We started at one end of the team in our ‘Training Camp preview’ series last week, so to kick things off this time, we’re looking at the defensive side of the ball and a positional battle that promises to be one of the most intriguing on the roster.
The Safety spot is filled with question marks. Despite plenty of anticipation, Malcolm Jenkins has not been given a contract extension, yet. This could obviously change between now and the end of Training Camp, but the point remains. Depth moving forward has to be a critical focus given that the team decided against drafting a Safety. This, accompanied with the recovery of Rodney McLeod, who restructured a contract of his own, and the possibility of cutting Andrew Sendejo, makes this a fascinating battle to watch.
Philly runs a lot of cover 3 and will usually utilize three or four safeties throughout a game. Malcolm Jenkins will sit in the box as an additional linebacker in many ways, while McLeod and another will stand on the last line of defense, depending on the coverage called. It’s that last part that will make the most noise this offseason.
The unquestioned leader of the Eagles defense, Jenkins refused to let his understandable pursuit for more guaranteed money get in the way of the task at hand. The versatile vet lines up all across the defense as a remote-controlled homing missile under Jim Schwartz and that shouldn’t be subject change. Coming off a strong 97 tackle season, his second-highest career total, Jenkins is showing no signs of slowing down.
McLeod started last season red-hot, racking up 10 tackles against Atlanta, but that year was shortlived after the former Ram tore both his ACL and MCL against the Colts in week 3. The Eagles restructured his deal to avoid a $9M cap hit in 2019, but it’s left McLeod with a lot of ground to make up.
While he expects to be hitting the ground running in a couple of weeks, the Eagles may need to think about a potential future heir to the throne. Jenkins won’t be around forever and if durability does become an issue, depth is light. It’s a big chance for those lower on the depth chart to shine, especially if McLeod does miss some time as camp progresses while easing his way back.
The gatekeeper in all of this, Sendejo signs with the Eagles after his 2018 season, like McLeod, was also cut short due to injury. Sendejo started 61 games for Minnesota prior to his release, with an injury in week 5 and a strong cap hit forcing the hands of the Vikes.
Known as a hard-hitter, Sendejo is a true tone setter in the secondary and while he may not carry the same reputation as some of the more notable free agents, he will be among the more ‘bang for your buck’ available. Prior to his injury, he was coming off of a career-high 80 tackles in 2017, along with a career-best 7 passes defensed.
He’s definitely an upgrade over Corey Graham, although the two are very different in their playing style. Sendejo almost matches up with Rodney McLeod perfectly, which is probably a breath of fresh air, all things considered.
The wildcard here though of course, is the compensatory pick formula. Something Roseman has become renowned for reaping the rewards from. If the Eagles were to cut Sendejo, they would receive a 4th-round compensatory pick for next year’s NFL Draft. The question is, can someone step up and convince Roseman that the defense would survive without Sendejo’s thunderous collisions?
A former Eagle himself, Coutness is another player that could shake things up this Summer. After clattering Zach Ertz that offseason and sending every Eagles fan into a state of panic during his lone preseason with the Birds, Countess was unable to outshine Jaylen Watkins, who stole the show. The sixth-round pick was snatched up by the Rams and since then, has carved a nice career.
He’s played in 37 games and even intercepted two passes as a backup safety. He led the team in special teams tackles in back-to-back years and has 44 defensive stops to his name. Last season, he also started to return kickoffs, averaging 24.6 yards per return.
Bringing immediate special teams value, Countess climbed the rungs on defense in LA and if he can continue his progression, may rival Sullivan or even Sendejo in the battle for that third safety spot.
Continued on the page below.