The Eagles’ track record with safeties had been bad enough. And the New Orleans Saints, who had drafted Jenkins in the first round, didn’t try to keep him. Instead, they splurged on free agent Jairus Byrd to the tune of $54 million over six years.
It turns out the Saints were the ones making the mistake. That was obvious from an interview MMQB.com did with Rex and Rob Ryan. The twin sons of former Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan are working together with the Buffalo Bills. Rob was the Saints’ defensive coordinator when the team decided to make the change at safety.
“They signed a free-agent free safety and said, 'We are going to keep him in the middle of the field like the goalpost,'" Rob Ryan said. “Well, that’s great. He’s not going to make one play back there, and now we have changed the entire defense for one signing, and it ruined us. He’s a great kid.
“But the truth of the matter is, you let an All-Pro safety walk, Malcolm Jenkins, and lost your two best leaders on the team, [Jenkins] and Roman Harper. We changed the entire style of play. It was strange. But hey, I did the best job I could. And it wasn’t good enough. They should have fired me. They probably should have fired everybody that made that decision to go in that direction.”
Rob Ryan said the Saints had decided to scrap Ryan’s defense and run a system similar to the one Pete Carroll ran in Seattle. Carroll’s defense relies heavily on safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. The irony, of course, is that Jenkins went to the Pro Bowl as an Eagle last season and was signed to a new contract extension worth $35 million.
Byrd, meanwhile, played in only four games for the Saints before injuring his knee and going on injured reserve.
Rob Ryan’s view of the safety situation wasn’t the only Eagles-related tidbit from the MMQB.com interview. Rex Ryan became head coach of the Bills last year and watched their defense decline from its 2014 performance. The Bills’ defensive coordinator in 2014 was Jim Schwartz, who was hired by Doug Pederson to run the Eagles’ defense.
“Well, but that’s my fault,” Rex Ryan said of the Bills’ decline. “That was a mistake that I made. … Nobody told me to do this. I screwed up, and that’s totally on me. So if people lost a little faith in it, or whatever, I can understand. I should be doubted, because I made a mistake in judgment. But just go back and look at the history. You are going to get the real deal this year, and we’ll see how it goes. I know how it has gone my whole career.”
The “mistake” Ryan referred to was his trying to blend Schwartz’s scheme with elements of his own.
“This was the first time in my life I have ever come into a situation where the defense got worse,” Rex Ryan said. “And so that was odd. That was different. No excuses. But I’ll stand by my record; I’ll stand by everything I have ever done in this league statistically.”
The Bills’ poor season had one more Eagles-related consequence. Players weren’t exactly buying in last season. The biggest name of the group, defensive end Mario Williams, left for the Miami Dolphins as a free agent. And three other defenders -- linebacker Nigel Bradham and cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks -- opted to sign with the Eagles in order to rejoin Schwartz.