Offseason Review: Who Are ‘The Replacements?’
(Editor’s Note: This is the fifth story in an InsideTheBirds.com series recapping the 2020 Eagles offseason. The series will focus on the team’s transactions since the end of the 2019 season, including free agency, the NFL Draft and trades. In Part 5, Geoff Mosher and Andrew DiCecco give their choices for toughest loss to replace.)
Which Eagles player gone from the 2019 roster will be toughest to replace?
Andrew’s pick: Malcolm Jenkins
In a perfect world, Andre Dillard will make a significant enough leap this summer to instill confidence in the coaching staff that he can man the left tackle post for the next decade, effectively extinguishing any possibility of a Jason Peters reunion.
While that kind of progression would certainly speak to the work Dillard put in during the extended offseason, replacing Jason Peters, a future Hall of Famer, will be a tall task. The loss of Halapoulivaati Vaitai — an experienced, dependable swing tackle — to the Detroit Lions in free agency also ranks fairly high on my list of toughest players to replace, but my choice is Malcolm Jenkins.
If you can recall back to the 2013 season, safety was a sore spot on the Eagles, and following a dismal season of Nate Allen and Patrick Chung patrolling the secondary, it was evident that the team would capitalize on a free-agent class brimming with enticing options. Many hoped the Eagles would sign Jairus Byrd, who was coming off an All-Pro season with the Buffalo Bills, or even Cleveland’s T.J. Ward.
Instead, the Eagles signed Malcolm Jenkins to solve their safety woes.
To say that the signing wasn’t well received at the time would be an understatement, but Jenkins soon became known as the centerpiece of the Eagles’ defense, a selfless leader and pillar in the community during his time in Philadelphia.
Whether he lined up as the single-high, slot defender, or as a hybrid linebacker, the versatile defensive back served as the linchpin on Billy Davis’ and Jim Schwartz’ units. In fact, in his first three seasons in Philadelphia, Jenkins played 99 percent of the defensive snaps. In 2019, Jenkins played all 1,039 snaps on defense and added an additional 137 snaps on special teams.
Even last season, at 31 years old, Jenkins was on the field for all 1,034 defensive snaps and another 116 on special teams. He epitomized what it meant to be a modern day ironman.
The Piscataway, N.J., native brought an unmistakable toughness, accountability, and character to the Philadelphia Eagles for six seasons.
The Eagles declined to pick up Jenkins’ option for the upcoming season, effectively making him a free agent. With Jenkins signing with the New Orleans Saints in free agency, safety Rodney McLeod becomes the elder statesman in the Eagles’ secondary. The hotly contested battle to find McLeod’s counterpart will be determined in the coming months.
Geoff’s pick: Halapoulivaati Vatai
I literally can’t believe I’m writing this, but after mulling this question for about two days, I truly believe Big V’s departure will be the toughest void to fill.
First off, the obvious choice would be Jason Peters. But because there’s no guarantee that Peters isn’t coming back, so I can’t go there. Second, it’s hard to write this as truth because I’ve never really believed that Vaitai was anything more than an adequate — average, maybe — offensive lineman, and I still think the Lions overpaid like crazy when they signed V to a contract worth about $10 million annually.
(The Eagles have candidates to replace Halapoulivaati Vaitai as the swing reserve tackle, but most of them have never played a snap of NFL football).
The reality is that Vaitai played an important role for the Eagles over the years, not just as the starting left tackle in the Super Bowl but also as an important swing lineman who could fill in at both guard and tackle. The Eagles were 11-3 since the start of 2017 in games when Vaitai started, 15-5 if you include the postseason. He might not be the most talented lineman, but that record says something.
The loss of Malcolm Jenkins, as Andrew noted, threatens to deprive the secondary and defense of its most versatile, most valuable player, but the Eagles made plans to refortify the safety position by bringing back Rodney McLeod, signing versatile Will Parks and re-signing Jalen Mills to play a hybrid coverage role. They also used a fourth-round pick on former Clemson safety K’Von Wallace.
Who’s replacing Vaitai as the critical reserve swing tackle? The options are all question marks. Jordan Mailata hasn’t played a single down in the NFL, has spent each of the past two seasons on injured reserve, and it remains to be seen if Mailata can play both guard and tackle.
Matt Pryor has played 79 snaps in two years. After that, even more unproven names — fourth-round pick Jack Driscoll, Sua Opeta and Price Tega Wanogho — with no NFL experience.
Maybe the Eagles sign a veteran on the market before the season starts, but any veteran on the free-agent market between now and the start of the season isn’t going to be someone to feel overly confidently about.
It’s hard to see the entire starting line staying healthy for 16 games. Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks are each north of 30 and have either battled injuries or missed time from injury over the past two years. It’s almost a certainty that someone will have to come off the bench and play meaningful minutes during the season.
The Eagles better hope they have some adequate enough to step in.
– Geoff Mosher (@GeoffMosherNFL) is a longtime Philadelphia Eagles and NFL reporter and co-host of Inside the Birds. Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a contributor to InsideTheBirds.com. He also writes for Pro Football Network.
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