Is this the spring Malik Hooker joins the Philadelphia Eagles?

Heading into the 2021 NFL season, many expected safety to be a position of strength for the Philadelphia Eagles.

The team was bringing back three key contributors in Rodney McLeod, K’Von Wallace, and Marcus Epps and was able to replace Jalen Mills, who signed a four-year, $24 million deal with the New England Patriots, with Anthony Harris, a former interception champion who played the previous season with the Minnesota Vikings on the franchise tag.

With the cornerbacks unit a pretty big question mark, as Avonte Maddox had yet to switch to the slot and Darius Slay was coming off a slightly down year, many expected to see the safeties hold things down and ease the transition from Jim Schwartz’s scheme to Jonathan Gannon’s.

But weirdly enough, that isn’t how things shook out.

No, the Eagles’ cornerbacks actually played very well, with Slay, Maddox, and late addition Steven Nelson showing out at their respective positions, whereas the team’s safeties struggled in their new role as field-splitters with run support duties. Only one of the team’s safeties – Marcus Epps – finished out the year in the top-40 players at the position, according to PFF, and with both of the team’s 2021 starters headed to free agency, there’s a chance the unit could look incredibly different this fall.

If the Philadelphia Eagles are in the market for one, maybe even two new safeties, there just so happens to be a player available who not only fits the bill but has extensive experience playing under Jonathan Gannon.

Malik Hooker could be the Philadelphia Eagles’ new buy-low lottery ticket.

2021 was not a particularly good year for Malik Hooker.

After suffering a season-ending torn Achilles less than a month into the 2020 season, his contract year with the Indianapolis Colts, Hooker hit a free agent market that wasn’t exactly clamoring for his services, and as a result, it took a while to find a new home.

Were there safety-needy teams around the NFL? You bet, 49 different safeties signed some sort of full-on NFL contract during the 2021 NFL calendar year, but of the players in question, 42 earned more than Hooker on the open market, including 33 players who made at least $1 million.

For example, Will Parks, who didn’t even make it out of the camp with the Kansas City Cheifs, signed a deal worth $990,000, which is $70,000 more than Hooker earned when he eventually came off the board on July 27th, 2021.

But hey, you know what they say, it’s not about how you get to the dance but what you do once you’ve arrived. Hooker was the 15th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and was picked directly before Marlon Humphrey, Jonathan Allen, and Adoree’ Jackson – and one pick after Derek Barnett – surely he’d be able to make waves for a Dallas Cowboys squad looking to replace departed free safety, Xavier Woods.

*spoiler alert* it didn’t go as planned for the former Buckeye.

Entered into a safety competition with former Atlanta Falcons defensive back Damontae Kazee, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn chose his former player over the new guy on the block and gave the former 903 snaps and 15 starts versus 446 snaps and three starts for Hooker. Now granted, Hooker played fairly well when he did take the field as the team’s third safety, allowing just 90 yards after the catch on 28 targets, but hey, that wasn’t enough to beat out the players in front of him and thus, was relegated to reserve duty.

Assuming the Cowboys opt to go with Allen full-time on a longer-term deal than the initial one-year, $1.12 million he signed in 2021, that leaves Hooker once again looking for a new home, only this time, his perception will be even more clouded due to the part-time nature of his most recent play.

Enter Jonathan Gannon, the one-time Indianapolis Colts defensive backs coach-turned-Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator.

Now, as you may or may not know, Gannon coached Hooker from 2018-20. Hooker started all 29 games he appeared in over that tenure under Gannon and amassed 65 tackles, seven passes defensed, and four interceptions over 1,770 defensive snaps. While the Colts’ defensive scheme was more Seattle Seahawks than Minnesota Vikings, with Hooker playing as many of his snaps from a single-high alignment as from a two-high shell, Hooker still turned in the best production of his career under Gannon as opposed to his single-season run in Dallas and would likely be willing to accept another prove-it deal in the hopes of finally getting his career back on track.

If that’s the route Hooker is willing to take, the Eagles would be wise to bring Hooker to the City of Brotherly Love, as the team might just be in the market for not one but two new safeties heading into the 2022 season.

If the Eagles opt to bring back Rodney McLeod, who wasn’t an ideal fit in Gannon’s defense, then Hooker could play the Harris role as a strong safety deployed about 12 yards off the line of scrimmage. If, by contrast, the Eagles opt to keep Harris at strong safety, then Hooker could play free safety, which is his “natural” position.

Heck, if the Eagles opt against keeping either McLeod or Harris, Hooker could join a collection of defensive backs currently headlined by Marcus Epps and K’Von Wallace, with the potential to fill out the position group further with other free agent, cap casualties like maybe Landon Collins, and schematically compatible players in the draft.

Malik Hooker’s NFL career hasn’t quite gone as planned. Ranked the eighth-best prospect in the 2017 class by NFL.com, the good stuff Hooker committed to tape has largely been overshadowed by injury and a less than ideal role with the Dallas Cowboys in 2021. With only so many chances to get his career back on track, if the 25-year-old wants to bet on himself under a coach who knows him better than most, giving Jonathan Gannon a call about playing for the Philadelphia Eagles might just be his safest bet on the market.