Have the Eagles finally learned a valuable Free agent cornerback lesson?

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The Eagles announced earlier today that they have parted ways with 31-year old CB, Leodis McKelvin. The former Buffalo Bill was bought in as a free agent in order to help a young cornerback corps develop under the aggressive Jim Schwartz Defense..but a faith in the leadership of McKelvin saw the trading of Eric Rowe and subsequent inconsistencies that followed. So what next for the Eagles?

With new talent evaluators onboard joining a fresh coaching staff and a rookie quarterback, the Eagles have turned a new page in the Franchise novel and are hoping it’s one of glory and success. But in doing so, it will be interesting to see if the team have seen the error of their ways.

The last time that the Eagles drafted a first round cornerback was 2002. That man was Lito Sheppard. A corner who would go on to be a fan favorite en route to two Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl selection.

The majority of the Eagles cornerbacks in recent years have been acquired through trades or free agency..with little success. From the likes of Bradley Fletcher and Carey Williams, to Nolan Carroll, Byron Maxwell and Nnamdi Asomugha, the team continued to throw money at unrestricted free agents, but the search for stability at the cornerback position resulted in a turnstile effect.

Bizarrely, the Leodis McKelvin signing along with Ron Brooks proved to carry the same weight as some of Chip Kelly’s moves did. The decision to trade Eric Rowe, expressing faith in McKelvin, Brooks and seventh-round rookie Jalen Mills was said to be down to “scheme-fit” initially, a phrase that has haunted the Eagles for the last few years.

But just a few months later and it’s the former second round pick of the Birds that is parading around Boston with a Super Bowl ring..and the 31-year old McKelvin who finds himself searching for a new team.

The decision to release McKelvin leaves the Eagles in an interesting predicament. Their current starting corners would be Nolan Carroll (who is a pending free agent), Jalen Mills and Ron Brooks. Beneath them are two cornerbacks who established themselves in the CFL. It’s this new direction that could have a much bigger impact on the roster than many realize, as can be seen here.

If the Eagles decide to let Nolan Carroll walk, it would be interesting to see whether they would pursue the likes of Stephon Gilmore and Trumaine Johnson, sticking to the tried, tested and arguably failed formula of acquiring free agency talent, or decide to venture into new pastures..drafting cornerbacks in the first round.

The Eagles are lucky in that there is an abundance of playmaker talent at WR/CB/RB, three of the most prominent holes on the roster. Drafting a cornerback in the first round would be the favorable move, leaving the team to find value in the middle rounds at wide receiver and running back..something not so foreign to them.

Wendell Smallwood was drafted in the fifth round last year and went on to rush for over 300 yards and a touchdown in his rookie season. Paul Turner went undrafted out of Louisiana Tech and after leading the NFL in receiving during preseason, was called up to the team later in the season and recorded 9 receptions for 126 yards.

The most impressive success story last season had to be Jalen Mills. Drafted in the seventh round out of LSU, it took just three quarters for him to be thrust onto center stage after Leodis McKelvin suffered an injury. Mills would endure a rookie season of struggle, development and maturing as he found his confidence during the second half of the schedule, accompanying a trademark  finger wag to his game once he had found his stride, much faster than anyone had anticipated.

More importantly, the Eagles have saved approximately $3.45M in cap space by releasing McKelvin. But would the team be wise to invest that money elsewhere and save their prized draft picks for adding players with star-potential to the roster.

The Eagles have expressed an interest to continue building from the ball outward. A source  recently cited the following;

the Eagles want to solidify the trenches and continue to build from the ball out. The source cited that the team feel confident in the direction they’re heading, but it’s important not to run before you can walk.

By adding some free agency depth at defensive tackle, regardless of whether or not Bennie Logan returns, and adding maybe even trading for more on the offensive front in wake of the Eagles recent move to try and shave money from the $11M cap hit Jason Peters brings to the table, the team would be preparing for the long haul, leaving their draft picks to be spent bringing in playmakers on the outside.

Free agency is an area that has not served the Eagles well in recent years. From the era of Andy Reid to Chip Kelly and now Doug Pederson, the common thread has been Howie Roseman. Accountability is a key focal point for the team moving forward, hence the acquisitions of Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl. But as opposed to changing staff, changing culture and changing systems..it appears as though the Eagles are finally swallowing a bitter pill and are now changing the way they evaluate talent and the process of signing new players.

It’s not yet known how the Eagles plan on replacing Leodis McKelvin..but if the team venture into free agency once again and place all their chips on another veteran who fails to live up to the expectations, it would be disastrous for an organization that is going to be suffocated by cap space in years to come. Even more-so if he has previous experience with Jim Schwartz.

One can only hope that the inconsistencies of Leodis McKelvin have served as a lesson to the Eagles..that schematic fit doesn’t always beat out raw talent. The more you chase losses, the more you end up risking. That’s exactly what the Eagles have done in recent years after giving Byron Maxwell an incredibly lucrative contract. Perhaps the front office have finally had a change of heart and are now willing to develop talent as opposed to buying it.

If that is the case and the first round pick is spent on one of the many Pro Bowl-destined corners, then we could be seeing the first stages of a well-oiled machine being implemented once again in the City of Brotherly Love.

 

Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

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