In Part 2 of my 2-Part series, I’ll be taking an in-depth look at the cornerback position of the Philadelphia Eagles and giving my analysis on how they should address their needs this upcoming offseason. Going into the 2019 season the team certainly had a good amount of question marks surrounding their cornerbacks. The starters on the outside during the 2017 Super Bowl season were Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, but were they ideally what you’d want for a defense that plays a lot of Cover 3? Sidney Jones was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2017 NFL Draft with expectations of becoming a star, but when could we expect him to finally break out, if ever? Avonte Maddox and Rasul Douglas were both young corners who stepped up in a big way over the final weeks of the 2018 season, but was Maddox too small to be a mainstay on the outside instead of in the slot and was Rasul Douglas too slow to play the position?
The 2019 season didn’t do much to answer any of those questions. So, as the offseason draws near Howie Roseman and the rest of the organization will be tasked to look for the answers at CB that have eluded them for years. One thing is for sure: In Jim Schwartz’s Cover 3 scheme it’s important to have CBs who are good enough to be left on islands on the outside. You can argue that the need at CB is as dire as the need at WR.
Before we proceed, if you haven’t check it out already, the link to Part 1 discussing the approach for wide receivers is below.
— A2D Radio (@a2dradio_com) February 18, 2020
Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are both free agents. It’s almost a guarantee that Darby will not be re-signed, while opinions seem to be split on whether Mills will be back. The chances of the Eagles giving him a new contract are decent, especially considering how much Jim Schwartz loves him. Letting both him and Darby walk puts them in a massive hole at the position that may be too difficult to fill if they don’t plan on signing a big name in free agency like Byron Jones (more on that later). Therefore, it would be completely understandable if they decide to bring him back as insurance. However, if they’re confident they can get upgrades from both, then I’d prefer to let Mills sign elsewhere.
This time last year I was arguing that Maddox was the best CB on the roster. I still do believe that, but I admit he did regress this past year. It will be imperative that he bounces back next season in a big way. His versatility and ability to play at any spot in the secondary gives Jim Schwartz options in how he deploys his secondary. Depending on how things play out and what players are added, don’t be surprised to see Maddox back at safety if they need him there. Some believe he’d be better suited there, but I disagree.
What we’ve seen so far out of Rasul Douglas is most likely what we can expect him to be, which is a solid backup CB. His ball skills and fearless style of play make him an occasional playmaker, but his lack of speed and coverage discipline hold him back from being a viable starter on any team.
For the second straight year, Sidney Jones remains the biggest mystery of the group. After underwhelming earlier in the year, being called out by Malcolm Jenkins for being mentally and physically soft, and being buried on the bench, Jones ended up making several big-time plays in big-time moments the final month of the regular season when called into action. It’s impossible to say with certainty that those moments were the turning points of his career, but the physical talent he possesses is undeniable. As he enters the final year of his rookie deal Jones is going to have to fight for playing time and prove he can still be the guy he was hyped up to be. This could be his last chance at doing so.
Cre’von LeBlanc, aka “Strap”, is the third CB that is entering the final year of his contract. Hopefully, he’s able to stay healthy at the beginning of the season this time around. Two years in a row he’s been impressive late in the season, but it’s time we find out if he can be that good all year round.
When it comes to free agency, I believe that Roseman intends on spending more on the defensive side of the ball. Looking at the corners on the market there aren’t a ton of viable options to choose from, but some names do pop up that would make sense for the Eagles.
The first guy I’d look at is arguably the top CB in free agency, Byron Jones. In terms of talent, Byron may not be among the elite, but he is very good and could be the top athlete at the position in the entire league. He’s exceptional in coverage and has experience playing safety. That makes him a versatile piece in the secondary, like how the Eagles coaches view Maddox. People bring up his lack of interceptions (only 2 in his career), but that doesn’t concern me in the slightest. Byron is so good in man coverage that it deters QBs from throwing his way, which is one of the factors in why his interception totals are so low. Plus, he gets a good amount of pass breakups even when he is targeted so it’s not as though he has bad ball skills. If you’re looking at interceptions to determine how good a cornerback is then you need to rethink how you evaluate players.
Byron Jones has been targeted 125 times over the past two years – allowed 65 receptions (52%) and 806 yards (6.4 YPA)
5 TD’s allowed, 19 PBU’s
27 years-old, former 1st rounder, 2nd-team all-pro (2018), 100 percentile athlete (RAS)
You DO NOT let that player walk in free agency
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) February 14, 2020
The obvious dilemma that arises when it comes to Byron is the price. It was rumored that he would command a price tag of around $16 million average per year, which is very high. Considering how many other holes there are on the defense that need to be addressed, committing that much to one player may not be the smartest way to build the roster going forward. At the same time, if Jim Schwartz and the rest of the decision-makers feel as though Byron is worth it then they should go ahead and make the move. They just better be sure that he is the guy they believe him to be.
If Roseman decides on passing on Byron then the other two corners I’d take a look at are Logan Ryan and Trae Waynes. Ryan just turned 29 so he is a bit towards the older side, but he likely won’t cost nearly as much as Byron would. He’s been a very consistent slot corner his whole career, solid in coverage and as a tackler. Similarly, Waynes hasn’t lived up to the billing as a 1st round talent but he’s been far from terrible. He had a decent year in 2019 and would be a sound option for any team in need of an outside CB. He’s a very good run defender too, which should appeal to Schwartz. Both Ryan and Waynes would be decent options if the Eagles believe they can grab a high-end CB prospect in the draft as the projected lead guy in the secondary.
Regardless of what the Eagles end up doing in free agency, it’s clear that they’re going to need to come away with a talented CB in this draft. It seems like forever since the team has drafted a good one, but that can’t deter Roseman from trying to break that trend.
The best prospect in this year’s CB class is Jeffrey Okudah who is a projected top 10 selection. Needless to say, he won’t be there when the Eagles pick at 21st overall. After him, though, Kristian Fulton seems to be the consensus next best corner in the class. If he’s there at 21 you would assume that he’d have to be heavily considered.
After Fulton it’s a matter of which player is more of their flavor and whether they’d be comfortable picking them in the 1st round or if they’d rather wait to see who falls in the 2nd. Names like Jeff Gladney, Damon Arnette, CJ Henderson, Noah Igbinoghene, Bryce Hall, and Trevon Diggs could all be in the running. The one player in that group that intrigues me the most is Igbinoghene. He’s a converted WR and has limited playing time as a CB so he’s still a work in progress. But he’s already showed flashes of a player who has top tier potential. Many have said that it would have been better for him to stay one more year in college to help him develop into potentially a top 10 prospect in 2021. If the coaching staff believes they can develop him and that he’s worth the risk, he would be a tantalizing prospect to bring in. Arnette and Gladney are also favorable prospects I’d like to see drafted by the Eagles.
Just wrapped up w/Auburn CB Noah Igbinoghene for Talking w/TD. Discussed the 1st 2 plays in this video. Great job squeezing WR to the sideline. Pattern matching on the next one. The 3rd, 4th play show good footwork. Only 2 yrs at CB. Then the KR for 96 yd TD at the end. #Titans pic.twitter.com/27oaljdbx6
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) February 12, 2020
Noah Igbinoghene’s stock has been on the rise ahead of the NFL Draft, with the underclassman projected as a 1st-round pick — and a chance to bolster his standing at next week’s Combine.
— Tom Green (@Tomas_Verde) February 19, 2020
I’ll get more in-depth with the draft and breaking down prospects over the next several weeks.
With the Eagles projected to have 10 total picks in this year’s NFL Draft I expect it to have priority over free agency. Even though Howie Roseman has put more of an emphasis on building through free agency for the past few years, this offseason is going to be different. Carson Wentz’s contract is going to balloon after this season from the extension that he received in 2019, which puts even more pressure on the organization to start building with young players.