Walter Thurmond received an offer from Eagles coaches four weeks ago. He could stay at cornerback, where he has played his entire five-year career, and compete at a position that became crowded this offseason. Or he could move to safety, where the Eagles' glaring need has been ignored.
The decision was left to Thurmond. He is now a safety.
"I chose to go to the safety because of the defense we play - there's going to be a lot of opportunities to make plays on the ball," Thurmond said. "They felt confident in me to be able to move to that position."
Thurmond said better access to a starting job was not part of his consideration, but "that's probably something [the coaches] looked at."
The Eagles have a few cornerbacks with the ability to play safety. The most notable might be second-round pick Eric Rowe, who seemed an obvious choice to replace Nate Allen. The coaches decided to keep him at cornerback.
Thurmond was bit of a surprise when coach Chip Kelly mentioned him as the cornerback they're trying at the position during organized team activities. The Eagles begin their second week of OTAs on Monday.
When Thurmond signed with the team in March, Kelly said the former Oregon standout would compete with Nolan Carroll and Brandon Boykin to start opposite Byron Maxwell. Thurmond, who spent four seasons with the Seattle Seahawks before spending last year with the New York Giants, appeared to be a prime candidate for the spot.
Then the Eagles drafted Rowe, JaCorey Shepherd, and Randall Evans. All are starting their careers at cornerback. It appears that 2014 fourth-round pick Jaylen Watkins is now playing safety, but there was a clear lack of depth next to Malcolm Jenkins at the position. Chris Maragos, who has carved a role as a key special-teams player, took first-team snaps last week.
"I looked at it as a situation [in which] we have some great corners, just drafted three corners, Nolan is going to have a big year this year . . . and Maxwell as well," Thurmond said. "Being familiar with this defense and playing it in college, there's a lot of opportunities to make plays - especially at the safety position. That was one of the reasons. I think it just gives us the best opportunity to compete."
Thurmond practiced at the position in college and has done scout-team work at safety in the NFL, but he has never played it in a game. He believes it's not much different from his duties as a nickel cornerback, where he made a living in the NFL.
Thurmond would need to play coverage in the slot as an Eagles safety. That's why the team likes converted cornerbacks at the position. Jenkins, who fits the team's safety model, was drafted as a cornerback. Thurmond, at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, is leaner than Jenkins, but he has the skill set.
"He's always around the ball," Kelly said. "I think he's had a lot of experience playing nickel, so he's been an inside guy. He can see things. He's very intelligent. He's an intuitive football player. He is the first guy out of that corner mix that is getting a shot at inside."
Although there are similarities to playing nickel, Thurmond acknowledged that the move to safety is "a big switch." He will be asked to defend the deep middle of the field. He said he feels comfortable backpedaling and reading offenses. He is also the last line of defense if a ballcarrier breaks; Thurmond's open-field tackling will be tested.
If the move works, the 27-year-old could become a starter. He signed a one-year deal worth $3.25 million that allowed him to build market value after missing 14 games last year because of a pectoral injury. Kelly compared it to the 2014 contract the team gave Allen, who started every game Kelly has coached in Philadelphia.
Earl Wolff could present a challenge when he recovers from a knee injury, and there are other cornerbacks who could make the move. But Thurmond was given the chance first. He had signed expecting to compete for a starting spot - just not this one.
"Nothing has changed," Thurmond said. "It's just my position has changed."