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Down to 3 safeties, Eagles looking at another roster move

How the Philadelphia Eagles will cover up their latest injury hole is almost certainly not set in stone.

Down to three safeties after losing starter Rodney McLeod for the season with a knee injury, according to a report by NBC Sports Philadelphia, they will start No. 3 safety Corey Graham in his place on Sunday at Tennessee.

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As of Thursday evening, the Eagles had not confirmed the surgery McLeod was reported to have had and had not told the players either.

Beyond Graham, there are no clear-cut options for that important third safety, which is often used in their coverage packages when they add an extra defensive back.

Deiondre’ Hall, who’s been a special teams player exclusively, is the only other safety on the active roster. Tre Sullivan is the only safety on the practice squad and said after practice that he had received no word on a promotion.

Furthermore, he continued in his role as a scout-team safety in practice. He took no reps with the regular defense in the nickel or dime package.

“I’m just going to do whatever they want me to do,” Sullivan said.

The Eagles do have versatile cornerbacks in Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas, who both appear to have the skills to make the transition. But neither has taken so much as one practice rep at that spot, so any position change would take time.

Malcolm Jenkins, the other starting safety, hinted at a committee approach to fill the void.

“The good thing is we cross-train a lot of guys,” Jenkins said. “We’ve got a lot of versatile guys, whether it’s Rasul … or Avonte Maddox being another dime-nickel type of guy. We signed Deiodre’ Hall, who obviously played safety in Chicago. So we’ve got guys that can come in and play a role.

“I don’t think we’d want to hand over Rodney’s entire package to anybody, so that might get sliced up. But we still have the flexibility that we’ve had.”

The 33-year-old Graham, in his 12th year, is unfazed by any extra responsibility.

“It’s really nothing new, nothing different,” Graham said. “It’s not really a big deal for us.”

On further review, Graham admitted: “It’s different because when I came in I was pretty much playing the strong safety role and then Malcolm would go down and play at the linebacker-type role. So it’s a little different.

“Obviously Rod, he was the guy back there. If a stunt would go on, he’s a fix-it guy. So that’s definitely a difference. I mean, it won’t be one guy. I don’t know exactly how we’re going to account for Rodney not being in there, but we’ll figure it out, whether it’s me or Malcolm or someone else. We’ll all still have our role. I’m pretty sure my job isn’t going to change dramatically.”

Interestingly, one free agent who might have been able to help was Eric Reid, who along with unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick has filed a suit against the NFL alleging collusion. Reid was signed by the Carolina Panthers on Thursday, taking him off the market.

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Another top-flight safety who might be available via a trade with Seattle is Earl Thomas. But the Eagles are believed to have less than $5 million in salary cap space this season, according to overthecap.com. That would make them unable to even take on a prorated portion of the $10.4 million Thomas’ contract calls for him to be paid this season.

Furthermore, they need to have their cap flexibility grow so the space can be pushed into next season when they will be allowed to finally begin a complicated negotiation on an extension with quarterback Carson Wentz.

Wentz’s cap number this season ($7.3 million) is actually lower than that of McLeod, who has the fourth highest figure on the squad at $8.4 million.

The news is not all bad on the injury front, however.

Running back Jay Ajayi said that he plans to play this Sunday despite having a broken bone in his back.

“It’s a pain tolerance thing at the end of the day,” he told reporters after participating fully in Thursday’s practice. “You just got to be able to tolerate the pain and do things to protect it, basically.”

Ajayi was injured in a Week 2 loss at Tampa Bay. Although he returned to that game, he wasn’t available for last week’s 20-16 win over Indianapolis.

He plans to give it a go Sunday, though, because he knows many of his teammates are playing through things and because he can’t afford, in the final year of his rookie contract, to have an injury-plagued season.

“It’s not just me who’s going through it,” he said. “There’s other guys in there that are dealing with things. It just lets you understand the game. This is a contact sport. Injuries happen.

“ … You’ve just to to keep your mindset positive and you go on to the next and let’s battle each day so that we get back on that field. That’s really what it’s been about, rolling with the punches. Things are going to happen. Keep pushing forward.”

Ajayi has 85 yards on 22 carries but has run for three touchdowns in the two games he’s played this season.

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