Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles surrendered a franchise-worst 33 passing touchdowns. The team allowed at least 20 points in 13 games, including the final 11 contests. Talented cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were repeatedly torched on passing downs, while safeties Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman looked exposed all season.
Chip Kelly brought in a quartet of veteran defensive backs via free agency, signing corners Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher and safeties Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung. It seemed likely all four would start or at least push for serious playing time immediately.
Problems have arisen already, though.
Williams apparently seems more interested in his personal life than football—which becomes a concern when the Eagles have a new head coach implementing a new defense with which Williams is not familiar.
Phillips is a former first-round pick with veteran experience at safety, but he’s already struggling with knee injuries. Phillips has missed practices rehabbing his surgically repaired knee. He missed nine games last season and 14 in 2009 with the same injury.
When Phillips did play in 2011, he recorded four interceptions, 11 passes defensed and 63 tackles. He played a key role in the New York Giants’ Super Bowl title, and the Eagles gave him a low-risk, one-year deal.
Chung is being counted on to start, although he did fall out of favor with Bill Belichick in New England. The Patriots elected not to re-sign Chung, which means he will compete for a starting spot in Philadelphia. Last year’s starters, Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, are in the mix, along with fifth-round rookie, Earl Wolff.
That’s an adequate but unspectacular group, which could be boosted with the addition of free-agent safety Quintin Mikell. Mikell played for the St. Louis Rams last season, turning in a terrific season even at the age of 32.
Mikell rated as the fifth best safety in the NFL last year, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Mikell is a terrific run-stopper and an equally effective pass-rusher. He had 75 tackles, four forced fumbles, three sacks and nine quarterback pressures.
If Phillips misses time or has to start the season on the PUP list due to his knee problems, Mikell would be an outstanding complement to Chung. Chung is a superior player in coverage, while Mikell is an in-the-box safety.
The Eagles could probably get Mikell cheap.
They never should have let him go after 2010. Since then, Philly fans have seen the likes of Allen, Coleman, Macho Harris, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Colt Anderson play the safety position. None has come close to filling the void left from Mikell and Brian Dawkins.
There had been speculation that the Rams will re-sign Mikell, according to Marc Sessler of NFL.com. However, the Rams then drafted USC safety T.J. McDonald, who plays a similar style of football to Mikell. Both are in-the-box safeties who are great against the run. Drafting McDonald likely means they won’t bring back Mikell.
Mikell’s age isn’t intriguing for a team looking to get younger and rebuild, but he can still play.
A team should be able to sign him to a one-year, incentive-laden deal at $3-4 million. That’s extremely reasonable for the Eagles. And if Phillips continues to miss time, it’s an option the team should make.