Eagles Wake-Up Call: Cornerback Outlook
We’ll wrap up our position-by-position look at where the Eagles stand going into the offseason this week. In the first eight installments, we covered the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers and safeties. Now, it’s on to the cornerbacks.
STATE OF THE ROSTER
The Eagles’ pass defense ranked in the middle of the league last season in several categories, including opponent passer rating (18th) and Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric (14th). However, the defense as a whole ranked 29th in Football Outsiders’ variance category, meaning they were one of the most inconsistent units in the NFL. The cornerbacks were a big reason why, especially Byron Maxwell.
Although Maxwell certainly didn’t play up to the $8.7 million he made in 2015, his inconsistency — and atrocious start to the season — is likely why people think he played worse than he actually did. He didn’t have a good season as a whole, but he did play well in spurts.
In the 12 games Maxwell played at least 40 percent of the defense’s snaps, he held the opposing quarterback to a passer rating below 85 five times, according to Pro Football Focus. In those contests, he allowed an average of two receptions for 27 yards per game, and he recorded more interceptions (two) than touchdowns given up (zero).
But then you look at the five games in which he allowed an average of more than 99 yards per contest, and it’s obvious he didn’t deserve to be the 12th-highest paid cornerback in the NFL.
Opposite of Maxwell, Nolan Carroll was solid until his season-ending leg injury on Thanksgiving, while Eric Rowe flashed potential to turn into a quality starter.
WHAT I THINK WILL HAPPEN
At this time last year, cornerback was clearly a position the Eagles needed to address. Now, it’s uncertain what the team will do because of a few question marks.
First, you have Carroll, who is a free agent. Will the Eagles bring him back? Or did they see enough from Rowe to make him the starter opposite of Maxwell? When Carroll was on CSN Philly a couple of weeks ago, he expressed a desire to remain in Philadelphia.
“I would love to stay in Philly,” Carroll said. “Coming here two years ago, I just fell in love with how the city is and how the fans are, how the organization is. Everybody is welcoming. Everybody loves each other. That’s something you don’t see in a lot of organizations and a lot of people.”
Second, you have Rowe, whose position could change. The 2015 second-round draft pick said after the season ended that he’d like to remain at cornerback, but he has the versatility to play at safety. Perhaps Rowe would be an appealing option to play next to Malcolm Jenkins if Walter Thurmond walks in free agency, and the Eagles don’t find a suitable replacement.
Third, you have JaCorey Shepherd, who was a strong candidate to be the nickel corner before tearing his ACL during training camp. Would Jim Schwartz feel comfortable with the position depth because of Shepherd, even if Carroll doesn’t return?
Here are the top cornerback free agents, according to FOX Sports’ WalterFootball.com, including the players’ current team and age:
- Josh Norman (Panthers, 28)
- Janoris Jenkins (Rams, 27)
- Leon Hall (Bengals, 31)
- Trumaine Johnson (Rams, 26)
- Casey Hayward (Packers, 26)
- Pacman Jones (Bengals, 32)
- Sean Smith (Chiefs, 29)
- Prince Amukamara (Giants, 27)
- Brandon Boykin (Steelers, 26)
- Jeremy Lane (Seahawks, 26)
Norman is obviously the big name, but a familiar guy sits at No. 9 who may appeal more to Doug Pederson and Schwartz than he did to Chip Kelly and Billy Davis.
Here are the top cornerback options in the draft, according to ESPN’s Scouts Inc., including their overall ranking:
- Jalen Ramsey, Florida State (No. 2)
- Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida (No. 4)
- Eli Apple, Ohio State (No. 23)
- Mackensie Alexander (Clemson, No. 26)
- Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech (No. 39)
- Will Redmond, Mississippi State (No. 58)
- Eric Murray, Minnesota (No. 71)
- Xavien Howard, Baylor (No. 76)
- D.J. White, Georgia Tech (No. 84)
- Zach Sanchez, Oklahoma (No. 87)
WHAT YOU MISSED
“You get proud of having that logo on your chest.” Malcolm Jenkins discusses his new deal.
The Eagles signed Jenkins to an extension through the 2020 season on Monday.
“It’s going to be interesting.” Carson Wentz to the Eagles? Jack Conklin? Mel Kiper’s takes.
Could there be a defensive lineman prepared to help the Eagles next year? More combine prep.
Examining where the Eagles stand at linebacker heading into the bulk of the offseason.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
A prescient Jeff McLane of the Inquirer wrote why the Eagles should extend Malcolm Jenkins, which now serves as a post-extension explainer.
In retrospect, it was bargain-based not only on Jenkins but also on how other more expensive free agent safeties played over the same span. Jairus Byrd (six years, $54 million), Donte Whitner (four years, $28 million), T.J. Ward (four years, $22.5 million) and Antoine Bethea (four years, $21 million) received more in the 2014 offseason, and not one was arguably as good and certainly not as reliable as Jenkins.
Jenkins was solid in his first season with the Eagles but elevated to another level last season and played in his first Pro Bowl. He went as an alternate, but he was slighted without an initial nod. He has become one of the more versatile safeties in the NFL and has clearly been the Eagles’ best safety since Brian Dawkins left in 2009.
And yet, Jenkins was the 19th highest-paid player at his position in per-year averages. He was slated to make $5 million this season.
Mike Klis reported that Evan Mathis had plenty to say about why Chip Kelly failed in Philadelphia.
Before Mathis encountered his decision between the Dolphins and Broncos, he first needed Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly to release him from his Eagles contract. Kelly was not willing to rework Mathis’ contract, as the previous Eagles’ regime had.
Most players would use their agent to handle such a task. Mathis directly texted Kelly with a YouTube video of Engelbert Humperdink singing, “Please release me, let me go. …’’
Mathis also stated via e-mail that Kelly is not the type of coach who could have handled the 2015 Broncos’ contingent of outsized characters.
“There were many things that Chip had done that showed me he wasn’t building a championship team,” Mathis wrote in his e-mail to 9NEWS. “Two of the main issues that concerned me were: 1. A never-evolving, vanilla offense that forced our own defense to play higher than normal play counts. 2. His impatience with certain personality types even when they were blue-chip talents. The Broncos team I was on would have eaten Chip alive. I don’t think he could have handled the plethora of large personalities.”
We’ll continue to prepare you for the combine.