Changes are coming to the Eagles' defensive backfield with cornerback Darius Slay in via trade and safety Will Parks and cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman acquired in free agency on one-year deals. And, of course, the Eagles will play 2020 without safety Malcolm Jenkins, one of the leaders of the team the previous six seasons on and off the field.
Where there is change, there is opportunity. And for Rodney McLeod, who remains in Philadelphia with a two-year contract after he considered his options in free agency, that means the new look in the secondary gives everybody a fresh start.
"It's always tough when you lose guys like Malcolm, like Kamu (Grugier-Hill)," McLeod said. " … Now you have a locker room and a defense full of fresh faces that the City of Philadelphia will quickly embrace because of the type of players that they are. Darius Slay is a guy who chooses to follow the best player (wide receiver) and get up and challenge guys, competes at a high level, and his resume speaks for itself. The defensive tackle (Javon Hargrave), I don't know too much about him, but from what I've read and seen seems like another guy that fits right into our scheme and the type of guys that we are willing to bring into this locker room – blue-collar guys.
"That's what I'm most excited about is the new faces that are going to make a name for themselves in this city and in this defense."
McLeod opted to stay with the Eagles, whom he first joined in 2016 as an unrestricted free agent, because Philadelphia "is where I made a name for myself. Philly is very dear to my heart, my wife as well. It's adopted, I feel, my family. We love it. Having an opportunity to come back to Philly made sense for us. It's where we wanted to be. I'm hoping to be able to finish my career here."
As the longest-tenured Eagle in the secondary – OK, OK, defensive back Jalen Mills was selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, so McLeod holds that distinction only by a couple of months – McLeod will likely have a more prominent platform to have his voice heard. He's always been a leader, but with Jenkins around, let's face it – and this is meant as a compliment – there are so many words to go around.
McLeod is going to be a player the media wants to hear from, and he's going to be a guiding presence for the younger players in the NovaCare Complex and Lincoln Financial Field locker rooms. With McLeod and Mills returning after considering their next moves in free agency, the Eagles have the enticing blend of change – with Slay and Parks here – and stability in a defensive backfield that battled last season, but that needed an upgrade after allowing too many big passing plays to satisfy the coaching staff.
"I'm honestly excited about the secondary, the pieces that we added. We touched on Darius Slay, Mills of course, and I know Will from my time here in Philadelphia and training with a common trainer that we have. He's another guy that's a high-energy guy, very passionate, loves the game, and you can just see the physicality that he plays with. I love his game as well. I've reached out to him. He's ready. He has the right mindset. I think what this defense can do is it can be very special with the new pieces that we added and the guys we have coming back. I'm excited about getting out there and leading this group of men. It's going to be very competitive. I know guys are itching to get back out there. I can't wait for that day to come.
"I think my role could change a little bit (as a leader), but at the same time, I've always looked at myself as a leader. I've always gained the respect of the guys in the locker room, which is what you want and what kind of makes someone a leader. I don't think too much will change. In hindsight, it's just continuing to do what I've done, and that's lead by example. I think that's the best way to lead at times. Of course, there could be times where I'm asked to be a lot more vocal than what I've been – I feel like my counterpart, Malcolm, handled that role – I will do what's needed at the end of the day to make sure guys are headed in the right direction and that we're on pace to win games and compete at a high level."