Why Are the Eagles Kicking the Tires on Johnathan Cyprien?
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — "Business is business," something star Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said while shooting the breeze with 973espn.com at his locker after practice on Monday.
Graham was describing his own career and a recent extension that will likely ensure the popular pass rusher ends his career where it began, in Philadelphia.
But the words of wisdom also proved prophetic when word came down that the Eagles were going to kick the tires of veteran safety Johnathan Cyprien, 28, a punishing king-sized safety who could, if healthy, offer some of the same hybrid capabilities Malcolm Jenkins does for Jim Schwartz's defense.
Cyprien, however, missed all of last season in Tennessee after tearing his ACL during training camp. He had signed a significant four-year, $25 million deal with the Titans in 2017 but was ultimately released earlier this offseason after playing 10 of a possible 32 games in Nashville.
Prior to joining the Titans, Cyprien was a full-time starter for another AFC South team, Jacksonville, amassing 341 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, and four forced fumbles in his first four NFL seasons after being a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Where Cyprien would fit in Philadelphia is the interesting part.
At 6-foot and 223 pounds, the Miami Beach native is regarded as more of a box safety and coverage is not his strength. The Eagles would typically use Rodney McLeod, himself coming off a torn ACL, in single-high looks with Jenkins down near the line of scrimmage. Jenkins, however, is far better than Cyprien in coverage giving Schwartz more versatility and interchangeable parts when on the field.
McLeod made his first appearance in OTAs on Monday, working in individual drills and group install as the starter opposite Andrew Sendejo on the first team. In team drills, Tre Sullivan has been handling first-team reps with Sendejo with Blake Countess, Deiondre' Hall and Godwin Igwebuike rotating in from there.
Many caught up in compensatory-pick madness look at Sendejo and assume the Eagles want someone to beat him out in an effort to gain back a fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft but Sendejo has the capability to play single-high, which he often did in Minnesota while Harrison Smith moved all over the defense, and in the box.
Cyprien, if signed, could be more of an indication that the Eagles want to improve in the hybrid safety-LB role where players like Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nate Gerry and L.J. Fort are in the mix to play next to Nigel Bradham in the nickel. After one practice you can already see that Zach Brown is only a two-down run-stuffer in the modern NFL.
Finally, while remote, it's also worth mentioning that Jenkins has many varied outside interests and it's at least conceivable that he could walk away if he feels the situation with the Eagles in't what he wants and his passion of social activism needs more of his time.
The concern there shouldn't be too great, however, because Jenkins has indicated on many occasions how important his platform is to achieving his goals but it's always prudent to perform due diligence for any possibility.
In many ways the most important member of the Eagles' defense, Jenkins has been missing voluntary work and although Doug Pederson said he, as the head coach, expects all of his players to be at mandatory minicamp next week there are indications that Jenkins will continue to stay away and accept the nominal fines as he tries to work out a restructured deal with Howie Roseman.
“We’re still in that voluntary portion of the offseason and we’re focused on the guys that are here but I fully expect that everybody will be here next week," Pederson said. "It’s the first mandatory portion of the offseason, so as a head coach, I would expect [the veterans] would all be here."
Jenkins signed a four-year, $35 million extension with Philadelphia three years ago with $21M of that guaranteed. He is on the books for an $8.1M base salary in 2019 and a cap hit of nearly $11.4M. During that same time, the safety position as a whole has spiked from a salary perspective with lesser players like Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu, Lemarcus Joyner and Adrian Amos cashing in due to timing and circumstance.
At 31 with the dearth of guarantees moving forward that screams extension or, at the bare minimum, a tweak of his current contract for Jenkins even if it's only guaranteeing the majority of the remaining money on his deal and perhaps offering some incentives on top of that.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen