Philadelphia Eagles: Avonte Maddox is the perfect fix at free safety

(Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

If the Philadelphia Eagles opt against re-signing Rodney McLeod in free agency, Avonte Maddox looks like a perfect in-house heir at free safety.

The Philadelphia Eagles have a decision to make in regards to their defensive secondary in 2020.

Okay, technically they have, like all of the decisions to make, as Malcolm Jenkins wants a new deal, Ronald Darby is an unrestricted free agent, and only Jalen Mills appears even close to locked into a role next fall, but the decision I want to make has to do with the free safety position and the impending free agency of Rodney McLeod.

Howie Roseman‘s first free agency home run since rustling front office control from Chip Kelly, McLeod has been a steady, though not spectacular force for the Birds’ secondary, where his pairing with Jenkins forms one of the league’s best one-two punch.

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But at the age of 30, does it really make sense for the Birds to extend his contract moving forward?

And to paraphrase, the man himself said “We can’t get attached to our players”.

So, with free safety among the easiest positions to replace on defense – and an NFL roster in general – how should the team turn to as a long-term heir to McLeod? Free agency? The draft?

Did you miss the title? The Eagles already have the perfect replacement for McLeod on their roster: Avonte Maddox.

I mean why not, right? Maddox already has proven experience playing safety in Jim Schwartz‘s scheme after moonlighting in the role in 2018, and with Kevin Stefanski now in place as the Cleveland Browns‘ head coach, the Eagles’ defensive front should look remarkably similar next fall.

Schwartz returning in 2020 may be a mixed bag for fans in the 215, but it should be fantastic news for Maddox as a third-year pro.

Since joining up with Doug Pederson in 2016, Schwartz has exclusively used a pair of safeties with cornerback experience.

Why is that important? Well, while Maddox can be an effective cornerback in the right situation, his size – or should I say lack of it – will forever prevent him from becoming a long-term starting corner on the outside. At safety, height is much less important than even in the slot.

Speaking of the slot, moving Maddox to safety would also free up the slot for 2018 breakout star Cre’von LeBlanc to fill the role full-time in 2020, an outcome that may have happened in 2019 had he not started out the season on IR.

Maddox is also among the fastest players on the Eagles’ roster, and could immediately punch up the team’s single high cover 3 look as a sideline-to-sideline last line of defense.

If you watched the Eagles in 2019, or really at any point this decade, you’ve surely seen this team burned by a 50-yard untouched reception. Having a player like Maddox bolstering the back of the secondary should help to alleviate that issue, and make teams think twice before they go deep early and often – at least in theory.

Really, the only issue Maddox may find as a full-time safety is his lack of hit power, a logical byproduct of weighing in at 184 pounds. But unlike trying to make Mills run a 4.4, Maddox could very easily put on a few pounds of muscle to fill out his new role without compromising his 4.39 speed.

With a defined role on the back-end of the field and more room to freelance around the ball, Maddox’s college playmaking abilities – eight interceptions and 34 passes defensed – could start to materialize at the game’s highest level.

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Will it happen? Honestly, unlike most ‘What If?’ situations, this one actually feels pretty likely, and if so I personally think Avonte Maddox could be a fine heir to Rodney McLeod as the Philadelphia Eagles’ free safety of the future – allowing the team to bypass an expensive option in free agency and keep their options open in the draft.