Through the first five games of the season, Rodney McLeod has arguably been the Eagles’ best safety. Set to be a free agent following this season, McLeod very well could be playing his way into a contract extension.
McLeod’s previous deal had him with the team through the 2020 season, but after he suffered a torn ACL in week 3 during the 2018 season, the Eagles restructured his contract to adjust his base salary, while terminating his contract for next season. McLeod’s future with the team all together was in doubt, and so far, he’s proving the Eagles made the right decision keeping him around.
Through just more than a quarter of the season, McLeod has recorded 29 tackles, three pass deflections, and one interception. At his current pace, McLeod is on track to record career-highs in both tackles and interceptions, a clear sign that he’s not only healthy following the injury, but that he’s also playing his best football yet.
Last season, after McLeod went down, it was apparent just how much his loss was hurting the defense. The Eagles had to turn to players such as Corey Graham and Tre Sullivan to fill the void, and the negative effects were immediately felt. On two separate occasions, against the Titans and the Panthers, Graham, in place of McLeod, made two fatal mistakes that proved to be crucial in the Eagles’ loss.
This season, similar to last season, the Eagles have witnessed some of their best cornerbacks go down due to injury, but the reason why the pass defense hasn’t been nearly as much of a disaster as it was last year is the presence on McLeod. With his experience and ball-hawking nature, he’s able to compensate some for the decrease in production at cornerback.
McLeod has shown to be a near-perfect fit alongside Malcolm Jenkins, as well. McLeod’s presence allows Jim Schwartz to be more creative with Jenkins, frequently lining him up at both linebacker and in the slot at cornerback. This season, a case can be made that McLeod is outplaying his counterpart as well. Regardless of who’s playing the best, having the tandem of McLeod and Jenkins back together is proving to be the most important part of the Eagles defense.
Jenkins is also the only safety under contract with the Eagles following this season. Considering how much the Eagles value that position, it would be wise of them to maintain stability there, and extending McLeod is the perfect way to do so.
At the age of 29, McLeod still has at least multiple years of his best football left. Considering how well he’s played following the knee injury, some of the concerns regarding his health are slowly starting to dissipate, making him a more reliable long-term piece in the secondary.
According to Spotrac, the Eagles currently have $34.665 million in cap space for 2020, meaning they have more than enough space to fit in a deal for McLeod. The Eagles do have a number of key free agents set to hit the market, such as Ronald Darby, Tim Jernigan, Zach Brown, and Nate Sudfeld, along with depth at offensive line needs to be addressed, but it’s hard to make a case saying any of those players provide the value to the team that McLeod does.
One thing that does need to be taken into consideration is the contract situation with Jenkins. Earlier this summer, Jenkins held out of minicamps after he said he wanted his deal to be restructured to give him more money. The argument is fair, too — Jenkins is currently just the 11th-highest-paid safety, despite him being just one of a few defensive players that play every single defensive snap, week in and week out. If the Eagles hope to do right by a guy that’s provided a ton for the team, they’d have to pay him nearly $4 million more per season to get him into the top-5 highest-paid safeties.
In the event Jenkins’ deal is restructured, that could complicate things a bit for the Eagles regarding McLeod. Howie Roseman has shown in the past that he isn’t willing to dish out too much money at a certain position, which means if Jenkins gets more money, they could price themselves out of McLeod if his play continues. Or, Roseman could break the trend and pay a significant amount of money to one of the best safety duos in the league.
Once the trade deadline passes, Roseman will partially shift his attention towards which players on the roster he can retain longterm, and when he does so, McLeod has shown he’s most deserving of getting an extension.