Anthony Harris, Jonathan Gannon Reunited with Eagles

Cap-strapped Philly was able to grab a big-name free agent safety who has plenty of familiarity with DC Jonathan Gannon
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PHILADELPHIA - Every time the Eagles bring in new coaching staff, it seems they land a solid defensive starter on the free-agent market to help establish the new culture.

From Connor Barwin in 2013 to Rodney McLeod in 2016, Philadelphia brings in a vital veteran to establish their new defensive system. 

The Eagles continued that tradition for new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s new defense when they added ex-Minnesota Vikings safety Anthony Harris, signing him to a one-year, $5 million deal on Friday night.

Putting Harris in the same category as Barwin and McLeod, especially given the contracts they secured from the Eagles on the open market, may seem bold, but the addition of Harris could prove to have a similar impact.

Harris, 29,  is reuniting with Gannon in Philadelphia. The two spent three seasons together in Minnesota from 2015-2017. 

READ MORE ON HARRIS: Anthony Harris Signs with Eagles - Sports Illustrated ...

Giving Gannon a player he’s familiar with fills a significant need in a specific position group the DC specializes in coaching. 

During their last season together in 2017, Harris began his breakout. According to Pro Football Focus, Harris finished that season allowing a passer rating of 24.0 after being targeted 13 times and surrendering seven receptions for 52 receiving yards.

Harris has been an elite coverage safety ever since for the Vikings.

Coming off the franchise tag after having a stellar season in 2019, he finished as the NFL interceptions co-leader with six, surrendered just 156 receiving yards on 17 targets for zero touchdowns for a coverage grade of 91.6 by PFF, which was ranked first among safeties.

The ex-Vikings defensive back is coming off his worst season as a starter in 2020, but Minnesota’s young and inexperienced cornerback group plays more into Harris’ lack of effectiveness. The safety was credited with surrendering four touchdowns this past season, which snapped his three consecutive year streak of not allowing a touchdown in coverage.

Why Harris was signed to such a low level, prove-it type contract may show his past season played more into his free-agent market than anticipated. PFF projected Harris to land a contract worth $14 million per season. 

Instead, Harris opted for a $5 million, short-term deal with the Eagles. Perhaps Harris views Philadelphia as the best opportunity to revive his market while playing in a defensive system, with a coach he’s familiar with that suits his skill set the best. 

When Alshon Jeffery rejoined his former wide receiver coach in Mike Groh with the Eagles on a prove-it contract in 2017, it led to a long-term deal from the team. Harris has an opportunity to repeat that typical pattern for players looking to cash-in, and should he have the year he and the Eagles want, the cap situation is expected to be such that Philly could re-sign him to a multi-year deal.

With the Eagles transitioning to a more cover two and zone defense, opposed to the single-high safety look under Jim Schwartz, Harris’ arrival gives the team more versatility with what they can do at safety even with McLeod, Marcus Epps, and 2020 fourth-rounder K’Von Wallace on the roster. 

Bringing in Harris as an answer to the loss of Jalen Mills to the New England Patriots, likely signals the exact philosophy change the Eagles will go through under Gannon.

McLeod and the unproven Epps were the only safeties capable of playing center field. Now, with Harris on board, the double-high safety scheme Gannon will look to deploy has identified McLeod’s running mate.

Harris and McLeod playing the split-safety formations gives Philadelphia an enticing pair in the backend of the secondary. Both have a nose for the football and have excelled in coverage. 

McLeod’s box snaps have also increased the last two seasons (182 in 2019 and 173 in 2020), while a Harris offers the same versatility and ability to play in the box. Gannon may view Harris as a natural fit as a free safety, however, and play McLeod more at strong.

Either way, the options are plentiful now.

McLeod’s status for week one is also up in the air as he recovers from an ACL injury suffered late in the 2020 season. Entering the final season of his contract, Philadelphia will be left to decide between paying him or Harris next offseason. 

Regardless of what the future holds, the Eagles added an impact defender in the present at an incredible bargain and that is a home run by general manager Howie Roseman.

Harris possesses the talent to replicate the success Barwin and McLeod had coming to Philadelphia when the team was implementing a new defensive system, and the new Eagles safety should become a building block for the defense going forward.

Philadelphia came into free agency without much to offer financially yet came away with a top defensive back on the market. The addition of Harris hands Gannon a safety that fits his system like a glove and a player he played a significant role in developing. 

Reuniting the two should pay off for the Eagles.

Conor Myles is a contributor for Sports Illustrated’s Eagle Maven. Listen to Conor and Ed on Eagles Brawl available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and RADIO.com. Reach Conor at ConorMylesSI@gmail.com or Twitter: @ConorMylesNFL

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s EagleMaven. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.