The Philadelphia Eagles entered the 2017 offseason with cornerback again being the team’s biggest weakness. The uncertainty at the position casted a ton of doubts about the defense’s true potential under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, while also putting the team’s strongest unit on defense, the defensive line, under much scrutiny.
Those worries may finally be put in the past after some unexpected incidents led to the Eagles having the most brightest picture at the team’s weakest position for over the last seven years.
Howie Roseman stood in front of the media entering the offseason with many questions revolving around the team’s cornerback group. He preached that the ‘band-aid’ solution the team has used over the past few years clearly wasn’t working and that they wanted to go young at the position.
After the team signed Patrick Robinson to a one-year prove it type of contract in free agency, many thought Roseman started to backpedal on what he preached earlier in the offseason about no more band-aids. After the 2017 NFL Draft, however, those questions about the team’s future about the position started to fade away.
Roseman grabbed two cornerbacks this past draft in Sidney Jones out of Washington and Rasul Douglas out of West Virginia. Jones, who suffered a torn Achilles during Washington’s pro-day, was a projected top-15 pick in the first-round of the draft, and Roseman admitted he was easily their best player available by the time the Eagles were on the clock with the 43rd pick in the second-round.
There’s still questions if Jones will play this upcoming season, but if he bounces back from this injury, he could reach his No. 1 caliber cornerback potential.
Then the Eagles double dipped at the position taking Douglas with their next pick. With the addition of 2016 seventh-round pick Jalen Mills, the future of the position looked somewhat brighter if every player panned out, but the present looked bleak.
If the Eagles aim is truly winning the NFC East this season, this current group of cornerbacks was not going to help the team reach that goal given the fact they’ll face off versus Odell Beckham Jr., Dez Bryant, Terrelle Pryor, Brandon Marshall, Jamison Crowder and Cole Beasley twice a season.
With an unexpected move, Roseman acquired a pro-bowl caliber player at the position after the team’s first preseason game. The Eagles shipped off fan favorite wideout Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for 23-year-old cornerback Ronald Darby.
Matthews future was looking nonexistent with this current Eagles regime, as he was drafted with the desire of fitting ex-head coach Chip Kelly’s offense. Under Pederson, Matthews posted his regular No. 1 wideout on the Eagles production, but at times it looked as if Pederson just tried to find different ways to get him involved in the passing attack and Matthews failing to fit what was asked of him in this offense.
After investing in Alshon Jeffery and with the most likely desire to bring him back for the long-term, this left Matthews likely heading to free agency and to be had to the highest bidder. Instead of losing him for nothing, Roseman flipped him and a day-two pick for a young starting caliber cornerback. This was a no-brainer.
Losing Matthews production will sting, but it’s replaceable with numerous options taking his slot reps in different formations. Darby’s 4.38 speed on the outside in this division, along with his $1.3 million left on his two-year rookie deal, helps the Eagles not just immediately, but in the future as well.
It’s no secret that cornerback has one of the toughest transitions coming out of college into the NFL. For Darby, that came in year two, as he didn’t allow a single touchdown his rookie season. Darby surrendered 660 receiving yards despite being targeted the fifth-most out of any defender in the NFL (105 targets). His 54.3 completion percentage was 17th lowest among cornerbacks according to profootballfocus.com. He faced the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Dez Bryant, DeSean Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Jarvis Landry, among others his rookie season also.
Darby’s production dipped a bit, in which you can refer to as a sophomore slump, but the entire Bills defense regressed as the ship sank under the team’s former head coach Rex Ryan.
Darby is best in a press-man scheme, which Buffalo was shying away from with new head coach Sean McDermott. Along with trading away their star wide receiver Sammy Watkins, this led to the Bills dealing away Darby early in his career to add Matthews and more draft picks to remold the team in their new staff’s image.
It’s surprising to see a team give up on a cornerback so young and inexpensive, but the value the Eagles parted with made the deal worth it to Buffalo. The caliber of player Darby is makes the haul the Eagles gave up worth it. Young defensive backs always hit a slump early in their careers. It’s the ones talented enough to bounce back that always do, and Darby has the talent to do the same as proven above.
The future at cornerback is very bright for the Eagles. It’s refreshing to say that out loud and realize there’s a legitimate chance it’s the truth. In a cornerback starving league, Howie Roseman added extremely young talent and potential to a group that was in dire need of it. He did so in one offseason.
It’s time to pat Howie on the back. Yes, his lack of success in charge of the Eagles’ roster gives you the right to be suspicious of him running the show. But his personnel moves since last year have been top notch in reshaping and rebuilding the future of this organization the right way. Give credit where it’s due.
Mandatory Photo Credits: Philadelphia Eagles website (philadelphiaeagles.com)