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January 19, 2020

Eagles stay or go: Safety

Eagles NFL
96_11032019_EaglesvsBears_Malcolm_Jenkins_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Malcolm Jenkins during the Philadelphia Eagles game against the Chicago Bears at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on November 3, 2019.

The Philadelphia Eagles' 2019 season is over, and there will be a lot of interesting decisions made on the players currently on the roster, more so than in most years. Let's take a position-by-position look at who will likely be back with the team in 2020, and who won't.

Previous stay or go positional analysis

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Tackle | Guard/center

Defensive end | Defensive tackle | Linebacker | Cornerback

Today we'll look at safety. (All money figures via OverTheCap.)

Malcolm Jenkins

Unhappy with his contract last spring, Jenkins sent a message to the Eagles' front office by skipping voluntary OTAs. Eventually, he played nice, as he showed up to training camp, played on his under-market contract, and did not miss a single snap all season long.

After the 2019 season ended, Jenkins sent a crystal clear message to the Eagles' front office through the media -- He is not going to play for the Eagles in 2020 on his current contract.

Jenkins has a good case. In terms of average annual value, he is only the 12th highest-paid safety in the NFL, and he is only owed $7,600,000 in salary in 2020, which is not guaranteed. 

Meanwhile, here are his snap count numbers since he has played in Philly:

Malcolm Jenkins Snap counts Percentage 
 20191035 100% 
 20181038 100% 
 2017948* 91.9% 
 20161019 99.9% 
 20151211 99.8% 
 20141153 99.6% 
*Jenkins only played 6 snaps in a meaningless Week 17 game, with the 1 seed wrapped up.

On a team that has suffered an absurd number of injuries the last three seasons, Jenkins has been the lone constant in the Eagles' defense. His value to the team could not have been clearer in 2018, when his leadership and presence kept the Eagles' secondary from completely crumbling after it had lost Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, Rodney McLeod, Sidney Jones, and others. 

At one point during his Eagles tenure, I believe there was a case that Jenkins was a borderline top 5 kind of safety in the NFL. While I don't think he's quite that anymore -- and oh by the way he just turned 32 in December -- Jenkins is still a very good starting safety, and his intangibles are sort of impossible to measure. 

Jenkins' INTs are down (1 since 2018), but he still makes plays. For example, he has 8 forced fumbles (one didn't count) the last two seasons, and he became a significant threat as a blitzer down the stretch in 2019. He also had a blocked field goal against the Lions that should have led to a win, but ultimately didn't.

Of course, it is unknown what Jenkins wants. If it's anything close to the four year, $55 million contract Earl Thomas signed last March, for example, that's not going to happen. If he's looking for a bump in pay, and for some guarantees in 2020 and 2021, then that is an entirely reasonable thing for Jenkins to expect, and the team to grant.

Ultimately, it's probably best for all sides if Jenkins remains in Philadelphia, and the belief here is that something will get worked out. 

#JimmyVerdict: Stay.

Your verdict:

Rodney McLeod

In January of 2019, coming off ACL and MCL tears in 2018, McLeod restructured his deal, taking a pay cut and making 2020 a voidable season. McLeod rehabbed his knee, got himself ready in time for Week 1 of 2019, and had a solid, though unspectacular season. 

McLeod will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and the Eagles will have to decide how much he is worth to them.

On the one hand, while we think of guys like Jalen Mills, Nigel Bradham, and Derek Barnett as "Jim Schwartz favorites," McLeod is low-key right there with them, as Schwartz has repeatedly mentioned the calming influence McLeod has on the defense. On the other hand, there are probably better bargains available at the safety position than what it will likely cost to retain McLeod, who will turn 30 in June.

#JimmyVerdict: Go.

Your verdict:

MORE: Eagles announce Connor Barwin as 'special assistant to the general manager' | WTS: Eagles' newest OC candidate has a very specific philosophy

Marcus Epps

The Eagles claimed Epps during the season, after the Vikings waived him. He mostly played in three-safety sets, as the super-deep middle of the field guy. 

Against the Giants, Epps was extremely lucky that Josh Sweat messed up a flea flicker, as he would have been toasted by Eli Manning and Golden Tate. He's No. 37 here: 

In the playoff game against the Seahawks, Epps bit on a little double move by DK Metcalf, and Russell Wilson connected with him deep down the field to seal the Eagles' season.

Epps will likely be in Eagles camp this season, but he didn't show much in his opportunities in 2019.

#JimmyVerdict: Camp.

Your verdict:

Rudy Ford

The Eagles were excited to be able to trade Bruce Hector for Ford, thinking that they had just landed a special teams stud. As it turned out, in 10 games, Ford racked up 4 penalties for 38 yards, plus an additional 28 yards in yards nullified by his penalties. Meanwhile, he only contributed 5 special teams tackles.

Ford is still under contract for the 2020 season for very little, and he'll have a chance to make the roster in camp, I suppose, but he was awful this season.

#JimmyVerdict: Camp.

Your verdict:

#JimmyVerdict Stay or Go Results

"Stay" means stay (duh), "go" means go (duh, again), while "camp" means that I think they'll be at Eagles training camp this year, but do not yet have a firm grip on a roster spot in 2020.

 QBCarson Wentz (stay) Josh McCown (go) Nate Sudfeld (stay)  
 RBMiles Sanders (stay) Jordan Howard (stay) Darren Sproles (go) Corey Clement (camp) 
 RB (cont.) Boston Scott (stay)Elijah Holyfield (camp)   
 WRAlshon Jeffery (go) DeSean Jackson (stay) Nelson Agholor (go) J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (stay) 
 WR (cont.) Greg Ward (camp)Robert Davis (camp) Deontay Burnett (camp) Shelton Gibson (camp) 
 TEZach Ertz (stay) Dallas Goedert (stay) Josh Perkins (camp) Richard Rodgers (camp) 
 OTJason Peters (go) Lane Johnson (stay) Andre Dillard (stay) Halapoulivaati Vaitai (go) 
 OT (cont.)Jordan Mailata (camp)    
 OGBrandon Brooks (stay) Isaac Seumalo (stay) Matt Pryor (stay) Sua Opeta (camp) 
 CJason Kelce (stay) Nate Herbig (camp)   
 DEBrandon Graham (stay) Derek Barnett (stay) Josh Sweat (stay) Vinny Curry (stay) 
 DE (cont.)Genard Avery (stay) Shareef Miller (camp) Joe Ostman (camp) Daeshon Hall (camp) 
 DTFletcher Cox (stay) Malik Jackson (stay) Timmy Jernigan (go) Hassan Ridgeway (stay) 
 DT (cont.)Anthony Rush (camp) Bruce Hector (camp)   
 LBNigel Bradham (stay) Kamu Grugier-Hill (go) Nate Gerry (stay) T.J. Edwards (stay) 
 LB (cont.)Alex Singleton (camp) Duke Riley (stay)   
 CBJalen Mills (stay) Ronald Darby (go) Avonte Maddox (stay) Rasul Douglas (stay) 
 CB (cont.)Sidney Jones (stay) Cre'Von LeBlanc (stay) Craig James (camp)  
 SMalcolm Jenkins (stay) Rodney McLeod (go) Marcus Epps (camp) Rudy Ford (camp) 

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