Days before they played what would turn out to be their final game of the 2018 season, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz told the media he didn’t know where the team would be without cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc.
The better question is where would this team have been without safety Malcolm Jenkins?
Chances are better than good, they probably wouldn’t have been in New Orleans for the Divisional round of the playoffs without him.
He led the team in tackle for a second straight season and, after turning 31 on Dec. 20, has shown no signs of slowing down since arriving in town as a free agent from New Orleans in 2014. He has made 80 straight starts since becoming an Eagle, plus five more in the postseason, and has played all but 91 defensive snaps in that time, but most of those missed snaps came in the meaningless 2017 regular season finale.
(Jenkins alks about injury to Rodney McLeod and others in the video)
“I feel good,” said Jenkins, the day after the Eagles’ season ended against the Saints, and just before leaving for Ghana for vacation. “I think my spirit has been tested more than my body this year. It’s taken a lot of fortitude and heart to kind of battle what we’ve been able to battle. I think the emotional rollercoaster of this season was probably more taxing than an actual game, but my body feels good. I’ve been lucky enough, fortunate enough to be healthy for a while now and as long as I’m healthy I’m usually playing well.”
The Eagles, though, need to begin preparing for life after Jenkins. Even though he is signed through 2022, he has a salary cap number of $11.3 million this season and $10.8 in 2020 before dropping to $1.5 in each of his final two seasons.
The team also needs to make sure they are covered at the safety position in case Rodney McLeod is slow to make the full recovery from a torn ACL suffered early in the season. Corey Graham won’t return, but Avonte Maddox showed as a rookie he can play the position after being drafted as a cornerback, and the Eagles could decide to move Jalen Mills and/or Rasul Douglas to safety.
Still, there is a very good chance the team takes a safety early in the 2019 NFL Draft, which is from April 25-27 in Nashville, Tenn.
Team officials spent the week in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl last week, and visited with safety Nasir Adderley, who is from Chester County, having attended Great Valley High School before heading to the University of Delaware. Adderley is rocketing up draft boards and could very well be a first-round pick.
Adderely will probably be there when it comes time for the Eagles to make the 25th selection of the opening round. He may even be there when their next turns come up at No. 53 (the second round pick they got last year from the Ravens for trading out of the first round) or their own pick at No. 57.
He is 5-11, but size doesn’t seem to be an issue to draft evaluators. He has the versatility to play cornerback, but free safety is his best position after a Blue Hens career that saw him make 10 interceptions with 31 passes defended.
The Eagles also met with USC cornerback Iman Marshall. Marshall wasn’t the same player he was in his first two seasons at USC, so the Eagles wouldn’t take him with one of their three picks in the first two rounds, but he could potentially be had in the fourth, where the Eagles own the 121st overall pick and have a projected pick later in the round.
The Eagles found out plenty about their cornerback depth this season, and seem to be well situated in that area, though it would help immensely if Sidney Jones is able to stay healthy for a full season. As it was, LeBlanc proved to be a keeper and maybe safety Tre Sullivan, too.
“While it sucks for the guys who were injured and missing them when they obviously could’ve helped you, the good thing about that is a lot of these younger players got some quality experience and I think really stepped their games up to take that next leap in their careers,” said Jenkins. “So when you look at coming back next year, I think that depth is even deeper than we would’ve thought. So that’s a good think looking forward to next season.”
Nevertheless, the Eagles will likely address the secondary at some point in the draft.