After the release of Malcolm Jenkins, the Eagles secondary understandably had more questions than answers. They were losing much more than their best safety in Jenkins. They lost a leader in the locker room and the community. Jenkins was much more than a consistent Safety on the field, he brought the energy to a Jim Schwartz defense that struggled to find their identity.
Completing the puzzle
Once Jenkins was released, it was only a matter of time before the Eagles re-signed Rodney McLeod. McLeod has been a reliable playmaker since his arrival in Philadelphia. He has the most interceptions on the team in the last five years, actually tying with Jenkins at 8 apiece.
Will Parks and Jalen Mills will look to bring the fire that the team lost vocally in Jenkins, but would that be enough?
Jim Schwartz was then given the ultimate answer that offseason. An answer to a secondary that has struggled to find its way ever since the Super Bowl. Did you know that the Eagles are the only team in NFL history to allow over 600 yards against them and win? Tom Brady threw for 500+ yards against a secondary that struggled while Nick Foles shined. This isn’t Jim Schwartz. Jim is a defensive wizard, but in order to create the right magic then you need the right wand.
It’s fair to say that Schwartz has been limited to what he can do for several seasons…but the winds of changing are blowing and it’s time for the defense to “slay” their opponents. See where I’m going with this?
Darius Slay was traded to the Eagles for a 3rd round pick, finally reuniting with the Head Coach that drafted him. After all of the rumors, destiny finally took center stage for Slay and the Eagles. The franchise hasn’t had a corner of his caliber since 2011, the final year that Asante Samuel played with the birds. Slay brings a rare dynamic to a defense that was once suckered by Ronald Darby. Darius Slay has the ability to take away a complete side of the field when lining up against the opposing team’s best receiver.
Slay adds the spice that Schwartz craved
Not many cornerbacks have the ability to stick to a #1 wideout for an entire game, but it will add a much-needed confidence boost to a secondary that’s previously been full of woes. While many write off Jalen Mills as a corner, Mills has the second most passes defended for the Eagles since 2011 with 37. Darius Slay alone has 99 passes defended since 2014, so adding that to the mix can only help, right?
There’s a sense of confidence brewing from the Eagles defense. Duke Riley is dancing like a man on a mission while Darius Slay is joining in and enjoying the fact that he can finally just be himself. Slay came out and stated just how much he’s enjoying himself by saying,
“What I love about this team is that you can see that everybody is themselves,” Slay stated. “It’s basically feeling like you are being treated as a grown man. I like the aspect of that. It is the grown man treatment and the ability to be yourself and not be something that you’re not. They let you do that here, and that’s why I think we could have a lot of fun.”
Imagine one of the best cornerbacks in the league being in a locker room that has a culture like the Eagles? The Eagles have a top-5 talent in their secondary who is feeling a renewed sense of purpose and energy after a tumultuous tenure in Detroit.
What it means for Jim Schwartz
This all bodes well for Jim Schwartz more than anyone else. In Jim’s time with the team, he has never had a defense as talented as this one. He now has two defensive tackles to surround Fletcher Cox with that can be All-Pro players on their own teams. A secondary that’s headlined by Darius Slay, Rodney McLeod, Will Parks, Jalen Mills, and Nickell Robey-Coleman. Oh, and a plethora of talent in a group of young defensive backs.
Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, and Avonte Maddox all have the opportunity to feed off of the veteran pieces around them in ways that they really couldn’t before. With Slay’s ability to take away any big-time wide receiver, one of those three corners can finally have their breakout moments to put the NFL on notice.
It’s all there for Jim now, Howie Roseman has given Schwartz unlimited potential for the first time in 5 years. After all of the failed sticks defenses, defensive breakdowns in the fourth quarter, and more; it’s now time for Jim to show Philadelphia what he can really do because if he doesn’t, another man will.
Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports