quasi-linebacker in some of Jim Schwartz’s packages — allows the Eagles to switch looks without needing to change personnel. That versatility extended to Graham and Watkins, both of whom can line up inside or outside.
But Graham, who played 370 defensive snaps, probably won’t be re-signed. Watkins, who played 168 snaps, definitely is a player the Eagles want to keep.
The only other safety on the roster is 31-year-old special-teams ace Maragos, who is coming off a knee injury that sidelined him for 13 games, including the playoffs. But he’s on the roster because of his special-teams prowess, not his ability to step in and play safety.
Jenkins and McLeod have proven to be extremely durable, an important quality for a safety. Jenkins hasn’t missed a game in the four seasons he has been with the Eagles. McLeod has missed just one game because of injury in six NFL seasons.
Both players are signed through the 2020 season. Jenkins has a $10.1 million salary-cap number this year. McLeod’s cap number jumps from $3.2 million to $8.4 million this year. Given the Eagles’ lack of cap space heading into 2018, the team likely will approach both about restructuring their deals and lowering their ’18 cap numbers.
Corey Graham, Jaylen Watkins
Graham was one of the Eagles’ many excellent veteran acquisitions last season. Schwartz favors safeties who also can play outside. Graham’s scheme versatility allowed the Eagles to survive injuries to cornerback Ronald Darby and linebacker Jordan Hicks.
But Graham is 32. He seriously considered retirement before the Eagles signed him to a one-year deal last August and isn’t expected to return.
Watkins, who will be a restricted free agent, is a former corner who has made giant strides as a tackler. The Eagles want him back.
Even if the Eagles had a lot of cap space, which they don’t, they wouldn’t go after any of the top free-agent safeties such as the Rams’ Lamarcus Joyner, the Saints’ Kenny Vaccaro, the Chargers’ Tre Boston, or the Packers’ Morgan Burnett. Jenkins and McLeod each have three years left on their current deals, and neither player is on the decline.
But the Eagles likely will try to add a lower-tier veteran with the same kind of scheme versatility that Graham had. One name to keep in mind: the Seahawks’ Bradley McDougald. McDougald, who started nine games last season with Seattle and 31 the previous two years with Tampa Bay, is a safety with corner experience.
The Eagles have the last pick in the first round and no picks in Rounds 2 and 3. Would they take a safety at 32? Probably not. The draft’s top two safeties – Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Florida State’s Derwin James – are expected to be among the first 12 picks off the board. The third-rated safety, Fitzpatrick’s Alabama teammate Ronnie Harrison, should be there at 32, but doesn’t really fit what Schwartz wants in a safety. The Eagles probably will take a safety at some point on Day 3. But it’s too early to even guess on possibilities.