It didn’t look like much at the time, when safety Rodney McLeod went down with an injury in a Week 3 win over the Indianapolis Colts last season. He came off the field, the game continued, all eyes focused on the 2018 debut of quarterback Carson Wentz. Turns out, McLeod’s injury was serious enough to sideline him for the remainder of the year and force the Eagles into a week-to-week exercise of mixing and matching and coming up with answers to replace McLeod.
The injury to McLeod, the first of many suffered in the secondary, stretched the defensive backfield to its limit throughout the remainder of the year.
So, it’s no surprise that finding depth for the safety position was one of the team’s early priorities in free agency, and the Eagles solved that need by agreeing to terms on Monday with veteran Andrew Sendejo, entering his 10th NFL season, eight of them with the Minnesota Vikings.
Having restructured the contract of McLeod earlier in the offseason and with Malcolm Jenkins returning, the Eagles have the three-deep rotation they’ve wanted. The team last season used Corey Graham, rookie Avonte Maddox, and Tre Sullivan at various times and the back end held up pretty well, but the defense is much better served with a solid and dependable three-man group whose talents complement each other.
The Eagles want their safeties to offer versatility to be able to play both safety spots, come up to the line of scrimmage to support the run defense and cover in space. Sendejo, a physical player who also has six interceptions, including two in each of the 2016 and 2017 seasons, has recorded 421 total tackles in his NFL career.
He should work in just fine.
By adding Sendejo on top of retaining cornerback Ronald Darby, the Eagles have some flexibility in the defensive backfield. They should have some terrific competition at cornerback in the spring and through Training Camp, and they have experience in the safety room. For a player like Maddox, who played admirably as an inside nickel cornerback, an outside cornerback, and at the safety position, the Eagles can give him a dedicated position and cross-train him if he’s needed in an emergency.
What this all means, with Darby returning and the Sendejo addition, is that the Eagles are about as complete as they can be in the secondary heading into the NFL Draft in late April. That is a fantastic position to be in for a defense that juggled its lineup from one week to the next throughout 2018 as injuries destroyed continuity, challenged roster depth, and challenged the coaching staff in urgent ways.
Sendejo started for Minnesota for the first five weeks of 2018 as the best defense in the league from 2017 worked to find its stride. In that Week 5 game, against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, Sendejo suffered a groin injury that ultimately cost him the rest of the season. Sendejo then joined a crowded free agent field and found his right fit to open the second week of free agency, a time when many strong signings are made.
Fitting in with the City of Philadelphia’s blue-collar, work-hard motto, Sendejo has taken the no-guarantees path to a long and successful NFL career. He played collegiately at Rice and then, when the NFL showed no interest, Sendejo signed with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League and had a dominating 2010 season before signing with Dallas and joining the Cowboys’ practice squad in November 2010. Sendejo was released by the Cowboys prior to the 2011 regular season, signed with the Jets, stayed there for a few weeks, and was released.
Sendejo signed with the Vikings and carved a good career for himself in Minnesota in the secondary and as a core member on special teams. He’s got a new beginning lined up now with the Eagles, who started the first full week of free agency the right way by adding a veteran presence to fill a position of need.