Is Tyrann Mathieu too good for the Philadelphia Eagles to pass up?

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

On Wednesday, March 30th, long-time Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins called it a career. One of the best free agent signings of the last decade and a key cog in the team’s Super Bowl-winning defense, Jenkins’ 12-year career in the NFL has come to an end, and he will now transition to the next phase of his life, presumably in the city that he made his adoptive home from 2014-19.

Does this directly affect the Eagles? No, not really, Jenkins hasn’t worn midnight green on the field since January of 2020, and the team doesn’t even run the same scheme that made him a three-time Pro Bowler. But Jenkins’ retirement does highlight the dire situation the Eagles find themselves in at the safety position, with only one member of their not particularly good 2021 pairing of Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris signed up for another season this fall.

Could the Eagles opt to retain McLeod this fall and hope that a quality safety falls to them with one of their first four picks in the 2022 NFL Draft? You bet; that feels more and more likely with each passing week. Or the Eagles could throw caution to the wind and sign the biggest fish left on the open market, Tyran Mathieu, in the hopes of hot-shotting their defense from the middle of the pack to 2017-esque.

Will that happen? I mean, probably not, but hey, as free agency inches forward, folks continue to link the Philadelphia Eagles to secure the LSU legend’s services, so who knows?

Tyrann Mathieu would be a unique fit in the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense.

When you look up ‘versatile’ in the NFL dictionary, you get a picture of Tyrann Mathieu.

In 2021, the diminutive LSU defender played 438 snaps in the box, 280 snaps at free safety, 206 snaps in the slot, 23 snaps at perimeter cornerback, and even played 49 snaps deployed on the defensive line where he was presumably used as a blitzer. If the Kansas City Cheifs needed a play made in the secondary, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo would turn to the player affectionately known as “The Honey Badger.”

In the Philadelphia Eagles’ scheme, Mathieu would presumably slot in at strong safety, where Anthony Harris had a similarly varied responsibility set that saw him play 387 snaps deployed deep, 340 snaps in the box, 140 in the slot, 10 at perimeter corner, and 20 more on the defensive line according to PFF. Harris had his best professional season as a free safety in Minnesota and could theoretically play either position in Jonathan Gannon’s defense this fall if a player like Mathieu were to be added to the defensive starting lineup alongside Haason Reddick and Kyzir White.

That’s the good news. The bad news? By all accounts, Gannon would like to run his defense from a two-deep safety shell, which probably wouldn’t be Mathieu’s schematic preference.

No, Mathieu is a lot like Malcolm Jenkins, who preferred to make an impact around the line of scrimmage. When tasked with tracking down opposing running backs, either in the run game or as a pass-catcher, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better defender and Mathieu even has the speed and coverage skills needed to neutralize traditional wide receivers from the slot.

In Jim Schwartz’s scheme, Mathieu’s game would have been an absolute X factor weapon like, well, like another Eagles safety with a similar moniker, but under Gannon? It’s harder to see Mathieu accepting a role that “strands” him a dozen yards off the line with the requirement to blanket half of the field and provide support versus the run on, say, two-thirds of his defensive snaps.

Now granted, maybe Mathieu is a big enough talent for Gannon to adjust his scheme to the talents of his players. Steven Nelson was more comfortable playing off the ball than press-man, and Gannon accommodated to that preference as best he could, so it’s entirely possible securing a supreme talent like Mathieu could prove worthy of a similar accommodation, but when you consider the veteran defensive back will be 30 when the season opens up, it’s hard to see him agreeing to a one-year, prove-it deal with a team like the Eagles when he could presumably secure a better chance to win with a team like the Los Angeles Rams or a more-lucrative opportunity with a team like the Indianapolis Colts who have money to burn and could overpay for a one-year rental.

Next. Good, let Kyle Hamilton slip all the way to 15. dark

Should the Philadelphia Eagles pursue a big-time talent at safety? Yes, yes, 1,000 times yes; the Eagles had one of the best safety tandems in the NFL when they won the Super Bowl in February of 2018 and would be wise to invest in the position again moving forward. Should they even pursue a safety with a bit more of a “strong” style of play even if they don’t perfectly fit the scheme Jonathan Gannon wants to play? Yes again, landing a player like Kyle Hamilton in the draft would be a fantastic get, as he’d be able to shut down opposing tight ends as a hybrid safety/weakside linebacker. But is Tyrann Mathieu the sort of player the Eagles would pay $8-12 million a season for the rights to employ? No, probably not. Unless his asking price is shockingly team-friendly, I personally wouldn’t bet on seeing the “Honey Badger” in midnight green this fall.