After the Philadelphia Eagles re-signed safety Nate Allen to a one year, $2 Million deal (according to ESPN), they still have a strong need for a physical presence in the back end of the defense. Allen has been a contributor for a struggling unit since being selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft but has never lived up to expectations as the heir apparent to Brian Dawkins. He has a very similar skill set to free agent signing safety Malcolm Jenkins with stronger coverage skills, than tackling ability. Meaning the players will help one of the worst passing defenses in NFL, but unlikely to spend much time on the field together.
Allen adds versatility with his ability to play man coverage on slot receivers, but the defense sorely needs someone that will intimidate pass-catchers, when crossing the field. Many people thought the Eagles would have looked to an in-the-box player, such as Denver Broncos safety T.J. Ward (who has familiarity with Eagles Head Coach Chip Kelly, playing for him at Oregon University). His hitting ability is a force receivers consider before making tough catches in the middle of the defense. After he signed on with the with the AFC champions, Philadelphia’s options to fill that specific role are now limited in free agency.
Thoughts are the team could look at cheaper players still left on the market, such as Chris Clemons (Miami Dolphins), James Ihedigbo (Baltimore Ravens) or Thomas DeCoud (Atlanta Falcons), to upgrade the strong safety position. Though Eagles general manager Howie Roseman did try the same thing at this point last year bringing in safeties Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips; neither of which is still on the roster. Investing more money into the position may be unlikely, after the team has declared a conservative approach in free agency and already delegating funds to Jenkins and Allen, within the past week.
The Eagles were able to find a solid safety later in the 2013 draft by selecting Earl Wolff from North Carolina State in the fifth round. He was able to find his way onto the field, after replacing the struggling combination of Allen and Chung early in the season, but injuries derailed him from playing in the final six games. He started in Week 16 against the Bears only to leave early in the game and not return. Wolff finished last year with 37 solo tackles (45 combined tackles), along with contributing on all special teams’ units. The question is whether or not he can stay healthy for the entire year, while developing into a desperately needed intimidating tackler.
All that being said, the Eagles will likely look to a player fitting that profile at some point in the draft. Draft analysts continue to float out the possibility of Louisville safety Calvin Pryor heading to Philadelphia. But after a strong combine they may need to move up sacrificing valuable draft picks in order to acquire his services. If he is off the board by the time the Eagles select in the first round at No. 22, they may be more inclined to wait until their second, third or even fourth selection to fix that specific hole on their defense. Options later on, that fit the profile of physical safety include: Craig Loston (LSU), Dion Baily (USC), Isaiah Lewis (Michigan State) and Deone Buchanon (Washington State).
Philadelphia made several cap-conscious moves to fix their biggest issue on defense; a porous pass defensive team. Adding Jenkins, along with safety Chris Maragos and cornerback Nolan Carroll, while retaining Allen, add depth but lack major impact. If the Eagles can add a physical presence into the defensive backfield their work may be complete on the two year revamp of the unit. Whether it be through free agency or in the draft, the next addition will need to strike fear into pass-catchers minds.