It has been a long and educational and, now, welcoming journey for safety Jaylen Watkins, who agreed to terms on a one-year contract for 2017 on Saturday. Watkins was scheduled to become an exclusive rights free agent on March 9.
A fourth-round draft pick of the Eagles in 2014, Watkins bounced around for a couple of seasons before finding some solid footing last year. The 101st pick in his draft class, Watkins saw action in four games in 2014 before the Eagles released him in September of 2015. It was a jarring lesson.
"That was a shock, I'm not gonna lie," Watkins said in December. "This is a business. You can't take anything for granted. A fourth-round pick and I was released the next year. Yeah, that opened my eyes."
Watkins signed with Buffalo's practice squad three days later (his half-brother is wide receiver Sammy Watkins) and stayed there until the Eagles, in need of some healthy bodies late in the 2015 campaign, brought him back to Philadelphia and the 53-man roster. Watkins finished that year on a positive note, particularly in the games against Arizona and Washington when he played in 64 and 41 percent of the snaps, respectively.
With the coaching change entering 2016, Watkins was prepared to improve his tackling and his technique, and he did just that to make the 53-man roster, stay there, and help the Eagles' secondary depth.
Watkins played in 38 percent of the snaps last season and had six passes defensed and a couple of quarterback hurries.
"It's been a learning experience," Watkins said, "and I know I'm always in the position where I have to keep improving myself and my situation. I've learned so much this year. It's been a good step for me, with a lot more to go. I'm excited to be in this defense."
Now, with free agency less than a week away, Watkins has handled his business side. He'll report to the spring conditioning program on April 17 ready to get bigger, stronger, and faster and ready to compete for playing time behind starting safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod.
"I have to tackle and cover and be physical," Watkins said. "That's the name of the game. Stay with my technique and compete on every play."