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March 20, 2023

Five safeties who make some sense for the Eagles

After Chauncey Gardner-Johnson signed with the Lions, the Eagles have a need at safety. What could they do next in free agency?

Eagles NFL
032023TaylorRapp Jayne Kamin/USA TODAY Sports

Taylor Rapp (24)

With 2022 starters Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps leaving in free agency, the Philadelphia Eagles are now thin at safety. If the season began today (it doesn't), their two starting safeties would probably be Reed Blankenship and K'Von Wallace. That would be less than ideal.

Here we'll look at the free agent safeties who remain on the market — or who could soon be available — and propose five who make sense for the Eagles. Ages reflect what each player will be at the start of the 2023 season.

• Taylor Rapp, Rams (25): Rapp had a good season on a Rams team in freefall in 2022, when he collected 92 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and 2 INTs. In 2021, he had 94 tackles, 6 pass breakups, 1.5 sacks and 4 INTs on a Super Bowl-winning team. Here he is victimizing Kyler Murray for a pick-six:

Rapp is a very good tackler, and would be an upgrade on both Gardner-Johnson and Epps in run defense. Like Gardner-Johnson, Rapp has also proven that he can produce turnovers when those opportunities present themselves. He also lined up all over within the Rams' defense, and is thought of as a versatile defender.

On a side note, I always think about this when Rapp's name comes up:

I could never. Anyway, Rapp has visited both the Bengals and Patriots this offseason, but curiously remains unsigned.

Jalen Mills, Patriots (29): As you're aware, Mills won a Super Bowl with the Eagles as their CB1. He played for five seasons in Philly before leaving for New England in 2021. He played well for the Patriots in 2021, but had a down year in 2022 while dealing with a groin injury that caused him to miss seven games. Mills recently tweeted that he's a safety at heart.

Mills was always a little speed-deficient as a cornerback, and seemed destined at some point during his career to transition back to safety, where he played at LSU. At 29 years of age, it would make sense for him to make that move now.

The Eagles know Mills as a person well, and he could give them some versatility in the secondary.

• John Johnson III, Browns (28): Johnson was a very good starting safety over his first four seasons in the NFL with the Rams, earning a three-year, $33.75 million contract from the Browns when his rookie contract expired in 2021. He was a solid player in Cleveland, but did not live up to the lofty expectations that came with that contract and was released with a June 1 designation at the start of free agency this offseason. Johnson is a decent veteran safety, and at 28 he should not yet be in decline. 

Adrian Amos, Packers (30): Amos spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the Bears, where new Eagles defensive coordinator Sean Desai was a defensive quality control coach. Amos had a down year on an atrocious Packers defense in 2022, but has otherwise had a good career. I thought this was an interesting nugget on Amos, from PFF

"Amos had long been one of the most consistent, reliable safeties across the NFL, allowing an explosive reception on just 1% of coverage snaps over five seasons from 2017-21."

To be determined what Sean Desai's defensive scheme will look like, but that sounds like a guy Jonathan Gannon would value. If the Eagles as an organization want their defensive scheme to prioritize limiting explosives like Gannon did to a sometimes detrimental degree, then Amos would make sense.

Kevin Byard, Titans (30): Byard is a playmaking safety who has picked off at least 4 passes in 7 of his NFL seasons, including a league-leading 8 in 2017. He was named First-Team All-Pro in 2017 and 2021. The Titans reportedly asked Byard to take a pay cut, to which Byard (probably rightfully) was like, "GTFOH." From old friend Turron Davenport of ESPN:

The Tennessee Titans approached Kevin Byard about taking a pay cut, but the Pro Bowl safety does not believe his play warrants a decrease in salary, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Friday.

Byard's plan has always been to play for one organization and ultimately retire as a Titan, but the two sides are at a crossroads, according to sources.

Byard signed a five-year extension worth $70.5 million, with $31 million guaranteed, in 2019. The two-time, first-team All-Pro has a $19.6 million cap number this year. If the Titans were to release him, they would save around $6 million in cap space but retain $13.6 million in dead cap space.

The Eagles have the draft capital to trade for Byard, but almost certainly cannot take on his $13.6 million salary in 2023. He would only be an option if the Titans released him, and even then it's probably a pipe dream. I guess I only included him to avoid "What about Kevin Byard?" questions on Twitter.

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