The Eagles have a very unique problem (if you can call it that) when it comes to their secondary. In a season where the injury bug ravaged the cornerback corps, the Birds’ found some unexpected hidden gems, adding to what was already a very young and promising group. The re-signing of Ronald Darby for one more year only solidified that, but there’s one corner who has seemingly been buried in the rubble left behind by a whirlwind.
Sidney Jones is now entering his third year in the NFL, but has played in just 10 games thus far.
Making his debut in week 17 two seasons ago after spending his rookie campaign nursing the injury, the Washington product made quite the impression, raising excitement for his first full season. But after missing time in the offseason with yet more injury setbacks, it would seem to be a bad omen that would follow the young cornerback.
Jones started the season replacing Patrick Robinson and did so very promisingly. A series of big games were followed by the typical ‘rookie’ struggles that all defensive backs struggle with, but he flashed that elite potential once more. Through the opening three games playing inside, Jones had allowed 8 receptions on 14 targets, which is quite impressive, all things considered. But then that bad omen returned
Against the Vikings, Jones allowed 5 receptions on as many targets, missing two tackles in the process. One game later, he picked up a hamstring injury against the Giants and would be out for a month before returning against the Saints…who went on to demoralize an already battered and bruised secondary.
Forced to move outside, Jones would miss another game following the loss to New Orleans before returning against Washington. Although he whiffed on a few tackles that game, Jones was largely quiet, which for a cornerback is the loudest compliment you can give. But then one week later, things started to turn sour…again.
Jones picked up a first-half injury and tried to carry on into the second half, with depth already at a minimum. Although his effort was valiant, it didn’t take long for Dak Prescott to begin picking on Jones, bullying him all the way down the field and into the end zone for a touchdown. The training staff pulled the 6’0, 181 lbs, corner shortly after.
In his place stepped a rotation of players, but the savior of the day just so happened to be Cre’Von LeBlanc. Whether it was his interception against the Saints in the playoffs, his thunderous tackling, or raw and raspy coverage, his presence really injected that sense of aggression that began to slowly slip out of the secondary.
It’s a perfectly legitimate question to wonder what the future holds for the former Bears cornerback, who fit in perfectly to an Eagles defense that is now crowded with talent. At age 24, his ceiling is still extremely high…but could he compete for a starting role?
LeBlanc signed a two-year deal with the Eagles, meaning that he will be battling throughout Training Camp and beyond. For Sidney Jones, this only adds pressure.
With Ronald Darby re-signed and Jalen Mills still on the team, the Eagles retain both outside starters, meaning that once again, Sidney Jones is pigeon-holed into playing the slot, where if his health is even a minor concern for the third consecutive year, the Eagles have a young bull who’s raring to go.
“You look at him like he’s a young player that’s had to battle through a lot of injuries.” Schwartz said late in the year. “You have to take last year (2017) out of the equation because that — we knew going in what we were going to get. We bought that issue, so we certainly don’t hold that against him in any kind of way.
There are a lot of players who experience injuries early in their career, late in their career. The hardest time to experience injuries is when you’re new to a team. You’re a signed free agent, and that guy goes and gets hurt. The spotlight is on you. You’re a high draft pick and you get hurt.
I think you guys probably have a lot of those situations here. A guy comes in drafted high and everybody is expecting him to come in and be a key contributor and he’s just not able to for whatever reason.
You probably put — we put Sid in that category. He’s done some really good things for us this year playing the nickel early in the season. I thought by this time he was really going to — there was some on-the-job training, but by this time I would’ve thought he would’ve really taken off. He got injured, wasn’t able to do it, then had to move outside with our injuries. Not just his injuries but the other guys, too.”– Jim Schwartz
This is a pivotal year for Jones. The former second-round pick could well be depended on to step up to the plate as a CB1/2 following the end of this season given the contractual situation of both Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills. That at least seems like the natural path…but it’s all dependent on how he fairs.
If Jones can hold his own in the nickel as he did at the start of 2018 and have a strong third season, then the Eagles will feel far more comfortable in letting at least one of their current outside starters walk into free agency knowing that Jones can make the jump. But if injuries hold him back once more, or failing that, someone like Cre’Von LeBlanc can pip him to the nickel post, a whole new discussion opens up.
Complicating matters is the rookie season breakout of Avonte Maddox and the rampant redemption of Rasul Douglas. Maddox played just about everywhere last year, proving to be impactful in the nickel, as a safety, and even when left on an Island.
What was once a room full of air has become suffocating for Sidney Jones. There’s no more room for setbacks because even the slightest stutter will see a depth chart brimming with potential, tear the house down for a chance at the starting nickel role, or to prove they’re more reliable outside.
It’s now all-or-nothing for Sidney Jones. Whether or not that heartbreaking pre-draft injury has hindered his play, keeping him inside, remains a mystery. But if he can’t make significant progress this offseason, or is held back due to those same injuries, it’s a slippery slope he will struggle to reclimb.