This much is certain: The Philadelphia Eagles are better off at safety now that, according to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, they've signed veteran Malcolm Jenkins to a three-year contract. But unless the Eagles plan on complementing that move with another major acquisition at safety, fans have reason to be disappointed.
Jenkins is barely a starting-caliber player. He's an upgrade over Nate Allen, who hasn't been re-signed, or Patrick Chung, who was released on Tuesday, but safety is the one spot at which the Eagles had to spend some cash in order to make a splash and that just didn't happen.
Actually, the worst part is that they did spend cash without making the splash. The deal is worth $5.5 million per year with $8.5 million guaranteed, per McLane, which is crazy when you consider that they probably could have had top-tier playmaker Jairus Byrd for only a few million dollars more.
The Eagles value Jenkins' versatility, which is understandable. The 26-year-old broke into the league as a corner, and he's able to cover inside and outside while also spending time in the box and rushing the quarterback. He also spent more time in the slot in 2013 than any other safety in football.
But versatility only takes you so far if you're lacking in talent, and that slot factoid is quite irrelevant when you consider that the Eagles already have a superb nickel cornerback in Brandon Boykin.
The facts are the facts. The Eagles, who ranked dead last in the NFL against the pass last year, desperately needed help in coverage at the safety position. That's a big reason why they've invested in a cover-oriented player at that position, but he simply hasn't been good enough.
When targeting Jenkins the last two seasons, opposing quarterbacks have posted an average passer rating of 96.8, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). In 2012, PFF graded him as the worst safety in football. In 2013, the same source found that he ranked second-to-last among all safeties with 1.6 yards allowed per cover snap and dead last at that position with one reception allowed per 12.7 cover snaps.
Coverage set aside, he was one of only three safeties to miss 20 or more tackles in 2013 and one of only nine to miss more than 15 in 2012.
|Missed tackles since 2012: Jenkins and the Eagles|
|Pro Football Focus|
That's easier to tolerate if a guy is a playmaker, but Jenkins has just six interceptions, 12 takeaways and 4.5 sacks in 71 games in nearly five full NFL seasons. And I say "nearly full" because he's never made it through a full NFL campaign.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, the Denver Broncos signed free-agent safety T.J. Ward to a contract worth $5.5 million per year, per Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. So even if the Eagles didn't want to fork over some extra cash for Byrd, it seems they could have had Ward for a similar price.
Ward might not be as versatile, and he might not be a prototypical cover safety—ESPN's Adam Caplan pointed out Tuesday that he "just doesn't fit what they need"—but that had better not be the sole reason the Eagles targeted Jenkins instead. Because Ward is simply a better player. That isn't a debate.
He was PFF's third-highest-rated safety in 2013, and although he was in coverage less often than Jenkins, he was still better than Jenkins in those situations. The Eagles could have signed him and forced him out of his element, or they could have brought him in as a box safety and added someone with versatility at a cheaper rate or in the draft.
Jenkins makes this team better, but Ward would have made it a lot better at a similar price. That's baffling.
This move would have made a lot more sense if it were part of a two-pronged investment at that position. As USA Today's Mike Garafolo points out, that's still a possibility. But Ward is in Denver, Byrd is visiting the Saints, per ESPN's Mike Triplett, and Mike Mitchell—whom yours truly thought was an ideal target—is signing with the Steelers, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
With Louis Delmas, Antoine Bethea and Donte Whitner also signed, starting options are becoming slim (as in, Chris Clemons or bust), which means there's a good chance Jenkins is the only starting-caliber safety the Eagles add before the draft.
A bad signing can still make your team better. That's the case here.