At this point, railing on about the secondary is my go-to stump speech. The Eagles secondary has ranked in the bottom ten in the NFL for three seasons running, and each subsequent offseason the group was largely ignored. Yet, each offseason the organization and some fans seem to expect different results. Insanity.
I see that same pattern developing this offseason. Despite losing the best player in the defensive backfield in Malcolm Jenkins, I’m hearing bullish expectations for 2020, and people suggesting that the secondary is “set.” What?
I love the addition of Slay as much as anyone, but we should view that as a net-even in terms of losing Jenkins. Though I will concede, considering Jenkins spent the vast majority of snaps up on the LOS and inside the box, it is reasonable to view Slay as a slight net-gain in terms of overall coverage ability—Jenkins was routinely dusted by anyone with modest speed/quickness, hence him lining up in the box.
With that said, a slight bump in coverage shouldn’t be enough to satisfy a team that’s been plagued by a leaky secondary for a decade. Since 2012, the only season in which our secondary ranked inside the top 20 was 2016—though if you’ve watched even one Eagles game over the past few season (or decade) you shouldn’t need a single statistic to tell you that.
One positive for 2020 is that they have a deeper group of competent bodies than in seasons past: the team added Slay, Will Parks, and re-signed McLeod and Mills to go along with Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox, and Cre’Von LeBlanc. Those are seven DBs who I have varying levels of confidence in (aside from maybe Mills). If they can stay healthy I think the right mix is in there to have a solid secondary in 2020.
But that’s the best case scenario, and not that inspiring of one. The worst, or worse-case scenarios are all pretty bad. We’ve seen Mills get cooked plenty; Maddox is nice in spells on the outside but doesn’t have the tools to stick out there; Jones has struggled staying healthy and finding consistency; Parks is just a role player; and McLeod showed clear markers of decline as a centerfielder in 2019.
There are two sides to the expectations we should have for each player, and it’s natural for fans to talk themselves into the side that sees them flourish to their ceiling—but that’s rarely how things play out.
I’m excited to have a guy like Slay who can mitigate the damage that WR1s inflict on us, but the Eagles have shown that their secondary problems extend deeper than getting beat by the league’s best pass catchers.
Does Slay allow the team to leverage coverage in a more strategic way? Absolutely, and that’s the argument you’ll have to make if you think this secondary is truly about to turn the corner in 2020. You just won’t hear me making that case.
Hopefully Howie isn’t averse to making another drastic move to upgrade an Eagles secondary that has been a far bigger problem than the weapons we’ve put around Wentz—this shouldn’t be a real discussion. But my gut tells me he’s already talked himself into the uninspiring group we have right now, and I see some fans and pundits making that same mistake.