If we rewind to the end of July, you could argue that cornerback was one of the strongest areas of the Eagles roster. Stacked with both talent and depth, it seemed as though the team would finally have a sense of stability on the outside, allowing the pass-rush to feast. Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills were both coming off big years and there was an extra incentive for Darby to shine given his contractual status, while Sidney Jones could build on his week 17 performance against Dallas and replace Patrick Robinson. All seemed to be Sunny in Philadelphia….for all of about five minutes.
As the Eagles sit at a 4-5 record heading into a road fixture against the high-flying Saints, they are without both Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, with Sidney Jones questionable to play. This leaves the cornerback grouping in a position of severe uncertainty, but it could be exactly what’s needed.
Ronald Darby may have played his final game as a Philadelphia Eagle. In the two season’s he’s been with the team, he’s missed at least eight games. He may be 24-years old, but staying healthy is clearly going to be a factor moving forward and that alone may tempt Roseman out of a long-term bond to the former Buffalo Bill. Jalen Mills has one more year left on his deal but even though he’s earned the starting role, one could argue he hasn’t shown enough to keep it outside of being an emotional leader.
At the very least, the Eagles are going to have their closing half of the season without their two starters, leaving a gaping window for both Douglas and Mills, while Maddox will drop back into the slot, an opportunity he will be relishing also.
For Sidney Jones, this opportunity is monumental. Drafted as an outside corner, the Eagles had to find a way to get the Washington product on the field and after losing Patrick Robinson to free agency, it made sense to get their three most talented corners playing at the same time, so Jones took over slot duties, enabling a rookie Avonte Maddox to get some key mental reps on the sideline.
Jones had his struggles, make no mistake, like allowing over 50 yards of offense against the Vikings in his sloppiest performance to date. But in his opening two games, he allowed just 4 receptions and 18 yards during 59 snaps…which isn’t bad a tall for a player coming off of a heartbreaking Achilles injury that ruined his rookie year.
Jones has proven he can play inside, but is he ready to take the next jump and be left alone in an Island? Well, when he returns from injury, he won’t have much of a choice. But if he can successfully swim to safety and hold is own as he has in the majority of scenarios so far, it may allow the Eagles to feel more comfortable letting Darby walk into free agency.
In fact, having numerous games as a starting outside corner could be instrumental for the growth of Sidney Jones, who since being drafted in the second round last year, has only played in seven games. It’s unknown if he will be ready for a clash with the Saints, but if he is, that really will be a trial by fire and one he’s bound to learn from.
As for Rasul Douglas, this is an opportunity he cannot afford to squander. After being perceptively disrespected when the team opted to bring in Dexter McDougle off of the street instead of playing him in nickel, or move Avonte Maddox to Safety in wake of an injury, a rookie who had never played the position, Douglas now has his chance to steal the show. Unfortunately, that didn’t go to plan in Sunday night’s loss, with missed tackles ruling the day.
“He played like a 27-20 loss.” Jim Schwartz said of his performance. “And that’s the way the team played. That’s the way the defense played. That’s the way he played. And I would say for anybody that played snaps on defense, that’s the way we play. We all need to play better. We all need to play the pass better. We all need to tackle better.”
Douglas is also in an interesting spot because after playing in less snaps through eight weeks than McDougle played in two, the former third-round selection has a real window to steal the spotlight as he did during his rookie year filling in for Darby, plucking passes away and batting stray balls down, the West Virginia product has plenty of potential but has rarely had a chance to showcase it.
Now, all three cornerbacks who have a combined 3 years worth of NFL experience between them, will have a chance to ease the qualms of Schwartz, Undlin and Roseman. As the offseason approaches and the need for cornerbacks creeps into consideration, a big showing or a consistent end to the year from one, if not more of these players could be all it takes for the team to let Darby walk and allow a very young corps to grow into their huge shoes, just as Green Bay are doing.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports