When the Eagles began their free agency spending spree this offseason, many felt the biggest prize they would land would be Patriots safety Devin McCourty. A high-priced free agent, McCourty was reportedly choosing between the Patriots, Eagles, and Giants. Ultimately, the blue-collar free agent gave New England a hometown discount, and took less money to return to play for Bill Belichik. Left with a hole at safety—which quite frankly, was massive even before Nate Allen left for Oakland—the Eagles began a grab-and-go session at the clearance isle of the defensive back marketplace.
Philadelphia brought in as many bargain players as it could, such as Walter Thurmond, E.J. Biggers, JaCorrey Sheppard, and Randall Evans. All these players were thrown into the pile with current Eagles like Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll, Ed Reynolds, and Earl Wolff, all of whom are vying for a starting gig. Beyond the top tier defensive backs like Byron Maxwell, Malcolm Jenkins, and Eric Rowe, the defensive backfield is currently in flux, a blessing for newcomer Walter Thurmond.
Thurmond was presumably brought in as a starting corner opposite his former Seattle teammate Byron Maxwell. However, Chip Kelly and the coaching staff have decided to move Thurmond to safety. Though Thurmond is slightly undersized for a safety of Kelly’s liking, Kelly sang the praises his former Duck on Monday:
Walt’s done a really nice job Probably been our most productive guy in the secondary in terms of pass breakups and strips and things like that.
Thurmond hasn’t been much of a playmaker in his career, so this comment shouldn’t be taken past face value. The former Seahawk has only forced two fumbles, notched one sac, and recorded one interception in his career. However, Thurmond didn’t earn much playing time in a crowded Seattle backfield, and struggled with injury in both Seattle and New York.
Thurmond’s move to safety makes sense due to his ability to play the football. Coming out of college, draft experts felt he would offer significant value as a return man on special teams, meaning he had more than the required playmaking ability to play defensive back. According to NFL.com, Thurmond “…also [possessed] good ball skills needed to make the tough interception.” The Eagles’ biggest problem last season was the struggle to look at and play the ball, which gave opponents free yardage off of penalties.
In contrast, Thurmond’s time with the Seahawks saw players who were ball-hawks, and actually created fear in the minds of opposing quarterbacks (see Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLVIII). With a new secondary coach and Thurmond’s ability to spot the ball, the Eagles will likely avoid giving up big chunks of yardage.
Having only paid $3.25 million, the Eagles seemed to have gotten a deal for their new starting safety, who might finally have his chance to become a regular playmaker in the NFL.