‘Smart’ Sendejo is Carving Out a Role with Eagles
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — To a man the Eagles coaching staff is on the same page when it comes to veteran safety Andrew Sendejo.
Whether it's Sendejo's position coach Tim Hauck, secondary coach Cory Undlin, special teams coordinator Dave Fipp, or Jim Schwartz himself, the word that keeps coming up when discussing the former Minnesota starter is "smart."
“I would say he brings a sense of experience,” Undlin explained. “I have not seen him rattled yet, one time, no matter what. Super, super smart. His football IQ is super high. He’s seen a lot of things."
Most of those things were in Mike Zimmer's highly-regarded defense next to All-Pro Harrison Smith with the Vikings, a unit that finished top five in the NFL three times with Sendejo playing a major role.
To many fans in Philadelphia, however, the context of that is lost because Sendejo and his teammates played so poorly in the 2018 NFC Championship Game. Couple with the indoctrination of some to believe a potential future compensatory fourth-round draft pick is somehow more valuable than a veteran insurance policy for a team with championship aspirations and you had a weird narrative following Sendejo.
In this case, though, it wasn't Howie Roseman playing 3D chess, it was Occam's Razor and bringing in a safety net for Rodney McLeod, the presumed starter at safety next to Malcolm Jenkins who is trying to return from ACL and MCL surgery.
The only thing that was ever going to keep Sendejo, who will turn 32 in September, off the final 53 was his own health.
Last season Sendejo was shelved after just five games due to a groin injury and his replacement, Anthony Harris, played well. The fact that Harris is younger and cheaper turned Sendejo into a salary-cap casualty for Minnesota, one the Eagles were happy to bring in during March as the heir apparent to Corey Graham in the all-important third safety role for Schwartz, all for just $1.3 million.
“Andrew is just a pure football player,” Hauck said. “He’s smart, he’s been there and done it. He’s played in a few different schemes and really just understands football."
Sendejo isn’t all that vocal off the field. On it the switch gets turned on. He became somewhat famous or infamous depending on your perspective for wearing a hat reading "Make Football Violent Again," a takeoff of Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan.
The hat still exits although the color was changed, a nod to the extreme polarization of our society but Sendejo's message was never a political one, it was about football and the evolution that has taken intimidation out of a safety's toolbox.
"He’s a pretty quiet guy,” Hauck explained. “It’s funny. Off the field, he’s pretty quiet but on the field, he’s one of the more talkative guys out there."
For the majority of the spring and summer, Sendejo got first-team reps as McLeod continued his rehab.
As we move into mid-August McLeod has started to mix back in but is still practicing with a brace and not always moving that well. Also, presumed nickel LB starter Kamu Grugier-Hill is expected to be sidelined into the regular season with a Grade 3 MCL sprain meaning Schwartz's “big nickel” package could be the default setting on third downs early in the season, one which would put Jenkins, McLeod and Sendejo all on the field together.
“His body of work is not just what he does in preseason and what he’s done in training camp, it’s what he’s done over the last couple years,” Schwartz said. “He’s a smart player, multi-dimensional, he’s very instinctive and around the football a lot. He’s a good tackler. When you get all those things, we can use those things on defense.”
Sendejo isn't sure what his role will be just yet but the Eagles will be 'smart' enough to find one for him.
“We’re fortunate to have him," Undlin said.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen