Rodney McLeod is Eagles Last Line of Stability
Change has been the theme when it comes to the Eagles’ defensive backfield in the offseason.
Both on-the-field change with the additions of cornerbacks Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman, as well as versatile safety Will Parks, and off-the-field change with the departure of Cory Undlin and the arrival of Marquand Manuel to be defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s secondary coach.
Through all that upheaval Schwartz is going to need a steady hand on the back end.
When it became clear that the Eagles weren’t going to be able to work things out with Malcolm Jenkins, it became a necessity to bring back veteran safety Rodney McLeod.
“Rodney was really important for us to sign to have somebody who can really run the show back there and another year removed from the ACL surgery,” general manager Howie Roseman said last month. “I think sometimes when you look at Rodney, he's always doing his job, he's always in the right place and we've been very fortunate to have him and we're excited about him and taking another step forward also with his leadership ability.”
Of the five projected starting roles in the defensive backfield, McLeod is expected to be the only returning player penciled into the same role as the single-high safety in Schwartz’s default setting.
Jalen Mills will be moving from left cornerback to Jenkins’ box-safety role with Slay taking over as the CB1 after his acquisition from Detroit. The accomplished Robey-Coleman will be taking over slot duties with the undersized Avonte Maddox moving outside opposite Slay.
McLeod is now the mentor in the safety room and the on-field leader of it all after years of interning under Jenkins, the three-time Pro Bowl selection who returned to New Orleans in free agency after the Eagles declined a team option.
His steady hand starts with Mills and the move to safety.
“My relationship with Jalen is pretty good,” said McLeod on a conference call Friday. “He came here in 2016 along with myself and we have turned this defense around collectively. Everybody has played a piece, myself as well as Jalen particularly in that Super Bowl run.
“For him now to be able to make that transition to safety, I think it will be very easy for him. It’s something he did in college. He’s a physical player, he’s a smart player, which is what you need at that safety position.”
Maddox may be facing the most difficult transition as an undersized cornerback Roseman compared to Hall of Famer Darrell Green and Aaron Glenn as players who can handle things outside the numbers despite height deficiencies.
“I think it’s just heart for him," said McLeod about Maddox. "He’s very confident in his ability. We’ve seen him since he entered in Philadelphia, him being able to be a versatile player as well. He played safety when I went down (in 2018).
"He’s played nickel, of course. He’s very impactful there. Even when he stepped in because of injuries and had to play outside, he’s made a lot of plays. I think where you put him is limitless.”
The depth in the secondary is expected to consist of Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas and Cre’Von LeBlanc at cornerback with Parks being the third safety.
With McLeod as the straw stirring the drink.
“It’s important for me to be myself, and that’s a guy who leads by his actions and leads by example,” said McLeod. “I think if you ask a lot of guys on the team that’s what they’ll tell you most. Actions speak louder than words.
“I think there will be times for me to speak up when needed, when my teammates need me most (and) I’ll be willing to do that. I don’t think much will change for me. I’ll just continue to by myself.”
John McMullen covers the Eagles for SI.com. You can listen to John every day at 4 ET on ESPN 97.3 in South Jersey and reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen