Philadelphia Eagles: Don’t count out safety Tre Sullivan

(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images) /

After spending most of the 2017 NFL season on the practice squad, don’t count out Philadelphia Eagles safety Tre Sullivan making an impact in 2018.

The Philadelphia Eagles have a safety problem.

While the team’s roster does possess one of the best safety tandems in the entire league in Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins, the Eagles are dangerously thin at the last line of defense and could be an injury away from having serious issues in 2018.

Of the five safeties on the Eagles’ 2017 NFL championship winning roster, only three, McLeod, Jenkins, and (safety in name only) Chris Maragos are still under contract moving forward, and after failing to select a replacement with any of their five picks in the NFL Draft, the Birds will once again have to get creative in cultivating young a defensive back for the future.

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Though the team could always move Rasul Douglas to safety, a move we suggested last fall, could the Eagles third-string safety already be on the roster?

Tre Sullivan, a two-year starter at the Division II Shepard University, signed with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent mere hours after Chad Kelly‘s selection as Mr. Irrelavant at pick 253 and quickly found a home in Cory Undlin‘s defensive backfield.

While he obviously didn’t have the pedigree of the players he was competing with, as Jaylen Watkins and Terrence Brooks faced off against some of the best players college football had to offer for four years at Florida and Florida State respectively, Sullivan brought a drive and enthusiasm to the Eagles safety unit that the team had been sorely lacking for the past few seasons, and could use moving forward.

Sullivan’s development was so promising that Howie Roseman and company felt confident enough to trade Brooks, their incumbent third safety, to the New York Jets for cornerback Dexter McDougle, a player who only recorded 53 snaps in midnight green before being waived.

But unfortunately for everyone involved, disaster struck.

One week after delivering a monster hit on Malachi Dupre in the team’s Week 3 preseason bout against the Green Bay Packers, Sullivan suffered an injury against the Jets that ultimately lead to is release as the Eagles trimmed their roster down to 53, and after clearing waivers, a spot on IR to start out the regular season.

Though he was released a week later, Sullivan joined the Eagles’ practice squad the following month and remained with the team for the remainder of the season, all the way up through their eventual Super Bowl run, celebrating the victory on the field with his teammates.

And now, going into 2018, the Eagles third safety spot is almost his to lose.

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While the Birds could still go out and add a veteran player to pad out their defensive backfield moving forward, like they did in 2017 when they signed Corey Graham, a Jim Schwartz veteran, to a one-year deal, the team’s current starting tandem at safety are 27 and 30 years old respectively, and simply will not play forever. Though it may be a bit too soon to start thinking about the future, especially for a team with a legitimate chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions, the Eagles can’t keep bandaging their needs at safety year-after-year and push that need down the road.

Simply put, if the Eagles want to remain competitive for the foreseeable future, they need to continue to incorporate young, ascending players into their schemes moving forward, and see exactly what they have on their roster. For Schwartz and Undlin, that means giving a player like Sullivan (or fellow UDFA Jeremy Reaves) legitimate snaps as a reserve safety.

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Last season Graham recorded 367 defensive snaps, good for 35 percent of the team’s defensive playing time. This, when coupled with Watkins 166 snaps means that the Eagles had a third safety on the field almost 50 percent of the time. While they may not have to utilize the big nickel package as much in 2018, as they are absolutely loaded at cornerback, especially after adding potential slot corner Avonte Maddox in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Eagles still need a player to step up to keep their defense flexible moving forward as a third safety. It looks like Tre Sullivan could, and should be that player.