By Al Thompson
If there were ever a circumstance to apply the saying, “He’s got a tough act to follow,” apply it to Eagles recently re-signed safety Rodney McLeod.
McLeod is going to try to fill the leadership role of departed All-Pro, three-time Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins, who was unable to get on the same page contract-wise with the Eagles this offseason. The two parties ended up parting ways.
According to spotrac.com, Jenkins signed a four-year deal with the New Orleans Saints worth $32 million, including a $9 million signing bonus, with $16.25 million guaranteed.
McLeod was also a free agent, but did strike a deal with the Birds. According to spotrac.com, the 29-year-old signed a two-year $8.65 million contract on March 25 that included a $3 million signing bonus, with $7.8 million guaranteed and an average annual salary of $4.325 million.
“Malcolm was a very good player for us here in Philadelphia for a long time,” McLeod said in a recent conference call. “One of the reasons I came to Philly was to play alongside Malcolm. I learned a lot from him during our time here.”
McLeod and Jenkins were the starting safeties on the Eagles 2017 Super Bowl championship team. But nothing lasts forever in this world, especially in sports.
“This is a business,” McLeod said. “For us now, we’ve got to move forward. Myself being a leader on this team for some time, of course, I’m going to have to step up, as well as other guys on the team. I think we’re prepared for that. Guys will be able and willing to step up to the plate and accept the challenge, myself, first and foremost.”
McLeod was asked to talk about some of the things he learned playing next to Jenkins for four years.
“Just learning to be a competitor,” McLeod said. “He was able to get the most out of guys, whether it was on the defensive side or from an entire team standpoint. As a leader, that’s kind of your job. How can you get guys to play at the highest level? How can you get the most out of your players.? I think he was one of the best at doing that. I learned a lot from him. And not even on the field, off the field as well. The way he handled himself, what he did for the community, it’s something I’ve always admired about him. His legacy will live on. The Saints are getting a good guy.”
McLeod’s durability and consistent production as a player certainly played a role in the Eagles making sure he stayed in Philadelphia.
During his eight seasons in the NFL, the first four with the St. Louis Rams, McLeod played all 16 regular season games six times. In 2014, he missed two games.
On Sept. 29, 2018, McLeod was placed on injured reserve after undergoing surgery to repair a torn MCL he suffered in Week 3.
Several players and observers believed the biggest void the Eagles defense suffered from that year was his ability to coach on the field and make sure everyone was in the right place before every snap.
Eagles Vice President and General Manager Howie Roseman said those attributes were very important to him and the coaches.
“Rodney was really important for us to sign, to have somebody who we feel can really run the show back there,” Roseman said during a recent conference call. “He’s another year removed from the surgery. I think sometimes when you think of Rodney, he’s always doing his job. Always in the right place. We’ve been very fortunate to have him. We are looking forward to him taking another step forward with his leadership ability.”
For his career, McLeod has recorded 469 total tackles (358 solo), two sacks, 13 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles, eight recovered fumbles, 41 defended passes and one TD.
The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder, who played his college ball at Virginia, said he is looking forward to playing alongside fourth-year player Jalen Mills, who is being moved from cornerback to safety.
Mills signed a one-year, $4 million contract to stay with the Eagles, including a $2 million signing bonus, with $2 million guaranteed.
“My relationship with Jalen is pretty good,” McLeod said. “He came on here in 2016, along with myself. We have turned this defense around collectively. Everybody has played a piece of that during the Super Bowl run. Being able now to transition to safety, I think it will be very easy for him. It’s something he did in college. He’s a physical player. He’s a smart player, which is what you need at the safety position. And he plays with a lot of passion and energy. We know his playmaking ability is there. He’s versatile. He’s played corner, played nickel, played safety. He’s a perfect guy who can now fit into the safety role. It’s exciting to play next to him. Let’s see what we can do. I think it will be very special.”
McLeod was asked to describe what kind of leader fans and teammates will see this season.
“For me, it’s just being myself and the guy I’ve always been, that leads by his actions,” McLeod said. “And leads by example. If you ask guys on this team, that’s what they’ll tell you most. I think actions at times speak louder than words. There will be times for me to speak up when it’s needed, when my teammates need me most, I’ll be willing to do that. But I don’t think much will change for me. I’ll just be myself.” ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii