Just when you thought the Eagles finally found some stability at the cornerback, one ankle injury has thrown the whole position into flux again. Halfway through the 2nd quarter of the Eagles’ opening week game against the Redskins, cornerback Ronald Darby went down with a gruesome ankle injury. The injury is currently being regarded as a dislocated ankle, though we’ll know more after the MRI results are released later today. It was just one of those freak non-contact injuries. It’s no ones fault and nothing can be done about it now. The only thing to do is rally around the injury and get the next man ready to play. But where will that next man come from?
Like it or not, the answer is probably someone on the existing roster. Starting caliber corners aren’t just walking around the street this time of year. Best case scenario, Darbys’ ankle shows no ligament damage and he’s out until just after the team’s week 10 bye week. Worst case is he out for this year and potentially longer if there is severe ligament damage.
So how can the Eagles weather the storm? The secondary was aided by a few Washington dropped passes on Sunday but they can’t rely on that happening week to week. The best, and most likely options are already in the building. The Eagles have some versatile players currently in their secondary and they will need to use them to survive this season. They have a couple different options in the slot so that position should be fine. What they really need to figure out is who can hold it down on the outside. What we saw yesterday was Jaylen Watkins used as the 4th corner. We could likely see Watkins make the full time switch to corner instead of his corner/safety hybrid role. Watkins is young and long for a corner. He also tackles pretty well which is essential for a Jim Schwartz defense. He isn’t the best man cover guy though which will hurt him now that he is vying for significant playing time. I don’t know if he is ready for the starting lineup after just recently making the transition back to corner.
The two inactive players on Sunday, Rasul Douglas and Dexter McDougle, are going to factor heavily into this situation. The team can go in 2 different directions depending on whom they feel is more ready to play. Douglas is the outside corner of the two. If they feel he is ready, they can start him on the outside and keep Robinson in the slot with Watkins being the 4th corner. Jenkins and Graham would be backups in the slot. If they feel McDougle is more prepared, they can activate him next week instead. That would mean moving Patrick Robinson to the outside. Robinson didn’t look too bad on the outside against the Redskins but we all know what happened in camp. obinson, Watkins, Douglas and McDougle are all likely to have their roles change on the active roster next week in a situation that bares watching.
Another likely move would be calling up C.J. Smith from the practice squad. It’s easy to see Smith fitting right back on the roster since he was with the team last season and he is also an outside corner. Smith showed flashes at times, even earning praise from veteran leader Malcolm Jenkins last year. Smith also can play special teams very well which will be essential for someone coming in at the back end of the roster. Smith was caught in a numbers game in camp after the additions of Darby and McDougle. A rough 3rd preseason game against Miami may have ultimately led to his release, but there is an excellent chance he is brought back now with the injury to Darby.
For those in full panic mode, here are some of the very underwhelming current free agents who could be brought in for a look. (For the record, I am not advocating actually signing any of these guys. Just names to know)
Darrelle Revis – Let’s just start with the obvious and get it out of the way. By far the biggest name available, Revis looked horrible when he was on the field last year. He looked out of shape and like he had lost a step. Complicating matters is the $6 million in guarantees still left on his contract with the Jets. That money would be offset by any new contract. With almost $10 million in cap space currently, the Eagles could certainly afford him, but would rather roll that money over into the off-season to help retain their own free agents.
Sam Shields – The former Packer starter is 29 years old and will serve a 2 game suspension when he signs with a team. He also has a history of concussions.
Leon Hall – Currently 33, Hall recently worked out for the 49ers. After playing decently for the Giants last year the veteran is still getting some sniffs around the league.
Courtland Finnegan – The scrappy Finnegan is 33 now and has been out of football for a year. His career is likely over.
Johnthan Banks – The former 2nd round pick is still only 27 and offers some nice size at 6’2. Recently released by the Bears, Banks has yet to make a mark in his short career
B.W. Webb – More of a slot corner, Webb would simply be a depth signing.
Kyle Arrington – Missed all of last year with a concussion and was released by the Ravens over the summer. The former Patriots starter would need to prove he’s still healthy at 31 years old.
Perrish Cox – Has size for the outside at 6’0 190lbs but at age 30 doesn’t have much left in the tank.
That’s probably the best that’s out there. I told you it was underwhelming.
As we wait for news on Darby, let’s all hope for the best. The new rule in the NFL this year is that 2 players can be on IR-Designated for return, so we could potentially see both Darby and Sidney Jones later this season. What you should prepare yourself for is that Darby is out for the year, C.J. Smith gets the call up, and Douglas or McDougle becomes active on game day. At some point I would like to see Douglas in that position on the outside opposite Mills. The rookie is a big, physical play-maker. He’ll take his lumps for sure but inserting him in the lineup would offer the most upside and it would keep Robinson in the slot where he has excelled.
“Next man up”, that’s the motto when a player goes down with a major injury. The Eagles need someone to step into that position and hold down the fort. Jenkins, Graham and Robinson are the veterans in that defensive backfield that need to be relied upon to have a smooth transition. There needs to be communication, detailed preparation and that pass rush needs to really bring the heat. The season got off to a great start with a win in Washington but this secondary will be tested from here on out.