With an interest in churning the Training Camp roster, the Eagles on Friday made some moves to challenge the depth chart with the preseason opener just ahead on Thursday, signing a veteran safety and a young tight end prospect and, well, we'll see how it turns out. No risk. High reward. These are the kinds of moves good teams make. They've had all of spring and more than a week to evaluate what they have on the current roster, and they keep their eyes open around the league and on players who don't have contracts.
Challenge the roster. Challenge the roster.
The Eagles weeks ago worked out safety Johnathan Cyprien, who had 70 career starts in his five seasons with Jacksonville and Tennessee before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament last summer in Tennessee. He's healthy, having passed a physical on Friday shortly after arriving in Philadelphia late in the morning, and he's got experience in the game. Cyprien, a former second-round draft pick, is known as a tackling machine, a real presence against the run, and a player who could fit a certain role in the Eagles' defense.
Now, let's not get ahead of ourselves here.
The signing of Cyprien is similar to the one last week of cornerback Orlando Scandrick. There is no downside here. The Eagles have been aggressive throughout the offseason in their approach to making sure they've got depth and versatility at safety. They signed veteran Andrew Sendejo as an unrestricted free agent. They claimed young veteran Blake Countess off of waivers from the Los Angeles Rams. And they added a young veteran in Trae Elston to go along with the safeties the Eagles already had on the roster – Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Tre Sullivan, and Deiondre' Hall.
What to make of adding Cyprien? It's about depth and competition, yes, and it's about taking a look at a player who has a lot to catch up on in a short period of time. If Cyprien can come in and learn the scheme and show that he's healthy and moving well after missing a full season of football, that's great. That's ideal. The NFL, as we know, doesn't follow a blueprint. The Eagles are giving themselves every opportunity to bolster a position that has, let's face it, changed dramatically through the years.
There may never have been a better example of the changing way safeties are used in this league than the case study of former Eagle Michael Lewis. A second-round draft pick in 2002, Lewis was part of a heralded rookie class and he lived up to the hype, becoming a Pro Bowl player in the 2004 season. Within a couple of years after that, though, Lewis was out of favor in the Eagles' defense. An in-the-box safety and a great tackler, Lewis struggled in space and in coverage. Teams schemed to take him out of the box and forced him to cover chunks of space against the passing game. His playing time diminished. His effectiveness decreased.
After the 2006 season, Lewis signed to play with the 49ers, and he lasted in San Francisco for two seasons. Lewis played two games for St. Louis in 2009, and his NFL career was over. He was labeled, fairly or not, an "in-the-box safety" trying to play in a league that increasingly spread the field and forced safeties to play in coverage.
A healthy Michael Lewis in today's game would be a valuable piece as a hybrid safety/linebacker. In a way, that's how the Eagles are using Jenkins, who can cover from the safety position in the base defense and also provide huge help as a linebacker when the Eagles take a linebacker (or two) off the field. From there, Jenkins can still cover, and he is also physical enough and a strong tackler to support the run defense. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is as creative as they come, and he's open to ideas on how to best employ his personnel. He wants versatility and flexibility in his players and with his scheme.
So, we'll see if Cyprien can add to that mix. He's got a strong NFL pedigree, he knows his way around a defense, and he's hungry after missing all of 2018. Maybe he lends something to the defense.
That remains to be seen. Signing Cyprien isn't a precursor to another move. It's as simple as it looks: A team with an excellent roster is doing the right thing here and churning the roster. Bring in a young player to work with – tight end Alex Ellis – and give him a chance to show some promise in the next month. Then add a veteran like Cyprien to a position group that was hit hard by injury last year, something the Eagles want to avoid in 2019.
The Eagles' clock starts now for both players, who have to show up every day in Training Camp to earn an extended invitation here.