Eagles Signing One-Time NFL Interceptions Leader: Report

Anthony Harris

Getty Former Vikings safety has nine interceptions in six seasons and led the NFL in 2019.

It’s been hard to replace Malcolm Jenkins in the middle of the Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary, but the franchise just took a huge step forward in doing it. The Eagles are signing free-agent safety Anthony Harris to a one-year deal worth $5 million, per ESPN.

Harris, who went undrafted out of Virginia in 2015, joins Philly after spending his first six seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. The 29-year-old has been the highest-ranked safety in football (via Pro Football Focus) since 2018 and was the NFL’s co-leader in interceptions in 2019. Harris has 284 total tackles, along with nine interceptions and 28 pass breakups in 81 games (47 starts).

The Eagles had been heavily linked to John Johnson in free agency but the veteran safety turned down more money to sign with the Cleveland Browns. Instead, general manager Howie Roseman got a much older player (Johnson is only 25) but one who has a reputation as one of the best ball-hawking safeties in the league.

Here is what Pro Football Focus wrote about Harris in 2020:

One of the league’s most underrated players, Harris has been a playmaker on the back end of the Minnesota defense since seeing extended playing time in 2018. Harris has the top regular-season coverage grade among safeties at 91.6 after ranking sixth last season. He’s played the majority of his snaps at free safety, but this season has seen him play about 40% of his snaps in the box or over the slot, showing that he can play a more versatile role in a defense.

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Harris College Teammates with Rodney McLeod

The projected new starting safety tandem in Philly should have an easy transition period. Harris was college teammates with Rodney McLeod at Virginia in 2011. In fact, Harris took over for McLeod when he left for the NFL and studied his tendencies. Their playing styles are completely different — McLeod is more physical, whereas Harris likes to play center field — but the two share a common bond in terms of the way they prepare and visually see the game.

“He got a chance to watch Rodney McLeod,” former Virginia safeties coach Anthony Poindexter told the Daily Progress in 2013. “He’s not Rod in the sense of the skill set because it’s two different bodies, but in a lot of ways, he studies the game, he understands the game like Rod.”

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Harris left Virginia ranked 10th in school history in interceptions with 11. The 6-foot-1, 202-pounder played mostly on special teams as a freshman when he and McLeod were patrolling the same secondary. From there, Harris turned into a full-time starter and vocal leader. He also played quarterback, wide receiver, and defensive back in high school.

McLeod Returning From ACL Surgery

McLeod is recovering from ACL surgery dating back to last December and there’s no guarantee he starts the opener. This is the second major injury for the 30-year-old safety who fought gallantly back from a right knee tear in 2018.

This time, it’s the left one that McLeod has been rehabbing. He openly pondered his NFL future when the latest injury occurred — “tears rolled down my eyes,” McLeod said — but then he got over it. And vowed to come back stronger.

“I feel confident that I will be able to make a full and healthy recovery, which is encouraging for me,” McLeod said, via NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I know what it entails and I just have to prepare mentally for this next step.”


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