Philadelphia Eagles

How the Eagles goofed building their safety corps


This story was published at 7 a.m. ET Tuesday prior to the Eagles' trade for safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.

The Eagles are really scrambling for safety help. And it didn’t have to be this way.

They signed Jaquiski Tartt then released him. They traded for Ugo Amadi then traded him. They converted Josiah Scott from slot to safety. They tried giving K’Von Wallace more responsibilities but that didn’t go so well. And no doubt now that final cuts are in and hundreds of players are hitting the open market, they’ll no doubt be scouring the waiver wire for help.

The Eagles have exactly two safeties they can rely on – Marcus Epps, who's had a strong camp but has never been a full-time starter, and Anthony Harris, who was no better than mediocre as a starter in 2021.

Anybody remember Rodney McLeod?

Spent the last six years here? Started for the Super Bowl champions? Sent the Eagles into the playoffs last December with a highlight-reel interception against Washington? Tied for the most interceptions by an Eagle over the last decade?

McLeod is an Indianapolis Colt these days. The Eagles didn’t even try to sign him after he hit free agency in March, and he signed a minimum-wage deal in Indy, where he’s been reunited with Frank Reich.

McLeod began last year still rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered in December of 2020. He missed training camp and the Eagles’ first three games, but by about early November he looked like the McLeod of old, and even at 31, he played 81 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps from Week 4 through Week 16 (684 of 846). 

During that 13-week span, in which the Eagles went 8-5 and secured a playoff berth, Darius Slay and Steven Nelson were the only members of the defense who played more snaps than McLeod.

It was hard to understand why the Eagles didn’t keep McLeod. The deal he got in Indy – minimum wage with a modest $650,000 signing bonus – tells you the Eagles didn’t even try to re-sign him. McLeod was clear about how badly he wanted to stay here, the Eagles just didn’t want him.

Which is fine. Howie Roseman always emphasizes getting younger and faster and healthier.

But it’s not fine if you don’t actually get younger, faster and better.

And one of the reasons the Eagles are scuffling for safety depth 12 days before opening day is because they let McLeod go without as much as an offer.

I’m not under any illusions that McLeod is the same player he was in 2017, when he was 27 years old and teaming up with Malcolm Jenkins to form one of the NFL’s top safety tandems.

He’s not that guy anymore.

But who would you rather have: McLeod or Wallace? McLeod or Andre Chachere? Honestly, I’d take McLeod today over Harris, who’s only about 15 months younger and has never been the presence, the playmaker or the leader McLeod has been throughout his career.

You could see McLeod growing more and more effective and more and more comfortable last year as he got farther away from his ACL rehab. By the end of the year, he was playing at a high level.

McLeod played 4,558 regular-season snaps in an Eagles uniform.

His final one was among his best.

That was his diving interception of Taylor Heinicke with 24 seconds left and the Washington Football Team driving toward a possible game-winning touchdown that could have derailed the Eagles' playoff hopes.

But McLeod made a remarkable play, clinching the Eagles an improbable playoff spot under a rookie coach after a 3-6 start.

It was spectacular, it was clutch, it was critical. It was exactly the kind of play you want from your safeties.

The Eagles are desperate for a safety who makes game-changing plays, is a genuine locker room leader, fits into Nick Sirianni’s culture and isn’t looking for a big contract.

And that’s precisely what they lost when they let McLeod walk.

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