If nothing else, Eagles are safe at safety again

If nothing else, Eagles are safe at safety again

When was the last time the Philadelphia Eagles had two reliable (let alone competent) safeties in their defensive backfield? We have to go back to 2008, when future Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins and uber-solid Quintin Mikell were patrolling the secondary.

With the re-signing of Nate Allen to a one-year contract on Monday, it appears if nothing else the Eagles will have stability at the safety position again going forward. Allen joins free-agent addition Malcolm Jenkins as the probable starters in ’14, with second-year player Earl Wolff, special teams ace Chris Maragos and likely a player in May’s draft pushing for a spot.

For five seasons, Philly fans have been forced to endure the likes of Quintin Demps, Sean Jones, Macho Harris, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Jarrad Page, Kurt Coleman, Patrick Chung and Allen bereft of his confidence. Now all of a sudden, this appears to be as deep and talented as the position has been since Dawkins departed as a free agent himself.

Have the Birds found the next Weapon X? No. As it stands today, is safety an area of great strength? Let’s not get carried away.

At least defensive coordinator Bill Davis can work with this group.

There was some debate as to whether or not Allen was even going to make the team one year ago. The 2010 second-round pick out of South Florida was already chalked up as a firm bust by the time the new coaching staff arrived. At best, he was a charity case. At worst, he was retained because there was literally nobody else.

Allen was shaky the first few weeks of the ’13 campaign, but grew increasingly comfortable in Davis’ scheme as time wore on. Anecdotally, it’s hard to recall a specific play in the second half of the season where he was burned on a passing play down the field, while the four-year veteran demonstrated immense improvement as a tackler as well.

Allen finished with a career-high 82 tackles to go with 1.0 sack, one interception and one forced fumble. If that’s the 26-year-old’s ceiling, the Eagles could still stand to upgrade. For now, they can get by.

Supporters would point to the fact that Allen has played under four defensive coordinators in four years in the league. Davis himself was critical of the scope of responsibility the previous regime’s Wide-9 front placed on the safeties. It’s unclear how rehab from a torn patellar tendon suffered his rookie season impacted Allen in the past as well.

Meanwhile, Jenkins has arrived in Philadelphia to little fanfare. Fans coveted some of the more expensive and theoretically superior safeties in the free-agent market, so anything less was going to be greeted mildly.

And the fact is Jenkins does have an unspectacular resume. A first-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in ’09, the 26-year-old has registered just 4.5 sacks, six interceptions and six forced fumbles in 63 starts over a five-year career. Metrics site Pro Football Focus ranked Jenkins at or near the bottom of safeties in such areas as tackling, run-stopping and coverage for the ’13 season.

Those questionably reliable measures aside, Jenkins seems like a perfect for Davis’ scheme. He can play either safety position, which means he’s comfortable either in the box or dropping back into coverage. A converted cornerback, the Ohio State product can also cover wide receivers and tight ends man-to-man, which the Eagles will ask of their safeties.

While there were arguably better players available, Jenkins was a five-year starter in New Orleans. He helped the team win a Super Bowl in ’09 and was part of the No. 2 pass defense in the NFL last season. Signed to a three-year contract with $8.5 million guaranteed, it’s difficult to envision this being a complete backfire.

Perhaps most importantly, none of these moves prevent the Eagles from selecting a safety in the draft, not even in the first round. In fact, given the relatively short commitments to Allen and Jenkins, such an addition within the first two days of the draft is likely.

Wolff also looked as though he could be a potential starter during his rookie year. A fifth-round pick out of North Carolina State, he’s certainly still in the mix for a job, but there wasn’t enough tape that the team would feel comfortable going into this season with his name at the top of the depth chart.

A four-year veteran with zero career starts, Maragos appears to be here strictly for his special teams. However, he may have an opportunity to contribute more than he did coming from the Seattle Seahawks, where Pro Bowlers Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor were firmly entrenched as the starters.

It finally feels safe to say that we’re a long way from the days of desperately plugging in a Macho Harris, reaching for a Jaiquawn Jarrett, praying a Jarrad Page would take the right angle to the ball-carrier and wincing as a Patrick Chung took out his own teammates. By no means is the rebuild at safety complete, but at least it should be good enough to compete.

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

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USA Today Images

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

Tranquillo Barnetta is going home.

In an abrupt announcement on Tuesday, the Union declared that the skillful Swiss attacking midfielder will not renew his contract with the club and will return to Switzerland following the 2016 season to play for his hometown club, FC St. Gallen.

According to MLS Players Union, Barnetta’s exit will free the Union of $687,500 next season.

“The entire soccer community here was so welcoming and I’m so thankful to everyone at Philadelphia Union for making me feel so appreciated,” Barnetta said. “Playing in front of my friends and family and making plans for life at the end of my career where I want to live is a force I can’t resist.”

Although the timing of the announcement is a surprise, the move isn’t one. With Alejandro Bedoya now in the mix, currently playing out of position in a box-to-box midfield role, the Union will replace Barnetta with Bedoya at the center attacking midfield spot. It’s a position that Bedoya is comfortable in, playing there with his previous club, FC Nantes.

Bedoya played for the injured Barnetta in the center midfield spot last Saturday and scored his first goal of the season in a 1-1 draw with Toronto FC.

But even with Bedoya ready to take over, the Union will miss Barnetta. Since joining the Union in 2015, Barnetta, 31, has been one of the better possession playmakers in MLS, scoring six goals and seven assists in 37 games.

“Tranquillo has been a key piece in what we’re trying to build here in Philadelphia but we appreciate his decision to return to Switzerland,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, whose club has three matches left in the 2016 season, and will likely make the playoffs. “We look forward to continuing to push for the postseason.”

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

The Eagles are 3-0. They’re alone atop the NFC East and have been the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.

Doug Pederson’s message to his team: You haven’t done anything yet.

Although the Eagles are riding high, Pederson doesn’t want his team to change its outlook or hard work. That’s what teams have to worry about once they’ve found some success.

“The biggest thing is complacency,” Pederson said Monday. “You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are.

“But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, ‘Hey, we're back to work. We're 0-0. This is Game 1 and let's go.’ That's just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that's a few weeks down the road. That's what you are trying to get to. But you can't get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It's my job to keep them focused that way.”

Being 3-0 (they’re one of five 3-0 teams) gives the Eagles a head start, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. This is the ninth 3-0 start in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs just five times in the previous eight. And they recently missed the playoffs after starting 3-0 in 2014 under Chip Kelly.

In NFL history (before this season), there have been 276 teams to start with 3-0 records. Of them, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs.

“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time,” Pederson said. “That's the way this business goes. You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can't get too high, can't get too low. Approach it the same. Like I mentioned earlier, you can't substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”

While the Week 4 bye comes pretty early, the Eagles have a couple key players who will use the time to get healthy. And Connor Barwin pointed out that the bye is coming about closer to the halfway point between when the team started its tough training camp and the end of the season.

Pederson told his players to use the week to get away from football and free their minds. Meanwhile, Pederson and his coaches will use the extra time to self-scout and prepare for the final 13 games of the regular season.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback who was thrust into action a week before the opener, expectations outside (and perhaps inside) the building were tempered.

The Eagles aren’t an underdog anymore.

“We kind of enjoyed flying under the radar, but obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing different. We’ll keep our preparation the same. We’ll stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day and understand what’s gotten us to 3-0.”

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