Jenkins a safety net for Eagles

ASSOCIATED PRESS Safety Malcolm Jenkins had six career interceptions in 71 games with Saints.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Safety Malcolm Jenkins had six career interceptions in 71 games with Saints.
Posted: March 13, 2014

THE SECRET to success in NFL free-agency shopping is not only getting good players, but getting the right players.

There are a lot of reasons why free agents who were very good with one team turn out to be huge disappointments with another. Sometimes, it's the money. A bigger paycheck can make players soft, lazy, satisfied. See: NBA, MLB.

Sometimes, it's injuries.

But much of the time, it's because the player just isn't a good scheme-fit for his new team's offense or defense. A power-blocking offensive tackle who can't adapt to a zone-blocking scheme. An off-corner who can't play press-man. A big-hitting safety with no ball skills.

You would think NFL coaches and personnel people would know a guy isn't a good scheme-fit just by looking at his tape. But there are a surprisingly large number of dumb people in the league.

"Seattle does a terrific job of recognizing system-fit and what role that guy will play," former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian was saying last week. "And they do a good job of allocating their money. And that's what you've got to do in free agency.

"You've got to recognize where the player fits, what he will do. Does he fit your system? Is he the kind of player who can step right in and play well in your system? One size does not fit all.

"People are getting better at that. The trend is that more and more people are being pretty selective in who they pursue, recognizing that system-fit is a key thing."

System-fit was a big reason the Eagles signed safety Malcolm Jenkins an hour into the free-agency signing period yesterday and took a rain check on T.J. Ward and Jairus Byrd.

Yeah, money had more than a little something to do with it too. But that's hardly a bad thing when the plan is to use the extra cap space to address other positional needs and eventually re-sign your top young players to second deals.

The Eagles signed the 26-year-old Jenkins to a 3-year, deal worth as much $16.25 million with incentives that includes just $8.5 million in guarantees. Ward signed a 4-year, $28 million deal with the Broncos with $14 million in guaranteed money.

Byrd, who initially was seeking a $9 million-a-year deal, figures to get at least that much in guarantees from the Saints or whatever team he signs with.

Signing Ward never made much sense for the Eagles. The guy is a box safety whose strength is playing the run, not the pass. That's fine in a scheme that plays a lot of single-high safety and cares a whole lot about stopping the run. But Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis prefers interchangeable safeties that can cover first and play the run second.

"The most important job for us as a personnel staff is to get the players that fit our scheme, that can [handle the] responsibilities our coaches are asking for," general manager Howie Roseman said 2 weeks ago at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

"Guys that may be highly rated by other teams may not be factors for us because they don't fit [our scheme]."

Unlike Ward, Byrd would've fit the Eagles' scheme. He has better ball skills than Jenkins - 22 interceptions in 73 games compared to Jenkins' six in 71. And if both had the same price tag, the Eagles almost certainly would've made Byrd their No. 1 safety target. But they didn't.

The Eagles had to make a judgment call on whether Byrd was worth what he was asking and how much cap space they were willing to commit to the safety position.

"You're not going to have superstars at every position," Roseman said. "But you don't want weaknesses either. You have to be disciplined and you have to have a walkaway number, and we're pretty disciplined about that."

The 6-0, 200-pound Jenkins may not have the ball skills that Byrd has, but he does give Davis a little more positional versatility than Byrd.

Jenkins was a cornerback at Ohio State and played outside his first year in the league with the Saints before being moved to safety. He has faster watch speed than Byrd and can cover receivers and pass-catching tight ends in the slot.

His tackling has left a lot to be desired. According to Pro Football Focus, he has had 45 missed tackles over the past three seasons, more than any other safety in the league.

But he should get better in that department under Davis, who turned the Eagles into a pretty good tackling team by the end of last season. Safety Nate Allen, who had 13 missed tackles in '12, had just seven last year.

I don't know if Jenkins will intercept more passes than Byrd next season. I don't know if he'll ever go to a Pro Bowl with the Eagles.

What I do know is that his signing made the defense better. How much better, we'll just have to wait and see.


On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

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