Which Eagles free agents should Howie consider bringing back?

Howie Roseman and the Eagles have done their due diligence retaining most of their in-house talent this offseason. They resigned nearly every member of the 2018 draft class during the season and they’ve brought back a handful of veterans on short-term deals, like Boston Scott, Derek Barnett, and Anthony Harris.

There are only a few Eagles free agents that remained unsigned at this point. We saw Alex Singleton join the Broncos and Hassan Ridgeway head west to San Francisco, but they’re the only notable players who’ve left.

Let’s take a look at the remaining Eagles free agents and examine which ones Howie should consider bringing back.

Rodney McLeod

Both of the Eagles starting safeties from 2021 were set to hit the open market this offseason. The team already resigned Anthony Harris to a one-year, $2.5 million deal. Initially, most fans expected the team to bring back Rodney McLeod instead, given his tenure with the team and leadership qualities.

Both Harris and McLeod were average at best last season, though McLeod did edge out Harris in PFF rankings. McLeod finished the season with an overall grade of 64.8, good for 43rd among 92 qualifying safeties. Harris came in with a 62.0 grade, ranking 53rd among safeties.

McLeod also posted some solid numbers against the run in 2021, posting run defense grade of 73.2, 26th among safeties. Although his PFF grade in coverage wasn’t spectacular, his stats against the pass were proficient. McLeod allowed a completion percentage of 71.4 and a passer rating of 69.8 when targeted. He didn’t surrender a single touchdown in coverage.

Harris was marginally better in coverage, allowing just 51.1% of the passes thrown his way to get completed. But that’s the only category Harris outperformed McLeod in.

Though McLeod will be 32 by the time next season rolls around, there’s still a possibility he’s brought back, despite the Harris resigning. The Eagles simply don’t have anyone to fill McLeod’s shoes adequately at the moment. Jonathan Gannons seems to really like Marcus Epps, but he’s more of a box safety than anything else.

The team is probably going to wait and see how the rest of the offseason plays out before reaching out to McLeod. If Howie can’t get his hands on a solid replacement for McLeod, either during free agency or through the draft, he’ll probably bring McLeod back on a similar deal to Harris.

Steven Nelson

The Eagles cornerback position is arguably the most interesting position group of the offseason. The team already has Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox in place, with several unknowns backing them up. Howie put together an assortment of young cornerbacks last season, which includes Zech McPhearson, Tay Gowan, Kary Vincent Jr., Josiah Scott, and Mac McCain.

Then there’s Steven Nelson, who started opposite of Slay last season and remains available on the open market. In 16 starts, Nelson allowed a completion percentage of 66.7 and a passer rating of 108.4 when targeted, along with surrendering five touchdowns. There’s definitely some room for improvement there, but considering how bad the Eagles cornerback group has been for the past five years, Nelson was a step in the right direction, as sad as that may sound.

Nelson is the perfect stop-gap player. He’ll never be a complete liability for a defense, but he’ll never add a whole lot to a defense either. He’s just, meh.

The Eagles have shown interest in some of the free agent corners on the market, most notably Stephon Gilmore. There’s also a pretty good chance the Eagles opt to select a corner in the first-round of the draft this year. With three firsts at their disposal and a glaring hole to fill at corner, there’s no reason to pass up on the best CB available when they’re on the clock.

Nelson was a fine starter last season, but I suspect Howie and Co. want to upgrade the position this year.

Jordan Howard

Despite only getting 86 carries on the year, Jordan Howard became the catalyst for the Eagles resurgent rushing attack in the second half of the season. On the year, Howard totaled 406 yards (4.7 YPC) and three touchdowns. Once Miles Sanders was fully healthy, Howard got hurt and his playing time took a dip after that. Nonetheless, Howard provides a power back skill set that the Eagles desperately need in their backfield.

They have all the elusiveness in the world with Sanders, Scott, and Kenny Gainwell. Keeping a short yardage option like Howard in the backfield seems like a smart bet.

Like all of these free agents, the Eagles want to see how their offseason plays out before resigning Howard. There’s a good chance they spend one of their late round picks on a similar back, making Howard completely expendable.

He had a solid run for the Birds in 2021, but unless all other options fail for Howie, I don’t think he’ll be back for an encore performance in 2022.

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