The Eagles made a long-anticipated move this afternoon. In order to activate a physically healthy Sidney Jones, the Birds had to make a corresponding roster move and while Jones hasn’t been activated just yet, injured middle linebacker Joe Walker has been placed on IR. The time is now for Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson if they are going to give their coveted second round selection some game action…but should they?
This Sunday will mark exactly one year to the day since Sidney Jones last played in a Football game. An achilles injury suffered prior to the draft saw him slip into the Eagles laps in the second round, but also hopes of playing in his rookie year slip away. While now physically healthy, Jones has only partaken in practices with the team. He missed preseason, he missed Training Camp. The outcome of this game is meaningless in many ways for the Eagles. They have an opportunity to get Sidney Jones some experience against competition at the NFL level before focusing on an offseason of development.
What has been a redshirt campaign in every sense of the word could end in just a taste of what’s to come and plenty of experimentation. The upside that Jones possesses is remarkable and if the Eagles have a way to get him out onto the field before a 3-week break in order to study the film and really get a gauge on how far in his recovery and development he is, they may be wise to take it.
Jalen Mills is listed as questionable. If Mills is unable to play, that will force fellow rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas into the fray once again. Since making his first NFL start in week 3, Douglas has been a pleasant surprise for the Eagles, but if they wish to rest Ronald Darby as well, they won’t have the luxury to take some of that load off without Jones.
Sure, they could fall back on Jaylen Watkins or even Patrick Robinson, but their options are limited if they want to rest starters. Having Jones present on the sideline at least gives Jim Schwartz, a coordinator who thrives on rotation and stamina, some much needed optionality.
Leaning less on the linebackers:
With Joe Walker’s second season ending as his rookie year did, the Eagles are once again down to bare bones at linebacker. Dannell Ellerbe may be the placeholder over the middle, but beneath him lies Najee Goode and maybe Nate Gerry depending on his flexibility and how confident Schwartz is in his ability. The Eagles are low on linebacker depth and adding another corner will allow them to roll out with dime packages more often and again, add some optionality.
The Eagles have used nickel looks more than they did last year, which was already a surprisingly high amount. The issue here is that all falls on Malcolm Jenkins and Patrick Robinson. If the Eagles want to rest either of these, some extra reenforcement in the way of Sidney Jones ticks both boxes.
We talking bout practice:
The Eagles placed Walker on IR and have a flurry of guys capable of carrying the load if needs be. Kamu Grugier-Hill, Najee Goode and Nate Gerry could all play the position…so it’s not as if the Eagles are hurting themselves just to activate Jones. Having continued time to develop through the playoffs in practices with the team will be valuable to a young player who has missed such an extended period of time. Even if Jones doesn’t play, having him activated to experience gameday with the team, having him in as many practices as possible will only be beneficial to his development.
In his sophomore season, Jones led the pac-12 in pass breakups with 12, intercepting 4 and showing his strength as a tackler, forcing three fumbles. One year later, he would pick off another three passes as well as breaking up a further six..being named first-team All-Pac 12 in the process. Jones has a firm punch at the line of scrimmage when initiating bump-and-run coverage and has incredible spatial awareness. But a year is a long time…and 12 months without a competitive, live-game snap, let alone at the NFL level could make life hard for any corner, let alone a rookie.
Giving Jones some breathing room against a Dallas team with nothing to play for would theoretically allow him to build confidence and set the tone for the year ahead.
Taking the gamble:
Of course the main thing to note here is that the Eagles are putting the fate of their secondary on a very young corner who is yet to play an NFL snap. This isn’t a video game where that transition is seamless and an Achilles injury isn’t exactly a walk in the park to come back from. The Birds could not afford to let Jones play if he is any less than 100%, but if the secondary begins to get torched due to errors from a rookie who the Cowboys will undoubtedly pick at, what happens then? Is that simply seen as a learning experience and how does it impact the views on his future, that decision and the secondary moving into the postseason and beyond? The main problem in activating Jones lies in exactly that…
What happens after week 17?
Joe Walker may have been injured over the last few week, but a phantom appearance on the injury report has left many questioning the severity of his reported neck injury. The Eagles, should they activate Jones, will have to carry him on the roster through the playoffs. If he doesn’t play another snap during that time, he will be a healthy scratch. The Eagles have already had some issues with this earlier in the year when the safety spot was hit hard with injury.
If somebody does go down and Jones is listed as active on a gameday, could they trust him to line up against some of the NFC’s finest receivers in the biggest game of his career? A rookie cornerback having his first taste of NFL action in the playoffs with a game on the line is not ideal…and if he’s not mentally ready or less than 100% physically, it’s a HUGE risk to take that could leave lasting imprints on his career before it’s even started.
It’s not week 17. It’s not a glorified preseason affair. The Birds would be placing all of their chips on Jones to carry the load if called upon, but if he isn’t, it’s wasting a roster spot for the sake of what could be half a game at most against Dallas.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports