“Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony”
The 2013 NFL regular season featured an abnormally high amount of safeties, 20 altogether, and the Philadelphia Eagles did not have one of those. For the astute readers and Eagles historians, let me move on from that joke that was not quite Ha Ha (pun intended) funny, but more of a longing for Pryor (Ok I’ll stop) defensive studs, particularly in the form of a Pro Bowl safety.
Coming into this season, most expected Billy Davis and his defensive unit to struggle mightily both against the pass and the rush. However, the Eagles were stingy against the rush(10th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed) and were surprisingly efficient in pass defense. While the Eagles gave up the most passing yards in the NFL, the secondary (which was viewed as a major weakness prior to the regular season) created 13 of the 19 interceptions this past season. Brandon Boykin, formerly known as “Candy Bar”, was 2nd in the NFL in interceptions behind Richard Sherman. Billy Davis was quoted shortly after being hired by Philadelphia that points allowed was his primary focus. The Eagles held ten different opponents this season to 21 or fewer points. Twenty-two of the NFL franchises in 2013 averaged MORE than 21 points per game. Regardless that some of the fodder included the Raiders, Buccaneers, Giants, and Redskins, it’s commendable that Billy Davis was able to turn around a defense that was abysmal against the pass in the 2nd half of the 2012 campaign.
While the unit as a whole emerged from the ashes, a primary concern has to be our safeties. Since losing Brian Dawkins in the early part of 2009, we’ve become inundated with great names such as Macho Harris, Kurt Coleman, Nate Allen, Patrick Chung, Kenny Phillips, Jaiquawn Jarrett, and Quintin Demps to shore up our secondary. Once the Eagles lost Quintin Mikell, it merely compounded the problem. Earl Wolff displayed signs of promise in the limited time he was on the field, however he needs to remain healthy. Wolff could develop into a nice strong safety, especially one who is good against the run. Heading into the game against the Packers Wolff was 4th on the team in total tackles which showed his prowess for the ball. Unfortunately, Nate Allen and Patrick Chung’s inconsistencies have remained a focal point for opposing offenses, particularly at the worst time (see Robert Meachem).
Heading into the draft and free agency, the Eagles are expected to be purged of a couple of the names we’ve grown accustomed to. Both Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are unrestricted free agents, and could both be expendable provided alternative plans are established. Patrick Chung could also be a salary cap casualty…if you can call releasing him a casualty, which nary an Eagles fan would. Much of the hype that will be blown our way will target both Jairus Byrd and TJ Ward, and rightfully so. Looking past the fact that both safeties are in a class by themselves, both players also have ties to Chip Kelly and Oregon. TJ Ward gushed over Chip Kelly prior to Kelly signing with the Eagles which would lead me to believe that Ward could consider the Eagles to be a desired landing spot once free agency arrives. The average of the top five highest paid safeties in the NFL is approximately $6.9 million, which wouldn’t require the Eagles to break the bank to get a top flight player. My guess is that despite Ward’s rave reviews of Chip, he’s going to want a payday and it won’t come from Jeff Lurie. Look for the Eagles to possibly target Husain Abdullah, whom Chip Kelly has a slight familiarity with from the (then) Pac-10 (Washington State).
Should the Eagles instead choose to look in the draft for a safety, obviously the two biggest names are Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, but just as Chip Kelly and company did with this year’s draft, expect familiar faces to be donning Eagles green. My sleeper pick: Dion Bailey from the University of Southern California. Already built around the same size as Dawkins, Bailey emerged as a bright spot in what was supposed to be a suspect secondary (sound familiar?) for the Trojans. A former linebacker, Bailey was able to successfully make the transition to safety under both Monte Kiffin and Clancy Pendergast, both of whom have been defensive coordinators in the NFL.
However the Eagles decide to pursue the offseason, we should continue to expect changes as both Chip Kelly and Billy Davis continue to grow with this team. Players will get injured, new names will emerge, and schemes will be adjusted accordingly between now and the final week of the 2014 regular season. And while Nick Foles and the Eagles offense performed admirably, the defense is still a work in progress despite improvements from a year ago. For all of us Eagles fans, let’s just hope that once free agency and the draft arrive, the men without the hats end up doing the safety dance.