Why did the Falcons add Johnathan Cyprien? The answer is simple in one regard—they needed a safety!—but probably carries some complexity not evident on first blush.
To learn more about Cyprien’s recent history, we read up on what he did with his last two teams and chatted with Bleeding Green Nation manager Brandon Gowton. We also read plenty of takes from Jacksonville fans, which were not encouraging.
From all this we’ve learned the common Cyprien scouting report—that he’s an asset in run support and a sure tackler, but a liability in coverage—checks out across the board. To quote Gowton:
Cyprien only played a total of three defensive snaps through the Eagles’ first three games but multiple secondary injuries forced him on to the field in Week 4. The results weren’t great; Cyprien committed pass interference on the one play he was targeted. The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia had the following to say about Cyprien’s performance upon re-watching the game:
”I think the Eagles need to come up with personnel groupings that don’t involve Cyprien. That might mean just playing more nickel with Grugier-Hill, given who else is healthy. But Cyprien really struggled Thursday and is a liability in coverage.”
Gowton went on to note that Cyprien, who had not played much in the way of special teams before 2019, was also a liability in that role. Chances are the Falcons are going to fill the vacuum left by Duke Riley’s departure with other guys on teams, especially Kemal Ishmael if he’s taking on a reduced role with Cyprien’s addition. It is, for me at least, difficult to figure out where Cyprien is a clear upgrade on Ishmael, a player with extensive experience in this defense and someone whose strengths and weaknesses (at least on paper) mirror Cyprien’s.
Where Cyprien may be able to help is as a run defender and enforcer at the back end of the secondary, as few have ever questioned his ability to deliver a good hit and, perhaps more importantly for a team that has tackled extremely poorly in 2019, wrap up and bring his man down. The Falcons just can’t really ask him to handle a lot of one-on-one coverage situations without consequences, which may limit him to a timeshare at the position or even just a reserve role for the moment. I’ll reiterate that I don’t think Ishmael played poorly on Sunday against the Titans.
One thing that needs to be noted is the leadership and locker room aspect. Jimmy Morris at Music City Miracles noted in an interview with Bleeding Green Nation that Cyprien, known simply as “Cyp” to friends, was someone who was beloved in the short time he spent in Tennessee.
I will say that he is great in the locker room and at mentoring other players. Cyp tore his ACL in camp last year. The Titans brought in Kenny Vaccaro after that happened. This offseason Vaccaro got emotional when talking about the Titans cutting Cyp because of everything he did to help Vaccaro last season - and that was for a guy that Cyprien pretty much knew was going to end up taking his spot on the roster.
Why does that matter? Columnists and players alike have suggested there are issues with accountability and game readiness that are behind some of the team’s woes, though no one has named names to this point. Grady Jarrett has been particularly outspoken about the team’s need to play better and insinuating that the team’s readiness level is not the same all across the board. Adding a well-respected veteran like Cyprien to the locker room might help with that, however slightly.
So what you have, at the end of the day, is a well-respected leader and safety who might earn some looks at linebacker given his physicality and run stopping acumen, and should be expected to compete with Kemal Ishmael for the starting safety job opposite Ricardo Allen. People have taken all sorts of creatives angles here to imply that Damontae Kazee will take over safety, Cyprien will back him up, and Ishmael will move back to linebacker, but I’m not getting into the weeds on that until Dan Quinn tells us more about his plans for the veteran.
Was that addition worth a sixth round pick and Duke Riley? I guess time will tell.