If the last few months have told us anything, it’s that the value of competition in the Eagles locker room is something you simply cannot overlook. When it comes to the cornerback corps, it’s absolutely everything.
With the rest of the 90-man roster arriving for Training Camp today, all eyes turn to what promises to be an incredibly intense cornerback battle. All three starting roles are up for grabs, as well as the depth roles behind them…meaning every snap, every drill, every day, matters to everyone. From Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas, to the likes of Aaron Grymes and Jomal Wiltz, it’s survival of the fittest.
However, in a recent press conference, Doug Pederson hinted that the team haven’t stopped looking for a veteran presence to bring in throughout training camp.
“It’s a position that we continue to look, you know, even outside, as we do every position,” Pederson said. “We’re always going to try to bring in guys to create as much competition at that spot. Obviously, it’s a spot that we want to keep our eye on throughout camp.”
Naturally, fans and writers alike have been connecting dots and wondering who, if anyone, the Eagles may or should be pursuing. The most logical answer however, is nobody. Before we get into the reason’s why the concept of bringing in veteran help at this stage could only hurt a young and hungry unit, let’s look at some of the most talked about targets.
After a sensational rookie year in 2014, Kyle Fuller has fallen out of favor in Chicago. Many blame this fall from grace on an injury that kept him sidelined in 2016…but ask yourself this. If Fuller is on the verge of being released by a team that is in dire need of CB help and only allowed 224 passing yards per game last season, is it going to be worth taking an allbeit low-risk shot?
Fuller’s decline started way before the injury setback. In week two of 2015, he was benched in favor of Terrance Mitchell. The Bears allowed 79 points through the opening two games…and although Fuller would later rebound with a total of 55 tackles, 2 INT’s and 9 PD’s, there were some clear flaws. From struggles in press coverage that led to some sloppy grabs and 3 pass interference calls, the highs certainly outweighed the lows…but still left Chicago with a project.
Despite missing last year due to an injury, Fuller is still only 26-years old, so the upside is there. He would likely carry a cap hit of under $2M (less than they just saved by releasing Barbre), but the truth is…the Eagles need corners who can redirect traffic and remain relaxed in press looks. Fuller hasn’t shown that on a consistent basis during his time with Chicago, and his impressive ball skills don’t warrant upsetting the Apple Cart. It’s not like with Revis, where he would be bought in as a veteran presence for camp. Signing Fuller would take valuable reps away from the likes of Rasul Douglas and Jalen Mills who could be in the DNA of the Secondary for years to come.
Revis Island is one of the most terror inducing destinations for wide receivers from the last decade. But as incredible as his career has been, Recis has suffered a steep decline over the last two years. While his name alone would likely increase the price, Revis wouldn’t add much in the way of depth value. It’s also worth noting that Revis allowed the highest passer rating of any cornerback targeted more than 75 times. That rating? 108. The Eagles are coming off of a year where they allowed more 20+ yard plays than any other team in the NFL…the dots connect themselves.
If you’re trying to build for the future, taking snaps away from a rookie or second year corner, to hand them to a veteran on a prove-it deal who will likely have his ties cut once Sidney Jones is healthy, just doesn’t make sense.
Then there’s the lead singer of The Killers, okay not quite…but I don’t think that the 31-year old gives the Eagles a Mr Brightside. While the nine-year veteran has a wealth of experience, with his last three season’s being spent with the Chargers, Flowers has often struggled with injury.
With 21 career picks, Flowers’ is past his best days however. Intercepting one pass last year, it seems like only yesterday he was one of the most feared ballhawks in the league, picking off five passes in 2009 alone for the Chiefs.
Injury setbacks mean Flowers has only completed one full 16-game season healthy, and similarly to McKelvin, he’s a very solid tackler who is willing to get dirty in the run game…but his coverage, (especially press) often leaves a lot to be desired.
If it’s a veteran presence you want, then Flowers may be one of the best options. However there is something worth noting. Having most recently met with the New England Patriots, Flowers has also met with the Cardinals. It appears as though there’s definite interest around the league, something that will only drive up his price.
The Eagles have had mixed successes with veteran free agents. Leodis McKelvin has been the most recent and notable and there are too many similarities to make this signing worthwhile. He’s got soul, but he’s not a soldier.
The 29-year old was cut by the Packers just a few months ago after suffering what seems to be the latest in a worrying line of head injuries. The most concerning part is that Shields has started just two of his last 23 games. It’s not yet known if Shields is going to return to the NFL this season, with health being a priority…so it doesn’t look as if any angle this is viewed from is going to be a positive one.
Now that the main protagonists have been evaluated, let’s look at the immediate reasons why people are pining for a veteran presence.
#1….A veteran presence for production
The Eagles already have both Patrick Robinson and Ron Brooks on the roster. 29-year old Patrick Robinson is a perfect slot fit for the Eagles, but he opened OTA’s by starting outside, eventually relinquishing a place to Rasul Douglas.
Ron Brooks may have been sporadic in tackling at times, but the Jim Schwartz pupil is healthy once again and will aim to re-earn his starting nickel role.
Both of these players are already high on the Eagles depth chart and if they do lose that spot, it’s for the right reasons. The Eagles won’t be forced into starting struggling veterans unlike years past, but both of these players have had strong season’s prior to joining the Eagles. The question is, now both players are technically on prove-it deals, can they rekindle that Fire?
If it’s a veteran presence the Eagles want without spending big bucks, both Brooks and Robinson are walking a tightrope that could potentially end in 2017 being their final season in Philadelphia…and for Robinson, also his first.
#2 Mentor the younger guys:
Two words, one name; Stephen Tulloch. The Eagles signed the former Detroit Lion last year on a one-year deal worth $2.5M. The reasons? Depth was minimal at a position of priority, and neither Bradham or Hicks had finished a year in the NFL fully healthy. Beyond them, it was just Mychal Kendricks, who was schematically an outsider moving forward.
As useful as Tulloch may have been for Jordan Hicks to lean on in what was a year of sheer excellence, the 32-year old vet played in just 6.8% of defensive snaps…fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.
The Eagles don’t NEED a veteran to come in and mentor them, that’s what DB Coach Cory Undlin is there for. In fact, it was only two days ago that the coach was seen going over minor intricacies during the early stages of camp. While having a veteran like Revis would be an amazing asset to any player in the locker room, the importance of a strong coaching staff and environment is arguably far more important…and the Eagles have both of those.
It was only one year ago that nobody in the Eagles wide receiver corps had more than two season’s playing experience. Instead of signing an Anquan Boldin or a vet to help, the Eagles changed the man at the top of the coaching tree and signed two free agents who bought an incredibly high upside to the table, on affordable deals.
Don’t. Make. The. Same. Mistake.
Watching Cory Undlin work with the rookie DBs is great. He focuses on minute details. That's what this early portion of camp is for.
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) July 24, 2017
C O M P E T I T I O N
At the end of the day, every single position on that depth chart is up for grabs. With such an incredibly hungry group of guys, who are beginning to reflect Schwartz’s prototypical vision, there’s no need to tamper with it. At very worst, the Eagles defensive backs have a down-year, one that the pass-rush should theoretically be able to help prevent from hurting the Defense to some extent.
I would much rather see Mills, Douglas, and Robinson (for instance) than the starting trio last year…and that says a lot for both sides of the argument.
So far, OTA’s and Mandatory Minicamp have seen ruthless reps at corner. That trend will only be spiced up further when the vets report for the first team practice tomorrow. While there hasn’t been any finger-wagging just yet, there has been a fair share of assertive plays and aggressive mentalities. Not only that, but players have rotated perhaps more than any other spot on the roster. Mills and Robinson opened OTA’s as the outside starters, before the lengthy Rasul Douglas stepped up to the plate and Mills dropped into a slot role. Even Aaron Grymes earned his cut of the meat in the slot, but the competition is vicious. Beyond the big names and even the familiar underdogs, there lie players driven to make the most of a very unique opportunity.
Would you rather see a patchwork cornerback corps that again will not stand the test of time, or watch as guys like Jalen Mills develop, or as a hungry group of players battle it out to earn their stripes? The Eagles may not be blessed with talent and prowess at cornerback, but what they are filled with is hunger. The group is crammed with guys who play with a chip on their shoulder and who fit the mold of what Jim Schwartz is craving to implement in order to elevate his pass rush. You don’t NEED a 30-year old veteran to help develop those cornerbacks, especially the likes of Grymes and White who already have professional experience.
Competition makes everyone better, and when it comes to the Eagles cornerbacks, iron sharpens iron. Rasul Douglas has already built up a fierce relationship with Alshon Jeffery, and the rest of the DB’s will be competing against receivers who are just as hungry. Let the cornerbacks eat and compete for a position which lies in the palm of their hands…and address the potential “need” for a veteran next offseason when second-round pick Sidney Jones is back in the fray.
The cornerback picture isn’t as bleak as it looks…and even if you believe it is, it’s a LOT better than it was this time one year ago.
Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports