Philadelphia Eagles: Rodney McLeod’s return can’t be underestimated

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

For the duration of the Philadelphia Eagles‘ preseason run, safety was a consistent area of concern.

For his part, Anthony Harris played well, as the former Minnesota Viking came largely as advertised, but besides him? No one really stood out as a viable early-season replacement for Rodney McLeod, who spent the summer on the Active/PUP list after suffering a torn ACL back in December.

From encumbered contributor Marcus Epps, to free agent addition Andrew Adams, and even 2020 fourth-round pick K’Von Wallace, the Eagles cycled through multiple combinations of back end contributors in the hopes of finding a viable option to play the multi-faceted role McLeod is expected to fill this fall and yet, not one really stood out as the heir apparent.

Is that a potential problem for the Birds down the line? Yes. With McLeod and Harris both headed for free agency at the end of the season, eventually, some new player will have to take on a bigger role for the Eagles moving forward. But for now, it’s not quite as pressing.

Why? Because Rodney McLeod has officially been activated from the Active/PUP list and has a very real chance of playing for the Philadelphia Eagles when the regular season opens up in September.

This, my friends, is very good news.

Rodney McLeod is the linchpin of the Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary.

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When Jalen Mills re-signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2020, many assumed it would be to play the role Malcolm Jenkins filled in Jim Schwartz‘s defense from 2016 on.

In theory, that assumption made sense. Both Mills and fellow free agent acquisition Will Parks explicitly mentioned playing the sort of do-it-all hybrid safety/slot role Jenkins perfected when they signed with the team, and both possessed the sort of variable skill set needed to excel in the role.

In practice, however, the role wasn’t just filled by one player. No, a surprise twist of fate, Mills, Parks, and McLeod all recorded at least 100 snaps in the box, with the latter ultimately turning in the best performance of the trio despite being the smallest safety on the active roster.

Why, you may ask, is this particularly relevant, considering Schwartz is no longer with the Eagles and his predecessor, Jonathan Gannon, runs a very different scheme? Well, for that very reason, as Gannon’s scheme is predicated on having two safeties who can do a little bit of everything while maintaining maximum schematic optionality to keep opposing play-callers guessing.

Need proof? Well, look no further than the Eagles’ trio of preseason contests, where seemingly every safety on the roster spent some time in the box and some time deployed deep depending on the play call. If that’s what Gannon was showing during the preseason, where his blitzing scheme was so vanilla its surname was Ice, imagine all of the exotic looks he’ll surely deploy when the season opens up for a Sunday afternoon contest versus the Falcons down in Atlanta?

Assuming no setbacks and a little luck, McLeod may just be one of the 11 players tasked with executing that scheme on the first defensive snap of the regular season.

Next. JaQuan Bailey deserves a practice squad spot. dark

Rodney McLeod’s career arc is rather staggering. A college cornerback out of Virginia who worked his way up from an undrafted free agent to one of the highest-paid safeties in the NFL, McLeod has consistently overreached external expectations while producing an incredible highlight reel in the process. While it may not be particularly conventional to become a two-high safety at the tender age of 31, what about McLeod’s decade in the NFL has been particularly conventional?