The Eagles on Tuesday signed one 2014 free agent and re-signed a 2013 free agent.
The Eagles added unrestricted free agent safety Malcolm Jenkins and re-signed punter Donnie Jones, one of their 2013 free agents, during the first 90 minutes of free agency.
Jenkins spent his first five seasons with the Saints, totaling 4½ sacks, six interceptions, six forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. He was a starter on the Saints’ 2009 Super Bowl championship team.
“We really liked Malcolm’s versatility,” head coach Chip Kelly said. “He can line up at either safety spot, can come in and make a tackle, and can play man-to-man as well.
“I had a chance to study him on tape leading up to the playoff game and really liked what I saw. He’s a sharp kid and is ultra-competitive. We are really happy to have him in Philadelphia.”
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said the Eagles liked Jenkins both for what he is on the field and off the field.
The Eagles have emphasized that they’re not just looking for talented players but also players who fit into their culture and fit into a certain mold of free agents.
Jenkins, only 26 years old and durable, is the type of guy they’ve been looking for.
“Malcolm is someone we’ve had our eye on for quite a while,” Roseman said. “He has been a productive player his entire football career, both in New Orleans and at Ohio State.
“Everything you hear about Malcolm as a person is true. He was a two-time defensive captain with the Saints and is a high-character player. We are excited to add a guy like that to the culture we have established here.”
Jones signed a three-year deal worth $5.5 million, including base salaries of $1 million in 2014 and $1.75 million in both 2015 and 2016. He received a $1 million signing bonus along with escalator clauses that raise his base salary $250,000 in either 2015 or 2016 if he makes the Pro Bowl the previous season.
Jones set a franchise record with a 40.4-yard net average last year and had a remarkable ratio of 33 punts inside the 20 to just five touchbacks.
“Donnie proved he was a great weapon for us last year,” Kelly said. “He had a really good season for us. I like the fact that we continued our trend of re-signing our core players. He’s a good teammate and a player we prioritized during this free agency process.”
Jones is the fifth member of the 2013 NFC East-champion Eagles the team has re-signed this month. They signed receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper before they reached free agency and gave offensive linemen Jason Peters and Jason Kelce long-term extensions.
Because the Eagles signed Jones to a minumum-wage benefit deal last year, they weren’t allowed to re-sign him until Tuesday, the first day of the 2014 league year.
“Donnie was tremendous for us last year and had one of the best seasons I have seen by a punter,” Roseman said.
“What you love about Donnie is his consistency, and he’s always working to perfect his craft. He’s a great fit in our locker room, and he’s another guy we wanted to make sure we brought back.”
The way the Eagles use their running backs this season is one of the biggest question marks surrounding the team.
For a long time, it seemed like the Birds were ready to go into the season with a combination of Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and a rookie. That rookie turned out to be Donnel Pumphrey, whom the team took in the fourth round.
With Ryan Mathews on his way out, it looked like those three would be the Eagles' primary running backs.
Then, they went out and signed LeGarrette Blount.
Blount, 30, is coming off the best season of his seven-year career in 2016 with the Super Bowl champion Patriots. He carried the ball 299 times for 1,161 yards and 18 (!) rushing touchdowns.
During the spring, Blount — when he was there — took first-team carries, but so did Sproles and sometimes Smallwood. And sometimes the team used Sproles and Pumphrey on the field together in the "pony" set.
So maybe Blount will just be the Eagles' bell cow back. But it also seems possible he'll be a part of some sort of running back rotation that we don't know the composition of quite yet.
History has shown that Doug Pederson comes from the Andy Reid school of pass-first offense, but running backs coach Duce Staley has said Pederson's assured him he's going to run the ball more this season. But even when Pederson doesn't run the ball, he still uses his running backs to catch passes out of the backfield. That part makes the Blount signing all the more curious — he's never really been asked to do that before.
So the first question we'll need to answer this training camp and in the preseason surrounds just how Pederson and the Eagles plan on piecing this together. While these four players might not exactly be fighting for roster spots, they're certainly fighting for playing time and increased roles.
And then there are the leftover running backs — Byron Marshall and Corey Clement, one undrafted player from last year and one from this class. Two very different players. Clement, at 230 pounds, might have had a really good shot at making the roster before the Blount move. Now, he might need to try to hold on to a practice squad spot. And what about Marshall? The smaller back from Oregon showed some promise last season but spent most of the season on the practice squad.
We went through the cornerbacks Thursday and that position is clearly much more of a mess than safety (see story).
In fact, the Eagles have a really good starting safety duo in Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod.
But over the last couple of years, the Eagles have used Jenkins as their slot cornerback in the nickel package. It's a position that Jenkins really enjoys playing — he loves being closer to the action. Except whenever Jenkins plays up as the slot corner, the team is forced to bring an extra safety off the bench.
Last season, that extra safety was Jaylen Watkins. When Jenkins moved up, Watkins would take the field. A former fourth-rounder from Florida, Watkins ended up playing 38 percent of the team's defensive snaps in 2016. That's a heckuva lot, especially considering that Jenkins and McLeod, the two guys ahead of him, missed a combined seven snaps.
Watkins beat out Chris Maragos for that third safety spot in 2016. The Eagles seem happy letting Maragos focus on being the all-time great special teams force he's been since coming to Philadelphia.
So Watkins is the incumbent fighting for that third safety job, but the other guy was with the Eagles last year, too.
The Eagles claimed Terrence Brooks off waivers from the Ravens just before the opener in 2016. Brooks played in 11 games but was primarily a special teams player. He played just three defensive snaps (but he did pull in his first career interception on that late bomb against the Giants in Week 16). The only reason Brooks got on the field in that game was because Watkins suffered a concussion.
While Brooks never really made it with Baltimore, the Ravens did draft him in the third round out of Florida State in 2014. That rookie year, he played 234 snaps before tearing his ACL. He played minimally in 2015 and was cut before last season began.
With a full offseason, Brooks ought to have a much better grasp of the Eagles' defense, and Watkins certainly didn't play well enough to be handed that third safety job again.
So while safety might seem like a secure position, it'll be one to watch this summer.