In a weird twist of fate, it appears the Philadelphia Eagles recruited both Jalen Mills and Will Parks with an opportunity to replace Malcolm Jenkins at strong safety.
On paper, this move makes a ton of sense, as Mills has four years of experience in Jim Schwartz‘s defense, is more appropriately composed physically to play safety in the NFL, and even played along the league’s premier do-it-all DB Tyrann Mathieu for part of a season at LSU. With a full-time move inside to play a hybrid slot/safety role, Mills could cash in a one-year, $5 million deal into a long-term deal as the Birds’ new defensive leader.
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Despite having been offered more lucrative deals by more than half a dozen other teams around the NFL, Parks returned home to the City of Brotherly Love on a one-year, $1.6 million deal to “come in and take over for what Malcolm Jenkins does.”
That’s… not good.
Okay, on paper, I guess every player on every team is technically competing for someone else’s role week-in and week-out but how many jobs are really up for grabs in any given season? It’s not like Carson Wentz has to worry about Nate Sudfeld after he signed a one-year deal.
Mills and Parks, conversely, very much are starters in the NFL competing for the same spot and one of them isn’t going to be very happy if they are relegated to a part-time role in 2020.
Despite Parks’ lack of experience in Schwartz’s system, he more than makes up for it in experience playing safety in the NFL, in a role very similar to that of Jenkins (more on that here). Parks is also faster than Mills, a (slightly) more prolific pass rusher, and by his own admission, didn’t allow a pass interference penalty in 2019 as the Broncos’ primary option in the slot.
Both players have a realistic claim to the position across from Rodney McLeod and may take their fight for the Eagles’ second starting cornerback spot deep into the preseason if allowed to.
But here’s the thing: The Eagles can start three safeties.
Based on the Eagles roster composition as presently constructed, the Eagles will probably play with five defensive backs on the field most of the time in 2020. Even after signing Jatavis Brown to a one-year deal, it’s hard to argue that any combination of Nathan Gerry, T.J. Edwards, Duke Riley, and Alex Singleton is going to strike fear in the hearts of opposing offensive coordinators.
The Eagles also aren’t particularly well-stocked at cornerback even after the addition of Darius Slay, as Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox, and potential trade candidate Rasul Douglas haven’t exactly proven themselves as unflappable NFL starters. Cre’von LeBlanc can play in the slot and appeared destined to fill the role last season, but it’s anyone’s guess if he’s still in the team’s plans in 2020.
You know what? Maybe playing with three safeties as a base defensive package isn’t the worst idea.
With a supersized front four comprised of grizzled veterans like Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Javon Hargrave, and Brandon Graham, and a slew of younger speedsters who can rotate in when Schwartz needs some speed, the Eagles really don’t need to have a penetrating back seven. Regardless of who ultimately wins starting roles in 2020, it’s abundantly clear the Eagles are stocking up on speedy coverage players who can drop into coverage, regardless of what position they play.
Will the first day of camp – whenever that ultimately happens – be awkward if Howie Roseman promised both Jalen Mills and Will Parks the first crack at replacing Malcolm Jenkins as the Eagles’ starting strong safety? Yeah, it probably will be, but if the addition of not one, not two, but three starting safeties is of any indication, it looks like the Philadelphia Eagles are going to use a three safety Big Nickle package as their base defense this fall – a solid idea when you consider how financially undervalued the safety position has been on the open market in 2020.