By the time the Eagles front office reaches the NFL free agency period, safety could be the biggest hole on the defensive side of the ball. Both Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris are set to hit the open market this offseason and the team doesn’t have much in the pipeline to replace either of them.
McLeod could come back on a team friendly deal, but that’s not a foregone conclusion right now. Regardless if he returns, Howie Roseman will still need to add at least one player at the position.
Fortunately for the Eagles, there are several stout safeties set to become free agents this offseason. Here are five Roseman should consider acquiring.
Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints
The big fish of the safety pool this offseason will be Marcus Williams, the 25-year-old Pro Bowl safety for the Saints. Williams will without a doubt demand the highest price tag of any free agent safety this offseason, but if he continues to play at the standard he’s set through his first five NFL seasons, it’ll be worth it.
Williams has notched 15 interceptions over his career, averaging three per season. He’s posted a Pro Football Focus grade of at least 70.0 in each of his five seasons. It’s not like Williams burst onto the scene during his rookie season and has failed to live up to that standard ever since, something we’ve seen with other talented young players. He’s been one of the most consistent pieces for the Saints defense since 2017.
Acquiring Williams would effectively fill the need at safety for the next four years at least.
Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals
Like Williams in New Orleans, Jessie Bates has been one of the most consistent players in the Bengals secondary since entering the league back in 2018. He recorded at least three interceptions in each of his first three seasons while also averaging over 100 tackles.
Bates looked to cash in after year three, but Cincy decided to hold off on a contract extension. In turn, Bates took a bit of a step back in 2021, posting a career-low PFF grade (56.2) and notching just one interception on the season. Still, at just 24 years old and with a very solid resume, Bates will be a hot commodity on the open market this offseason.
Bates is the entire package at safety. He has the range to play in the middle of the field, the athleticism and coverage ability to matchup with slot receivers and tight ends, and he’s physical at the point of attack. At his best, Bates is the best single-high safety in the league. Benjamin Solak of The Ringer, and a former NFL analyst for The Draft Network, said, “Bates is able to attack the intermediate hole shots with his explosiveness and play recognition, and he’s able to discourage the deep outside shots with his physicality and long speed. Bates has an old-school vibe: sideline-to-sideline influence with punishing power.”
While the Eagles didn’t play much single-high in Jonathan Gannon’s first year as defensive coordinator, there’s reason to believe he’ll shift towards more single-high looks once his personnel fits that scheme. Bates would certainly be a step in the right direction in that regard.
Quandre Diggs, Seattle Seahawks
If the Eagles want to bring in a proven playmaker at safety, look no further than Quandre Diggs. As a pure free safety, Diggs has made a living roaming the defensive backend. He rarely gets close to the box, but he’s been so productive in the deep third that it would be silly to ask him to do anything else. Though he definitely brings some physicality to his game.
Since 2019, Diggs has tallied 11 interceptions, the third-most among safeties during that time. He’s recorded an interception on 21.6% of the passes thrown into his coverage during that same time, the best mark of any safety in the league.
Although he is 29 years old, Diggs seems to be peaking as he enters his 30’s. PFF projects Diggs’ contract to be for three-years and $8 million per season. If the Eagles don’t want to pay premium price for a safety this offseason, acquiring Diggs would make sense. He’ll be a bit cheaper than most safety prospects in this year’s free agency pool and he brings essentially the same level of production with him.
Jordan Whitehead, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Eagles haven’t had a truly physical presence at their safety position in some time now. While Gannon does prioritize more rangy players in his secondary, adding a guy like Jordan Whitehead would undoubtedly help in the run game. Plus, Whitehead is better in coverage than most pundits give him credit for, making him an even more alluring free agent option.
Whitehead is coming off his best year to date, recording an overall PFF grade of 70.4 (28th out of 94 qualifying safeties) along with a run defense grade of 78.9 (11th out of 94 qualifying safeties).
Having Whitehead’s skill set in Gannon’s defense would certainly be intriguing, although it’s not a picture perfect fit on paper. Gannon has proven that he can mix and match his schemes to best fit his personnel so he shouldn’t have an issue doing it with a guy as talented as Whitehead.
Jayron Kearse, Dallas Cowboys
After signing a veteran minimum deal last offseason and competing for snaps with a handful of other safety signings by the Cowboys, Jayron Kearse emerged as the best of the bunch and put forth a career year. He finished the year with 101 combined tackles, two interceptions, one sack, and nine tackles for loss. Not to mention he graded out as the 14th-best safety in football according to PFF.
Kearse proved himself as a coverage safety this past season, allowing a 66.7 completion percentage and a passer rating of 83.2 when targeted. At 27 years old, Kearse is right in the prime of his career and should be able to provide at least three years of high level play before his age starts to catch up with him.
PFF projects his contract to be three-years, $15M ($5M per year). Kearse may not be the best safety on the open market, but at that price, the Eagles would get a ton of value for his services.
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