Eagles Trade Brandon Boykin To Steelers

Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

On the eve of the start of training camp, the Eagles dealt cornerback Brandon Boykin to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a conditional fifth-round pick in 2016.

Per a league source, that pick can become a fourth-rounder depending on playing time.

Boykin had an odd three-year stint in Philadelphia. Originally a  fourth-round pick by Andy Reid and Howie Roseman in 2012, the Georgia product wasted little time carving out a niche as the team’s nickel cornerback while thriving as a “gunner” on special teams. He had a breakout campaign in 2013, finishing second in the NFL with six interceptions despite being on the field for just 52 percent of the snaps.

That playing time dipped to 43 percent of the snaps in 2014 as Billy Davis opted to stay in base more.

With the outside corners struggling last season, there were cries to give  Boykin a shot at one of the starting gigs. The coaching staff, though, never went in that direction.

“If you want to start [Boykin] at corner, then you say he’s better than Fletch and Cary out there,” said Davis. “Obviously we start who we think are the best players at those positions.”

Size was a factor. Chip Kelly, as we know, prefers bigger corners to play on the outside. At 5-10, Boykin did not fit the mold. The 25-year-old never believed his height or length would have prevented him from getting the job done.

“That’s nonsense,” he said. “There are Pro Bowlers that are smaller than me, so that stigma is stupid, in my opinion. Some of the greatest corners weren’t 6-4. Now people want that body type and that doesn’t necessarily translate to success. You look at a guy who is 6-4, he probably can’t run, he can’t change positioning, or he can’t jump as high. I don’t pay attention to that type of stuff.”

Though his playing time was limited, both Kelly and Davis said they viewed nickel as a starting position, and Boykin filled that role well for the most part. So why deal him? Part of the answer lies in the fact that his rookie contract was set to expire at the end of the year, and it was unlikely that Boykin would have chosen to re-sign here. Instead of letting him walk without a return at season’s end, they get a mid-round pick for him. It also suggests that Kelly is happy with the group of young corners they have in the fold.

On the other hand, it’s hard to argue that this in any way makes the Eagles a better team this season. Even if the coaches thought he would not be the top nickel for them this year, he would have at the very least provided depth and solid special teams play.

But he’s gone now, the wave of change pulling another member of the Reid/Roseman era out to sea.

Possible replacements

So who will play nickel now? There are a number of roads Kelly could go down.

It’s possible that rookies JaCorey Shepherd and Randall Evans will get a shot. Same with second-year man Jaylen Watkins. Veteran E.J. Biggers has experience inside and could be an option. And maybe the runner-up between Nolan Carroll and Eric Rowe bumps inside.

It’s also worth keeping in mind this quote from Kelly about Byron Maxwell and the versatility he displayed when the Eagles and Seahawks squared off last year.

“He started at outside corner, but then when they went to nickel, he came inside.  You watch him covering [Jeremy Maclin]  and [Riley Cooper]  and then moved inside and covered  Jordan [Matthews]...I think if you asked Jordan, I think Jordan said  he was the best cover guy he faced last year as a rookie.  So that stood out to us.  I thought he was the best nickel defender that defended us in the 16 games that we played.”

Would it be a big surprise, then, if he moved Maxwell inside in nickel situations with, say, Rowe taking over on the outside in those spots?

We’ll start to get a better feel for Kelly’s plan beginning Sunday.