NFL Nation: Malcolm Jenkins

METAIRIE, La. -- It's painfully obvious that the New Orleans Saints' offseason moves haven't panned out. And when a season implodes like this, it's natural to go back and question every decision.

But breaking them down individually, it's still hard to slam a single one of them.

Here's a look at all the major moves the Saints made, and how they've impacted this 5-8 season:

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Jenkins
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsOne player who has been missed on the Saints' roster this season is safety Malcolm Jenkins.
Letting go of Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper, Jabari Greer and Malcolm Jenkins: This is the most popular topic right now, with the Saints' veteran leaders lamenting that this team needs more maturity and professionalism.

Clearly, losing all these guys has had some intangible effect. But there's not a single player in that group whom anyone expected the Saints to keep. Greer is the one they miss most on the field, but he had to retire because of a knee injury. Jenkins is the only one still playing at a high level, but he wasn't playing at that level in recent years.

Would some of those veterans have provided a calming influence during the early turmoil? Perhaps. Then again, they were all around in 2012, when the Saints' defense went through a similar implosion.

The biggest issue with the Saints' new roster makeup is that they were counting on a lot of young, breakout players to continue to grow and develop as stars and leaders -- and they haven't.

We're seeing one of those "sophomore slump" or "Super Bowl hangover" type of seasons with the defense. Something like what veteran offensive tackle Zach Strief was alluding to when he said this team needs to learn it can't just show up and expect to win.

They all work hard and care about improving. But one of those young underachievers, safety Kenny Vaccaro, has been honest about wondering why he has regressed, saying he needs to "get that dog back" and admitting he felt like there were a "lot of individual goals" in the secondary early in the season before they started to develop better together.

I still like the core leadership going forward with Keenan Lewis, Curtis Lofton, Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette, Jairus Byrd, Vaccaro and Akiem Hicks. But as I wrote when I broke down the Saints' salary-cap constraints, they absolutely need more from some of those guys -- because they're all-in on them.

Signing Byrd: New Orleans' megadeal for the free-agent safety was their biggest, boldest move -- and it has been a colossal disappointment so far. Byrd played poorly along with the rest of the defense for four weeks, then he suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice.

Byrd
The move was widely applauded when Byrd signed, despite the hefty price tag of $54 million over six years. And the reasoning behind it was sound (heck, the Saints would pay double right now for a defender who could play like Byrd was playing in Buffalo).

Byrd seemed to be exactly what a young, rising defense was missing -- a proven playmaker with a knack for forcing turnovers and forcing quarterbacks to throw elsewhere. His biggest struggle during the first four weeks was missing open-field tackles -- partly because there were too many opponents running free in the open field in the first place.

If the entire defense can get its act together, Byrd can still wind up being a building block for the future at age 28. He'd better.

Sproles
Trading Darren Sproles: This was the only move I questioned at the time -- but I always understood the reasoning, with the Saints overloaded at running back. Sure enough, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson have bloomed in part because of Sproles' departure.

Sproles isn't what the Saints' offense is missing this season. The run game and the short passing game are the only things actually working for New Orleans on a consistent basis. Entering this week, they led the NFL in first downs, completion percentage and third-down conversion rate.

One other thing worth noting: As explosive as Sproles was for Philadelphia early in the season, he has gone quiet. He's averaging just 35 yards from scrimmage per game since Week 2.

Trading up for Brandin Cooks: What the Saints' offense has lacked is a dynamic downfield passing game. Receivers such as Marques Colston and Robert Meachem are showing signs of significant decline. So I applaud the decision to trade up for Cooks in the draft's first round, even more than I did at the time. It's a shame his season ended early because of a thumb injury, but I like his chances to be a big part of the offense going forward.

[+] EnlargeBrandin Cooks
AP Photo/Bill HaberSaints rookie WR Brandin Cooks had 53 receptions for 550 yards and three touchdowns this season.
Could the Saints have used a cornerback in Round 1 instead? Maybe. But you can't fill all your needs in the draft, and Cooks filled a crucial one.

Other draft picks: This has been an obvious flop so far. Second-round cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste has barely seen the field. It's too early to judge that pick since he was always painted as a raw, long-term project. But his inactivity has stood out since the Saints have had such a desperate need for help at corner this season.

Fourth-round linebacker Khairi Fortt has already been cut -- reportedly after missing two team meetings. And the jury's still out on the later-round picks and free-agent class. An aging team with salary-cap constraints needs better out of its draft class.

Re-signing Jimmy Graham: This was the biggest no-brainer of all. I considered four years and $40 million a bargain for one of the game's most productive playmakers. The Saints would have been nuts to let him go.

However, they clearly need even more than they've gotten out of him this season. Graham has had a few great moments, a few bad moments (especially last week) and a lot of in-between. His season has been a lot like Drew Brees' season -- good, but the Saints need greatness every week.

Releasing Lance Moore: Maybe the Saints could use Moore since their downfield passing game has been shaky, and he was so reliable for so long. But they have decent depth, so he would have been more like a fourth receiver -- just as he is in Pittsburgh.

Signing Champ Bailey/cutting Champ Bailey: I don't blame the Saints for signing the future Hall of Famer, since they invested extremely little on him. The bigger surprise in hindsight is that they decided they were better off without him. With Bailey, Patrick Robinson and Corey White all disappointing this season, perhaps the Saints should have invested more at cornerback instead of going all-in at safety.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Safety Roman Harper said his fast start with his new team, the Carolina Panthers, had “nothing to do with” trying to prove the New Orleans Saints wrong for letting him go.

But Harper, 31, admitted that he’s felt rejuvenated by being the "good-looking girl you see walking across the street" instead of the "old girlfriend."

[+] EnlargeRoman Harper
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsAfter eight seasons in New Orleans, Roman Harper will be facing his former team for the first time.
“My biggest thing is it’s just a different thing. It’s a different vibe, a different system. You’re learning all over again. You’re really focusing on the little things and the little details where before you felt like you knew it all because you’ve been in the same system for so long,” said Harper, who spent eight years with the Saints after being drafted in the second round out of Alabama in 2006. “Not only that, even the players and coaches, it’s all fresh. You’re a new face. You’re no longer stale to them. You’re not like the old girlfriend. You’re like the good-looking girl you see walking across the street. That’s what it’s about right now, and I’m excited to be here. It’s been great. It’s been very good.”

Harper, who will face his former team for the first time tonight in Carolina, won a Super Bowl ring and earned two Pro Bowl invites with the Saints, having his best years as an attacking blitzer under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from 2009-11.

But Harper said he saw the writing on the wall when the Saints drafted safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round last year.

“They drafted Kenny in the first round and they want to see him play. I think at the end of the day that’s kind of what it was. I never really felt like he beat me out or anything like that,” said Harper, whose cause wasn’t helped by the fact that he missed seven games with a knee injury last year and was due $3.15 million this year. “It’s the business. They want to see these guys play. They want to see their guys have success. There are no hard feelings, it’s just part of it. I was ready to move on and they were too.”

Harper’s former teammates raved this week about what a good person he was -- including the “band of brothers” that have been together since the Millsaps training camp days of 2006, as Drew Brees recalled, and including the younger players who have come since. Vaccaro, running back Mark Ingram (a fellow Alabama product) and tight end Jimmy Graham (a longtime practice matchup) all described him as a valued mentor.

Vaccaro, in fact, made a point to say to the New Orleans Advocate that Harper was much more welcoming to him than fellow former veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins was in that awkward relationship between veteran and newcomers fighting for snaps.

“It was a relief to be replacing someone like Roman,” Vaccaro told The Advocate. “It’s always tougher when they’re not helping you -- there’s tension, you feel awkward all the time. ... He was real selfless.”

That selflessness will be replaced by competing goals tonight, when Ingram said he’ll gladly lower a shoulder into his friend and Graham said he’ll try to make sure Harper’s personal scouting reports are obsolete.

Harper, who has continued to play primarily as an in-the-box safety who will cover tight ends on occasion, intercepted three passes in the Panthers’ first six games. That was a stunner for those who followed Harper in New Orleans, since interceptions were always admittedly his biggest shortcoming (he had seven in eight years).

Harper has battled inconsistency, though, along with a Panthers defense that ranks 29th in the NFL in defensive efficiency, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Harper said he doesn’t think reuniting with the Saints will feel “really weird” until he returns to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome later this season. For now, it will just be friendly handshakes and a business meeting.

Saints coach Sean Payton usually downplays meetings with former players or coaches since he says they’re so commonplace on a weekly basis. But in this case, he stressed that Harper was “one of the centerpieces” of the Saints’ rise that began in ’06.

“We were just talking in the walk-through [Tuesday], there’s a play where we have [Marques] Colston possibly blocking Harper, running behind Zach [Strief] and Jahri [Evans]. There’s a lot of ’06 draft class in that pile,” Payton said. “He’s a great guy, has been a great player and been a part of all the things that we built. And you miss seeing his parents, who come to every game. So I’m happy for him and really excited to see he’s doing well.”
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

 NFL Nation's Phil Sheridan examines the three biggest issues facing the Philadelphia Eagles heading into training camp.

Can Nick Foles repeat, even improve on, his 2013 success? A year ago, Foles went into camp trailing Michael Vick in the starting quarterback competition that Vick eventually won. After leading the NFL in passer rating, throwing 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions, Foles has a pretty high bar to clear in his first full season as a starter. It is perfectly reasonable to expect Foles to be further from perfect than he was in 2013. But Foles can do that while still being very productive. If he throws a few more interceptions by taking some risks that also produce more touchdowns or big plays, the Eagles can live with that. Foles could even raise his game to an even higher level. It won't be easy, but with a coach like Chip Kelly, it's not out of the question, either. Foles looked very sharp -- accurate and confident -- during June practices. He seems buoyed, not intimidated or cowed, by being the clear No. 1 QB ahead of Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley. Training camp and the preseason will give everyone a chance to see whether he's making progress or heading toward a major regression. Best guess: Foles will be fine. Not otherworldly, but just fine.

Who will replace DeSean Jackson's production? That became the Eagles' most urgent question after Kelly decided to part ways with the guy who caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. Since we have no evidence Kelly is a madman, we have to conclude the coach had reason to believe he could get Jackson's production from other players. Jeremy Maclin was never the big-play guy that Jackson was, but he is a solid receiver who is hugely motivated to prove he can excel after a second ACL tear. Riley Cooper may come back to the pack a bit after his breakout 2013 season, but he also might rise to the occasion after experiencing success. The Eagles' additions are intriguing. Darren Sproles figures to be as versatile and unpredictable under Kelly as he was in New Orleans for Sean Payton. Second-round draft pick Jordan Matthews had people at organized team activities comparing his physique to that of Terrell Owens and could be a star in the future. Meanwhile, tight end Zach Ertz is expected to take that key second-season leap in production and reliability. Would the Eagles have been better with Jackson? Probably. Can they be as successful with strong seasons from Maclin, Sproles, Matthews, Cooper and Ertz? Kelly clearly thinks so.

Did the Eagles do enough to improve their defense? Looked at one way, the answer seems like a big "no." The Eagles didn't go out and sign a star defensive back or draft an elite, quarterback-eating pass-rusher. It would be easier to sell this defense if they had. What the Eagles are counting on is an across-the-board rise in experience and comfort in Bill Davis' defense. That isn't as glittery as marquee free agents or high draft picks, but it may prove to be more reliable than either of those. And there is some foundation for hope. The Eagles' defense really did improve over the course of the 2013 season. It looked a lot better in December than in September, and that is why the Eagles may have more new starters on offense than on defense. The front seven looks like it will be the same as it was at the end of 2013. First-round pick Marcus Smith will play as he proves he's ready, but there is no reason to rush him when Trent Cole is playing as well as he did last season. Malcolm Jenkins is a smart and reliable safety, and that should help the secondary immeasurably. The best guess is the starting cornerbacks return. If not, it will be because Nolan Carroll shows that he is better than one of them.

Overall, the Eagles added a bunch of players who will push last year's starters. If they're better, they'll see the field. If not, it will mean the incumbents have fended off the challenge. Either way, the defense should be better.
PHILADELPHIA -- You learn more about what an NFL team thinks from what it does than from what it says.

The Philadelphia Eagles know they need to improve their defense if they’re going to repeat as NFC East champions and make more noise in the postseason. The Eagles allowed more passing yards per game than any team in the NFL in 2013. That is an obvious area to address.

“I think we can be better than 32 [ranked],” cornerback Cary Williams said. “I think we’re going to be much improved from last season.”

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia's Cary Williams
AP Photo/Michael PerezCary Williams and the Eagles won the NFC East in 2013 despite allowing the most passing yards per game in the NFL.
The Eagles drafted outside linebacker Marcus Smith of Louisville in the first round of last month’s draft. But there’s a real chance Smith won’t start ahead of Trent Cole right away. Indeed, the only definite new starter will be former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins. During OTA practices the past two weeks, 10 of the 11 starters from the end of last year were still at the top of the depth chart.

And that’s how you know what coach Chip Kelly, GM Howie Roseman and defensive coordinator Bill Davis really think. If they believed the defense was simply devoid of talent, they would have done more in free agency to add some. Instead, they appear convinced that it’s more important for the current players to grow within Davis’ 3-4 defensive scheme than to shuffle personnel.

“Overall, the whole defense has grown because we’re more comfortable with what we’re doing,” inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans said.

Last year, Ryans was adjusting to the 3-4 after playing middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. He wound up playing more snaps than any inside linebacker in the NFL in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s because Ryans stayed healthy, but also because Davis desperately needed his awareness and knowledge on the field on every down.

Ryans will likely carry just as heavy a burden in 2014. But the addition of Jenkins will help ease the strain a bit. Jenkins replaces Patrick Chung, who was hampered by injury last year, and rookie Earl Wolff, who replaced Chung as a starter.

“Malcolm is going to be the leader in the back end,” Ryans said. “He’s a guy who gets the guys in the right position. He can make the plays you want to make. He’s a great addition to our secondary.”

That should help the entire secondary play as a cohesive unit. So should some more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Eagles began to identify and develop strong players in their front seven last season. That process should continue and bear fruit in 2014.

Defensive end Cedric Thornton will begin this season as a starter rather than as a curiosity. Bennie Logan will be the nose tackle. Cole will be in his second season as a linebacker after spending 2013 making the transition from defensive end. Ryans, Cole, Connor Barwin and Mychal Kendricks should all be better after playing together for a full season.

Best of all, the defense experienced some success in that first year. The Eagles finished strong, earning the division title with a victory in Dallas in Week 17. Their first-round playoff loss to New Orleans showed them exactly where they need to get better.

“We understand what is expected from us,” Williams said. “We’re going to continue to build off what we did last year. I think we’re on the right path.”

Kelly, Roseman and Davis think the same thing. Their actions this offseason say so.

Eagles offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Philadelphia Eagles' offseason moves.

Best move: The Eagles have lacked a hard-hitting safety since Brian Dawkins left via free agency after the 2008 season. They went out and signed free agent Malcolm Jenkins from the New Orleans Saints. Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward were available, but Jenkins looks to be a perfect fit in the Eagles’ defensive scheme. Jenkins can cover speedy wide receivers, intercept passes and make the big hit. Jenkins’ skills will allow the cornerbacks more freedom, and the entire defense will reap the benefits.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Smith
Matt Slocum/AP PhotoTeam president Don Smolenski (left) and coach Chip Kelly present the Eagles' newest LB, Marcus Smith.
Riskiest move: Drafting Louisville linebacker Marcus Smith with the No. 26 pick in the first round has to be questioned. The Eagles easily could have gotten Smith in the second round and possibly later. Smith is a quality pass-rusher who registered 14.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss as a senior. Can he become a dangerous player in the NFL? Was he worth a first-round pick? Those questions will soon be answered. This much is known: The Eagles needed another quality pass-rusher.

Most surprising move: It has to be the release of three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson. The Eagles must find a way to replace Jackson’s 82 receptions, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns, not to mention his downfield speed. While the Eagles selected Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews in the second round and Oregon’s Josh Huff in the third round, they’re not at Jackson’s level. If the Eagles get off to a slow start, the decision to cut Jackson will become even more magnified.

Under-the-radar move: Special teams was a problem area last season, but the Eagles recognized it with a number of moves in the offseason. Adding cornerback Nolan Carroll, safety Chris Maragos and linebacker Bryan Braman didn’t light up the headlines, but they’re all quality special-teams players who will automatically enhance that unit. The Eagles’ draft class is unique because the players all have special-teams skills. Look for the Eagles to be much-improved on special teams in 2014.

Ryans says additions can amp up Eagles' D

May, 4, 2014
May 4
8:00
AM ET
DeMeco Ryans saw a Philadelphia Eagles defense which improved steadily throughout last season.

Ryans
But as the 2014 season inches, the veteran linebacker sees a defense that can get even better.

“Consistently we weren't good on first down, that put us behind the ball a lot,” Ryans told CSNPhilly.com. “I look at that, and I look at the film, and I see we can be so much further along on small details [within our scheme] the second time around.”

The Eagles managed 31 takeaways, which ranked tied for second in the NFC, and they went through a terrific nine-game stint where they allowed 21 or fewer points.

In the offseason, the Eagles made some additions, including safety Malcolm Jenkins to shore up the secondary.

“In the offseason you knew they'd make some changes,” Ryans said. “I feel like we got another good safety in Jenkins. ... He's a vocal guy and he's a playmaker.”

Ryans was a playmaker last season with 111 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions.

“I felt really good," Ryans said. "Health-wise, probably one of the best seasons I've had.”
Malcolm Jenkins only echoed what others have said about Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. And the new Philadelphia Eagles safety didn't question Griffin's game, but, rather his ability to stay healthy. At this point, it's a fair topic. Of course, maybe it's not one a player new to the division might want to address. But then again, it was tame compared to his thoughts on the Dallas defense.

Jenkins
When Jenkins appeared on the NFL Network, he discussed the other three teams in the NFC East. He took a shot at Dallas' defense, as well as the New York Giants' ability to protect Eli Manning. Here's what he had to say about Griffin:
"I think the biggest thing we're going to see is [Robert Griffin III] take that next step as far as the cerebral approach to the game. But the biggest concern I have with RG3 is, will he protect himself? And that's a thing he hasn't done early in his career.

"He scrambles, he gets those extra yards, he makes those throws out of the pocket, but takes a lot of unnecessary hits. We've seen the toll that has had on him.

“Last year he really wasn't himself, still trying to recover from that injury. Those kind of hits, when you talk about a QB, it's all about accountability and availability. He's very very accountable, but availability is going to be an issue if he continues to play the style of football that he's used to."

Jenkins isn't the first opponent to wonder about Griffin's durability or his health. In the past year, several players did just that, including Dallas corner Brandon Carr, San Francisco linebacker Ahmad Brooks and New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle among them.

But Jenkins is new to the division and his yapping does two things: endear him to Eagles beat reporters and mark him as a target for other teams. With Griffin, there's only one way to prove Jenkins and many others wrong. He needs to stay healthy; it's not about one game or one throw, it's about a season and then a string of them. And Jenkins didn't knock his game, just questioned his durability.

Dallas' defense might feel a little differently about Jenkins. But when a defense ends the season ranked 32nd in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed, and then loses its best pass-rushers (Jason Hatcher, DeMarcus Ware), well, it leaves little room for anything but criticism. So here's what Jenkins said:
“A couple years ago, their scapegoat was Rob Ryan, and they got rid of him, and he was the cause of all their problems. He went to New Orleans and took the worst defense in NFL history and turned them into a top 5 defense. So he couldn't have been the problem.

“And then you look at this year, I had the best seat in the house when I watched the Saints get 40 first downs in one game. Forty. In one game. So it must be the players.”

And then Eli Manning was the topic. Again, good, honest stuff.
"I think the problem is he was sacked 39 times, a career high last year. If that continues, Eli's best days are behind him. If they can protect him, then maybe, but it doesn't look like it."

When Jenkins played for Ohio State (my alma mater, as you might know), I preferred that he keep quiet. Typically his game spoke volumes. In the NFL, he's been up and down, but there's no doubt he now has a role as a future analyst. As a reporter, I'll never knock a guy for giving an honest opinion. Sort of helps the job, you know?

For Malcolm Jenkins, versatility is key

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
11:00
AM ET
The Philadelphia Eagles could have gone a variety of ways at safety when free agency opened.

Jenkins
There was Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward, and both players certainly would have helped immensely. The Eagles decided to sign Malcolm Jenkins to a three-year deal worth a reported $16.25 million.

The addition of Jenkins clearly strengthened the Eagles’ secondary. Jenkins was a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints in 2009, No. 14 overall. His new role will be helping to anchor a secondary, which needed an upgrade.

Safe to say that Jenkins is ready.

“I'm a football junkie,” Jenkins told reporters after being signed by the Eagles. “I can be the quarterback of the defense. When I have the freedom to move around and not be stagnant, that's when I have my best years. I'm not your typical safety. I'm more of that hybrid that the league is moving to with the bigger tight ends, the faster tight ends. You need guys who can be versatile.”

Jenkins’ versatility will be helpful since he has the ability to play deep, in the slot or even cover the tight end. This will allow defensive coordinator Bill Davis to disguise some coverages and blitz schemes.

More than just X’s and O’s, Jenkins was fascinated by coach Chip Kelly and how he turned around the Eagles in just one season. Jenkins wanted to be a part of the transformation.

“I think even before we played them, I think to everybody it was apparent by Week 4 or 5 that there was something different about this team with Chip Kelly, and it caught the attention of a lot of people,” Jenkins told reporters. “So that was my first impression was that he knows how to win, he knows what he’s going to win with and they’re trying to get players that will fit his scheme. Not necessarily the best players, but players that will buy in to what he’s selling. I’ve been a part of winning teams before and that’s where it starts. It starts with good leadership from the top down.”

Jenkins had 68 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions for the Saints last season.

Byrd and Ward may have been better options, but Jenkins is certainly a major improvement.
The Philadelphia Eagles were active in keeping their own players, such as Jeremy Maclin, Jason Kelce and Riley Cooper. They were active in signing free agents, such as safety Malcolm Jenkins, and trading for running back Darren Sproles.

But the biggest move was cutting wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who stayed in the NFC East by signing with the Washington Redskins.

In ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's Grade A draft, he plays general manager for the Eagles, not Howie Roseman or Chip Kelly. What would Mel do as GM?

Find out here. Insider

So far the Philadelphia Eagles have re-signed key their own players, such as Jason Kelce, Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin and Nate Allen, and added pieces like Malcolm Jenkins and Nolan Carroll.

They have not, however, added any pieces to help the pass rush.

[+] EnlargeTrent Cole
AP Photo/Michael PerezTrent Cole led the Eagles in sacks last season, but the team's pass rush could use reinforcements.
The Eagles recorded 37 sacks in 2013, which ranked 20th in the NFL. Trent Cole led the team with eight sacks. Connor Barwin had five and three players -- DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry -- had four apiece.


"It's hard to find pass rushers, especially on the open market," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said in this Philadelphia Daily News story. "There aren't a lot of teams letting them go. And then you look at the draft and where those guys go, they go high.

"Certainly, you want to continue to add pass rushers. But we feel we have some guys we think can rush the passer and fit what we're doing at the outside linebacker position."

Philadelphia had interest in DeMarcus Ware, and the Cowboys were not keen on possibly seeing their all-time leader in sacks twice a year, but the Denver Broncos swooped in with an offer Ware could not refuse ($20 million guaranteed).

In free agency, Shaun Phillips has 3-4 experience from his time with the San Diego Chargers, but the pickings are thin.

As the Eagles move into their second year in the 3-4 scheme, they will have a better feel for what they want in an outside linebacker. Projecting a college defensive end to outside linebacker in a 3-4 is never easy, but it is something the Pittsburgh Steelers have excelled at for years.

The two best in this year's draft, Buffalo's Khalil Mack and UCLA's Anthony Barr, figure to be gone by the time the Eagles pick in the first round.

In a division with quarterbacks such as Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III, finding pass rushers is more important than pass defenders.

Free-agency review: Eagles

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
10:55
AM ET
Jenkins
Most significant signing: Considering the struggles at safety the past couple of seasons, Malcolm Jenkins has to be the most significant signing. Jenkins is coming off a strong season, but has been inconsistent in the past. He might not be a Pro Bowler, but he's a definite upgrade over what Philadelphia has had of late. His versatility -- he's a former college corner -- is a big plus.

Most significant loss: The Eagles haven't had a significant loss. One free agent who left was backup defensive end Clifton Geathers, who signed with Washington. But that's hardly significant -- for either team. Quarterback Michael Vick hasn't drawn a lot of attention in free agency, which suggests many teams agree with the Eagles that his career is at, or very near, the end.

Sproles
Biggest surprise: The trade for running back Darren Sproles. Had New Orleans just cut Sproles, it's possible the Eagles would have lost out on him. And it's not as if he was a strong need. But Sproles was a terrific weapon to add for this offense because of his versatility -- he can line up anywhere and catch passes. His presence also means the Eagles could be creative in how they deal with other players -- a trade to recoup some draft picks perhaps? Or it could just mean they have another player defenses must worry about. He might not be the same as he was three years ago, but the Eagles don't need Sproles to be that dynamic given who else they have on the roster.

What's next? The Eagles still need more help on defense, even after also signing cornerback Nolan Carroll. The secondary in particular could be strengthened more -- perhaps with strong safety Calvin Pryor in the draft? The Eagles have added depth and key special teams players. They need to find a few players to develop into starters in the draft.
IRVING, Texas -- About three days into free agency and the Dallas Cowboys are not a better team today than they were on Monday.

They cut DeMarcus Ware. They cut Miles Austin. They have signed two defensive linemen in Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain that figure to be rotation parts, not cornerstone pieces.

Meanwhile elsewhere in the NFC East …

The Philadelphia Eagles have added Malcom Jenkins and Noland Carroll and traded for Darren Sproles. The Eagles also did some nice special teams' shopping with Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman and also re-signed their punter, Donnie Jones.

The New York Giants added a piece to their offensive line in Geoff Schwartz and brought in running back Rashad Jennings. The key move, however, was re-signing linebacker Jon Beason. They backed out of a deal with O'Brien Schofield.

The Washington Redskins have added wide receiver Andre Roberts, guard Shawn Lauvao and linebacker/special teamer Adam Hayward. Bruce Campbell is a low-risk help to the offensive line.

Too often we get caught up in the splashes in free agency only to see them not live up to the billing down the road.

Before free agency started Stephen Jones said the Cowboys would be efficient with their spending in free agency. To see them sit back and wait should not be surprising, but that doesn't mean fans can't be aggravated.

There are good players still to be had. The Cowboys could still re-sign Jason Hatcher or add Henry Melton. While they can afford both, I don't think signing both would make sense. They could keep Anthony Spencer and hope his repaired knee comes around. They could take fliers on some of the bigger names you want if those prices come down as free agency rolls along.

As maddening as the 8-8 finishes have been, the Cowboys have been the only team in the NFC East to compete for a division title the last three years. It's a hollow accomplishment for sure, especially when stacked up against the franchise's history, but spending for spending sake is not the best solution.

There is a plan and it has to be more than Mincey and McClain, right?
Malcolm Jenkins has heard the criticism. Playing for New Orleans in 2012, Jenkins was one of three safeties in the NFL to miss more than 20 tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. Last season, the former first-round draft pick was one of nine safeties to miss more than 15.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans Malcolm Jenkins
Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsMalcolm Jenkins (27), whose tackling skills leave a lot to be desired, insists that won't be a problem in Philadelphia.
Jenkins gets it. He played cornerback at Ohio State. The Saints drafted him 14th overall in 2009 to play cornerback. He transitioned to safety in 2010 only because Darren Sharper was injured.

Tackling isn't his strong suit.

"The biggest thing I need to work on: tackling," Jenkins said Wednesday night after meeting his new coach, Chip Kelly, for the first time at the Philadelphia Eagles' South Philadelphia training complex.

But, Jenkins added, "I don't see that as a problem" moving forward.

The Eagles should hope not.

A two-time defensive captain in New Orleans, Jenkins said that the Eagles sold him on the fact that they want him to be a leader on the defense. Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis want Jenkins to be the voice of the secondary on the field. They want him to be versatile, to blitz and to cover. And, Jenkins said, they like the fact that he is "not your typical safety" but is more of a hybrid who can defend tight ends and receivers alike.

For his part, Jenkins said he liked that Philadelphia is close to where he grew up in North Jersey. He said he appreciated the fact that Kelly has a "vision" for what he wants his team to look like and is moving in the right direction after making the playoffs in his first season as head coach. And he was attracted to the fact that Kelly and Davis want him to be a leader.

Asked if he knew about Kelly's in-season routine that includes practice on Tuesday, typically the players' day off for most NFL teams, Jenkins said, "It's a little weird ... [but] that's fine.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of things I have to adjust to."

Like higher expectations. Eagles fans have been yearning for a hard-hitting safety ever since Philadelphia inexplicably let the beloved Brian Dawkins walk in free agency years ago.

"Me and Brian Dawkins are a lot different in styles," Jenkins said, before adding that he thinks Eagles fans just want a safety who is a playmaker.

As for the other questions about his coverage abilities and his tackling, the 26-year-old Jenkins said, "The years in which I was put in position to make plays, I made them."

Jenkins signed a three-year deal with the Eagles and said he drew interest from St. Louis and Oakland.
Jennings
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's official: The Green Bay Packers will have a new starting free safety next season.

We don't know who it will be, but we know it won't be M.D. Jennings.

After starting every game for the Packers last season, Jennings wasn't even offered a restricted free-agent tender before Tuesday's deadline. On Wednesday, he signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears.

Given how ineffective Jennings was last season, the decision not to tender him was expected. Although Jennings was a full-time starter last season, the Packers tried to replace him at various points, using Chris Banjo early in the season and Sean Richardson late in the year.

Jennings was part of a safety group that failed to come up with a single interception last season. The Packers were the only team in the NFL that did not get an interception from one of their safeties in 2013.

Jennings, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent from Arkansas State, will be best remembered for being on the wrong end of the Fail Mary play against the Seattle Seahawks in 2012. Jennings thought he intercepted a pass that instead was ruled the game-winning touchdown by Golden Tate.

The Packers were not involved in any of the first wave of safeties to sign shortly after free agency opened Tuesday. Six safeties -- Donte Whitner, T.J. Ward, Antoine Bethea, Malcolm Jenkins, Jairus Byrd and Mike Mitchell -- all signed significant contracts within the first 24 hours of free agency with Byrd's deal (six years, $64 million with the New Orleans Saints) topping the market.

Last month at the scouting combine, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Micah Hyde likely will play some at safety this season, but it's unclear if the second-year defensive back will make a full-time transition from cornerback.

Jennings might not be the only Packers player on the Bears’ radar. According to the Chicago Tribune, they have interest in Packers outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal, who is an unrestricted free agent.

Also on Wednesday, the Packers set up their first free-agent visit. Former Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels will meet with the Packers. Daniels, who played at the University of Wisconsin, was released by the Texans last week in a cost-cutting move. Daniels missed all but five games last season because of a broken leg.

The Packers are in the market for a tight end because they could lose both Jermichael Finley (who is visiting the Seahawks) and free agent Andrew Quarless.
DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen and Julius PeppersGetty ImagesHow will aging pass-rushers DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers fare in free agency?

If you blinked Monday afternoon between the hours of 4 p.m. ET and 6 p.m. ET, you probably missed a few transactions during an intense open to the 2014 NFL free-agent market. By my count, 28 players agreed to terms on multiyear deals with new teams in about 120 minutes. Another dozen or so scheduled visits with teams they seemed likely to sign with.

A late-night round of action capped a remarkable day for the safety position. It also left available three Hall of Fame pass-rushers, strengthened the Atlanta Falcons, revealed the desperation of the Cleveland Browns and called into question the long-term plan (if there is one) of Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie.

Let's run through the highs, lows -- and everything in between -- on Day 1.

  • The frequency of agreements in the first few minutes of the open market revealed the reality of the preceding three-day "negotiating period." Plenty of under-the-table deals were completed long before 4 p.m. ET, despite rules to the contrary. I don't have a problem with it, to be honest. Discussions about contract parameters naturally lead to common ground. There's no reason to fight it, and the NFL might as well remove the stipulation "preventing" agreements during this period in future years.
  • As noted by ESPN Stats & Information, the class of 477 total free agents was the smallest since 2009 (444). That trend speaks to the growing number of players who re-signed with their existing teams before free agency began.
  • I don't think anyone would have guessed that six safeties would sign market-level deals in musical-chair fashion during the opening hours of free agency. But there was Donte Whitner signing with the Cleveland Browns, T.J. Ward moving from the Browns to the Denver Broncos and Antoine Bethea replacing Whitner with the 49ers. Later, Jairus Byrd signed with the New Orleans Saints to replace Malcolm Jenkins, who had agreed with the Philadelphia Eagles. Oh, and Mike Mitchell moved from Carolina Panthers to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Got all that?
  • [+] EnlargeByrd
    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesJairus Byrd was one of the many safeties who found a new home on Day 1 of free agency.
    Byrd's six-year, $54 million deal was the second-most lucrative for an unrestricted free agent on Day 1, based on the $9 million average per year (APY). When the week began, the Saints had about $3 million in salary-cap space, so for the moment it's a mystery how they can sign Byrd while still being in compliance. Trading running back Darren Sproles and restructuring some other deals would help. Regardless, the Saints couldn't pass up the opportunity to pair a three-time Pro Bowl player with rising star Kenny Vaccaro in their defensive backfield. Byrd has 22 interceptions since he was drafted in 2009. Only Asante Samuel (25) has more over that stretch.
  • Why were safeties valued so highly? (Other than Ward, each member of the group got at least $5 million annually.) I posed that question to Matt Williamson, who scouts the NFL for ESPN.com. Williamson pointed to several reasons, including the increasing difficulty of devising schemes to face athletic tight ends. Many teams consider big safeties the best antidote, especially considering the prevalence of "12" personnel (one running back, two tight ends). Williamson believes defenses will continue countering "12" personnel with "big nickel" schemes that feature three safeties and two cornerbacks rather than the other way around. And finally, we can't forget that the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks have two stud safeties in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Thomas, in fact, tweeted late Monday night: "Copy cat league."
  • I wonder if that new ideal for big defensive backs extended to cornerback Aqib Talib who pulled in a stunning haul from the Broncos that included $26 million guaranteed. Talib is excellent in coverage but is built like many safeties at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds. Still, this qualifies as arguably the riskiest decisions of the day. In seven previous seasons, Talib has never played in all 16 games.
  • Almost all of the players who signed big deals Tuesday, and really over the past few weeks, were under 30 years old. That fact brings up a fascinating philosophical issue that will play out over the coming days: How much should a trio of Hall of Fame pass-rushers, all on the wrong side of that unofficial age limit, get paid? Julius Peppers (34) and DeMarcus Ware (31) were released Tuesday, while Jared Allen (31) is an unrestricted free agent. Of the three, Ware seemed most likely to cash in after his unexpected release. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Denver Broncos were the favorites to sign him. But age and Ware's 2013 production decrease are all part of the negotiating pot.
  • Speaking of age, the Browns got older at safety and linebacker with their decision to sign Whitner and Karlos Dansby, respectively. Whitner is a year older than Ward, while Dansby is two years older than D'Qwell Jackson. Dansby will turn 33 in November and the Browns still guaranteed him $14 million. It's rare in this NFL climate to see that combination of numbers. The Browns were in a hurry on Tuesday. To do what? I'm not entirely sure, but to do something.
  • The Falcons took a step toward a more traditional 3-4 defense by signing a true nose tackle in Paul Soliai and a big defensive end in Tyson Jackson. Anyone who watched the Falcons' defense last season knows it needed to get stronger up front; they allowed the second-highest average per rush (5.0) on carries between the tackles last season. The Falcons paid handsomely to fix that problem, giving Soliai more than $6 million annually and Jackson about $5 million, but they filled an important need.
  • The Falcons' spending was overshadowed in their own division by the Saints' acquisition of Byrd and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' spending spree. The Bucs remade their defense in a hurry by signing defensive end Michael Johnson, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and cornerback Alterraun Verner. Coach Lovie Smith has final say over personnel, and it's pretty clear he didn't want to wait until the draft to get to work.
  • Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie is operating 180 degrees from mentor Ted Thompson, who spends his money almost exclusively to retain internal prospects. McKenzie, armed with more than $60 million in salary-cap space, allowed two of his young players to leave and gave one of the biggest contracts of the day to an offensive lineman the St. Louis Rams were willing to part ways with. The Arizona Cardinals poached left tackle Jared Veldheer with a contract that was lower in value (about $7 million annually) than what McKenzie paid to sign guard/tackle Rodger Saffold (more than $8 million annually). McKenzie also let the Chicago Bears sign defensive end Lamarr Houston and the New York Giants sign running back Rashad Jennings. I'm willing to be patient and see what else McKenzie might have planned, but I'm not sure if owner Mark Davis will be. (Update: Overnight, the Raiders signed offensive tackle Austin Howard to a contract that included $15 million guaranteed, per Schefter. They also made plans to host free agent defensive end Justin Tuck and linebacker LaMarr Woodley.)
  • As expected, receivers paid the price for what is expected to be a deep draft class. All seemed quiet with Eric Decker, Hakeem Nicks, James Jones and most of the other veterans available. Only Golden Tate, who had a visit scheduled with the Detroit Lions, seemed to get any action.
  • At the moment, at least, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh appears to be in good standing with the team. He has been given a chance to rebuild quarterback Blaine Gabbert, whom the 49ers acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a sixth-round pick. Harbaugh also got another ex-Stanford player when left tackle Jonathan Martin was acquired from the Miami Dolphins. Both of those moves have Harbaugh's fingerprints all over them.
  • I can hardly wait for Day 2.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Roster Advisor