Taking a deeper look into the Eagles’ biggest roster cutdown decisions

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Five safeties?

Especially after considering the Eagles will head into the season with just two tight ends, the decision to keep five safeties is puzzling. Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McCleod and Andrew Sendejo were always penciled into the final-53. Then the team added veteran Johnathan Cyprien, who is coming off a season lost to injury and was incredibly undervalued in free agency. Any of those four players could start for other teams across the league. Therefore, it’s not that hard to fathom why the Birds took four at the position, but five?

New recruit Rudy Ford flew over from Arizona as a last-minute addition to the team right as they were gearing up to play Baltimore for week three of the preseason. At the time, he was thought of as an extra body to fill out the camp slot. Yet, as the curtains fanned to reveal the final roster, Fords name was in ink. What makes him so valuable to the team will sound very similar to why Mack Hollins made the last cut: special teams value. Clearly improving the third phase of the game is a focus for Howie Roseman and the front office.

How do you solve slow starts on offense? Great starting field position. How do you stall opposing offences? Force them to drive the length of the field. It’s new-age thinking from a front office that always seems to be one step ahead. Still, it would have been fantastic to hold onto a player like DT Treyvon Hester — who also brings a punch on special teams, I might add — or an extra linebacker like Alex Singleton, who always seemed to be around the football — on defense and specials. So, why the extra safety?

The answer requires some jumping to conclusions on how the team will use their other safeties. For a team that often lines up in dime and nickel packages, the third safety position is invaluable. The Eagles ask their third safety to play much more defense than special teams. Last year Tre Sullivan, who played in only 12 games and started just one, played 21% of the teams defensive plays and was out for less than half of the special teams snaps. He became the team’s de facto third safety after Rodney McLeod went down with a season-ending injury and Corey Graham was thrust into a starting role. For comparison, the Cowboys’ third safety Kavon Frazier, active for all 16 games, managed only 18% of the team’s defensive snaps, but 54% on special teams.

With Sendejo being a proven veteran coming off an injury, it’s unlikely he’ll be asked to play a bulk of special teams snaps. That means the Eagles will have to get a ton of special teams production from their fourth safety. The issue there is that Johnathan Cyprien is also a proven veteran coming off a major injury. While he has reportedly embraced his new role with the team, who have warned him it will come with more time on special teams, the major value he brings to the team is elsewhere. Sendejo specializes in coverage as more of a traditional safety, whereas Cyprien brings some versatility and moonlights as somewhat of a linebacker-safety hybrid.

“We are going to plug him in in a lot of different places. We expect a lot from our safeties. We need multi-dimensional players; we think he is. We’ll just see where it takes us. If you get guys that are multidimensional you can neutralize some of those kinds of players. Have to be able to play in the box, in space, and things like that. I think he fits well with us.”

Jim Schwartz on acquiring Johnathan Cyprien

With Kamu Grugier-Hill missing some time to start the season and a mixed bag at linebacker depth, the team will likely use Cyprien in the box to help shut down opponents’ run game. He will help give Malcolm Jenkins some rest after the star played 100% of the Eagles defensive snaps last season. Therefore, although Cyprien will undoubtedly have a role to play on special teams, it will not be his primary one. The need for a full-time special teams contributor still pressing, the Eagles decided to take on a fifth safety. Rudy Ford, who played 67% of plays on Arizona Cardinals’ 11th ranked special teams in 2018 was the obvious choice.

Ford was a 6th round selection of the Cardinals, who actually traded up to get him. As a physical safety out of Auburn, he has a lot of the attributes you look for in a special teamer. He’s a solid, forceful tackler with good form and has incredible speed to get down the field.

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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