This is what happens when you become ingrained in a culture you take to heart, when you go deep in your commitment, and when you understand what it means to be a Philadelphia Eagle: Safety Rodney McLeod felt he "let down" his team and the fans when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in a Week 3 win over the Indianapolis Colts in 2018.
He doesn't want that to happen again.
"It was rough. It was probably one of my hardest years honestly physically, more so mentally, being involved in the game and not being able to play and be able to reflect now on the season with my teammates," McLeod said in an exclusive telephone interview. "You cherish those moments the most and that's what I missed – celebrating, making plays, and making a difference, and so I felt like I let my teammates down for not being out there, but at the end of the day, I'm thankful for them and thankful that I'm able to come back next season ready to go.
"I pride myself on being available and pride myself on being out there with my teammates, being a leader, leading by example."
McLeod spoke Thursday night as he looked forward to 2019 as he and the Eagles agreed on a reworked contract for the veteran safety for the upcoming season. It's a win-win as McLeod sees it – he is staying in Philadelphia with an organization and a fan base he loves and in a defensive scheme in which he thrives, and the Eagles make sure to have back their versatile, playmaking safety for next year.
"It's a very exciting time," McLeod said. "Honestly, Philly is where I want to be. I'm glad we were able to get things done and handled early on. I really get to focus more on rehab and getting back out there with the boys and getting back to making plays for the team this year."
McLeod joined the Eagles as an unrestricted free agent prior to the 2016 season after playing for four seasons in St. Louis (Rams, in case you've forgotten). McLeod had missed just one game due to injury in his first six seasons and his versatility in coverage, with his sure tackling all over the field and his durability and toughness highly valued in the Jim Schwartz defensive scheme.
Following up the Super Bowl LII-winning season of 2017, McLeod kicked off 2018 with a team-high 10 tackles and an important three passes defensed in the opening-night win over Atlanta. Two games later, he limped off the field, his season over.
The Eagles mixed and matched and provided some opportunities for younger players to step up – and they did, as the Eagles won five of their final six regular-season games and went two weeks deep into the NFC playoffs – but it wasn't the same without McLeod, who teamed so perfectly with Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins.
Now it's time to look ahead, with McLeod in the fold, as the Eagles take more steps toward '19. Their offseason play has yet to completely unfold, of course, but solid moves in the last two days – signing linebacker Paul Worrilow for 2019 and making sure McLeod was under contract in a deal with both sides happy – is a very good start.
"I feel good," McLeod said. "The whole rehab process is right on pace. That's a credit to the trainers and myself as well for taking every day seriously. I'm looking forward to the day when I get back out there on the field and feel great."