Eagles Exit Draft Weekend With Questions at Safety

In Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, the Eagles have one of the better safety duos in the NFL. Depth at the position, on the other hand, looks a little lacking at this stage of the offseason, to say the least.

After Jenkins and McLeod, the only safety on the roster with NFL experience is Chris Maragos, who plays almost exclusively on special teams. The Eagles chose not to address the apparent need during the draft, either.

As a result, safety is now the most vulnerable area of the roster.

What happens in the event of an injury to Jenkins or McLeod is an obvious question, but it's not just the backup plan you should be worried about. The Eagles actually deploy three safeties quite a bit. There's serious playing time at stake.

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Last season, veteran safety Corey Graham was on the field for 35.9 percent of the defensive snaps. Graham is a free agent, his departure creating an underrated void in the secondary.

Plus, while not an immediate concern, Jenkins' and McLeod's futures with the Eagles aren't exactly set in stone. Jenkins turns 31 in December, and McLeod's salary is scheduled to rise sharply over the next several years.

This is an issue for 2018 and beyond.

Fortunately, the Eagles do have options, so this situation shouldn't cause a huge panic. That being said, it will be interesting to see how the front office and coaches fortify the safety position in the months ahead.

The competition

First of all, let's not dismiss the players who are here already, in particular Tre Sullivan.

Sullivan joined the Eagles as an undrafted free agent from Shepherd University in 2017. He made a name for himself in the preseason opener against the Packers with a vicious hit on wide receiver Malachi Dupre, and eventually landed on the practice squad.

With one year in the organization under his belt, Sullivan can compete for a roster spot, perhaps even the third safety job. Coaches and executives praised the 24-year-old prior to the draft, which might help explain why the Eagles weren't aggressive about filling the hole during the draft.

The Eagles also signed three undrafted rookie safeties after draft weekend – Ryan Neal from Southern Illinois, Jeremy Reaves from South Alabama and Stephen Roberts from Auburn.

Free agents

This was not a good year to be a safety in free agency, with plenty of big names still available.

No, the Eagles aren't going to sign somebody of the caliber of Eric Reid, but they could easily find a mid-tier veteran solution, if so inclined. Nate Allen, Tre Boston, Darius Butler, Jairus Byrd, Quintin Demps, Mike Mitchell, Ron Parker, Eddie Pleasant, Kenny Vaccaro and T.J. Ward are all on the market. Graham is on the street as well.

The problem at the moment is the Eagles are up against the salary cap, with only $2.158 million and change to spare. That will price them out of several of the names above, but not all. And as we've seen with this front office before: Where there's a will, there's a way.

Getting creative

It's possible the third safety is already on the roster, but currently listed at another position. The Eagles have a glut of cornerbacks now, and it would not be surprising to see one or two of them working out at safety at OTAs this May.

Jalen Mill and Ronald Darby are the returning starters from last season. 2017 draft picks Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas will push for jobs. The Eagles just invested a fourth-round choice in Avonte Maddox, too.

The two names that have been brought up by observers in the past are Mills and Douglas.

Mills seems likely to stay at corner for now, though the third-year veteran played some safety in college. Douglas combines nice size (6-foot-2, 209 lbs.) with only average straight-line speed (4.59 40), which explains why people make the connection.

It might not be a bad idea to cross-train either player, or both. If any corner on the roster possesses the versatile skillset to replace Jenkins in a pinch, it's Mills. Douglas looks like the odd man out at corner, so it would behoove the Eagles to find something for him to do.

This is purely speculation, of course. Then again, it's difficult to imagine the Eagles letting the competition for such an important vacancy rest on Sullivan and a bunch of undrafted rookies.

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