February 15, 2022
Now that the Philadelphia Eagles' 2021 season is over, we'll be taking a position-by-position look at which players will likely be back with the team in 2022, and which ones likely won't. Today we'll look at safety.
In previous offseasons, we've tackled each positional group "in order," as in, quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, and then onto the defense. Just as a quick programming note, I'm going to jump around a little more this year, so if you're wondering if you missed the quarterbacks, no, we haven't published that one yet.
On the polls below, they are your votes on what you think the Eagles should do, not necessarily what you think they will do. Please think of them more as approval polls.
McLeod became the leader of the defense after the departure of Malcolm Jenkins, and he is just a genuinely good person who helped with the transition from one coaching regime to another.
In 2019, the Eagles gave up more pass plays of 40+ yards than any team in the league, and McLeod, coming off a 2018 ACL tear, was at least partly culpable for his share of those big plays allowed. He bounced back in 2020, and looked faster than he was in 2019, being another year removed from his injury. After tearing another ACL at the tail end of the 2020 season, there were questions heading into 2021 as to whether McLeod would be ready for the start of the season, and even if so, will he look like the slower 2019 version again?
McLeod responded in 2021 with a solid season, making 58 tackles, two INTs (including a game-sealing pick against Washington), and four pass breakups, albeit in a defense in which the safeties had easier responsibilities than they did under Jim Schwartz.
#JimmyVerdict: McLeod is a free agent this offseason. Being an extra year removed from his second ACL tear, there's reason to believe that McLeod can improve in 2022, even if he turns 32 in June. My guess is that the Eagles will seek to return one of either McLeod or Anthony Harris on a modest one-year deal, and the better bet is that it will be McLeod. Stay.
Harris was an undrafted free agent of the Vikings out of Virginia who worked his way into Minnesota's starting lineup. Prior to his time in Philly, he had played in 81 games, starting 47. In 2019, Harris picked off six passes, which was good for a share of the league lead. He added a seventh pick in the postseason, victimizing Drew Brees.
The Vikings franchise tagged Harris during the 2020 offseason, and he made $11,441,000 that season. In 2020, Harris had something of a down season, he became a free agent in 2021, and a strong market for his services did not develop. As a result, the Eagles were able to land him at the reasonable cost of $4 million on a one-year deal.
Jonathan Gannon was the Vikings' assistant defensive backs coach from 2014 to 2017. He overlapped with Harris from 2015 to 2017, so the Harris signing made sense last offseason as something of a "training wheels" player in Gannon's defense. With the rest of the Eagles' defenders having logged a full season in Gannon's scheme, Gannon's previous familiarity with Harris is now less of a selling point.
#JimmyVerdict: Like McLeod, Harris (30) is a free agent, and while he was a solid-if-unspectacular player for the Eagles in 2021, the expectation is that the Eagles will seek to get younger and better on the back end. Go.
We took a deep dive look at Epps' 2020 season last year, because ProFootballFocus had him as the 13th best safety in the NFL, sandwiched in between a pair of All-Pro players in Harrison Smith and Budda Baker. That ranking was sort of laughable.
Epps' best trait was his ball skills. He appeared in 14 games in 2020, starting five, but he only played 363 snaps, or 33 percent of the team's defensive snaps. In that limited action, Epps had 47 tackles, two INTs, and four pass breakups. Those are pretty good numbers, and when I found his pass breakups, they were legitimately nice plays.
On the downside, tackling was a major concern area, and I concluded that if he was going to survive long-term in the NFL, he was going to have to figure out a way to become a more physical, reliable tackler.
In 2021, Epps did indeed improve as a tackler. He finished with 62 tackles, and pro-football-reference.com had him down for just four missed tackles. He also picked off one pass and had five pass breakups.
#JimmyVerdict: Epps is a player I look forward to doing a deep dive on this offseason, as he could be in line to start in 2022 if the Eagles don't address the safety position with significant resources either in free agency or the draft. Epps will make less than a million bucks in 2022 and is probably the most likely Eagles safety to return. Stay.
Wallace was arguably the Eagles' most popular value pick in the 2020 draft, as the Eagles were able to get a player who many thought was a Day 2 prospect in the fourth round. However, Wallace's first two seasons in the NFL have been disappointing, and his snap count in 2021 was actually down from his rookie season 2020, both in the regular defense and on special teams:
|K'Von Wallace||Defensive snaps||Special teams snaps|
|2020||202 (18.3%)||219 (49.7%)|
|2021||184 (16.3%)||193 (43.1%)|
#JimmyVerdict: Wallace will be back in camp, but his roster spot can hardly be considered a lock at this point.
The Eagles list six players at cornerback on their roster page, the four above players at safety, and two players — Andre Chachere and Kary Vincent — as more ambiguous "defensive backs." Chachere started at safety in the Eagles' meaningless Week 18 games against Dallas, so we'll put him here. Vincent started at corner in that game, so we'll put him there. Cool? Cool.
Chachere's contributions with the Eagles in 2021 were mostly on special teams, with his most notable role being as a gunner on the punt coverage team.
#JimmyVerdict: Chachere is a versatile player who has bounced around the league a bit since entering the NFL in 2018. He is an exclusive rights free agent this offseason who the Eagles can bring back for very little money, which they almost certainly will. Again, Chachere's spot on the 53-man roster is not guaranteed, but he is highly likely to be back in camp.
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