For the past five years, the Philadelphia Eagles have tried to find a replacement for Brian Dawkins at free safety. After failed experiments with draft picks, they decided to sign former safety Malcolm Jenkins in free agency.
When a team feels the need to replace a former 1st round pick by paying a player $9,000,000 a year, a record at the time for the safety position, you know that means they were desperate for an upgrade. The Saints made no effort to re-sign Jenkins, opting to sign the much more expensive Jairus Byrd instead. Ever since the failed dream team in the summer of 2011, the Eagles have been reluctant to spend big money on veteran players in free agency. However, the Eagles had plenty of salary cap space, mainly because starting QB Nick Foles only has a cap number of $770,880 thanks to the rookie wage scale. Teams with veteran starting quarterbacks have limited flexibility due to the high demand to have a franchise player under center.
Jenkins is definitely an upgrade at the safety position, however, he isn’t going to single-handedly improve our pass defense. Last season, Jenkins gave up the second most yards in coverage of all NFL safeties. In addition, Jenkins had 16 missed tackles in 2013; the highest among safeties was 18. These stats certainly shouldn’t provide any optimism to Eagles fans regarding their biggest free agent signing.
One bright spot of signing Jenkins is that it was a very cap friendly deal. With players’ salaries severely escalating due to the increasing salary cap, the Eagles managed to pay one of the best safeties on the free agent market to a contract worth just $8,500,000 guaranteed. Jenkins is only the 19th highest paid safety, and after the first two seasons of the three-year deal, the Eagles aren’t tied to him financially, allowing them to cut him at no costs if necessary. The contract give the Eagles plenty of flexibility if they find an upgrade at the position or if he outplays his contract. However, with a cap number of $7,166,000 in 2016, it seems fairly certain the Eagles will cut him or renegotiate his contract.
I expected the Eagles to make a pitch to Byrd given their salary cap flexibility. However, they instead decided to settle on signing Jenkins. It might have been a solid deal financially, but Jenkins won’t make the same impact like somebody of Byrd’s caliber would have. He would have solidified the need for a playmaker in the secondary, an issue we failed to address in the draft. Earl Wolff is still unproven, and Nate Allen isn’t the answer, which makes the safety position a remaining roster issue.