The Eagles have a very unique problem as they come to the closing stage of OTA’s. With eight cornerbacks on the roster, six of whom have started for the team, and the oldest being just 26 years of age, there is an abundance of fiery young talent for Jim Schwartz and Cory Undlin to groom. But with Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby both in their final contracted year, one has to wonder how important this offseason is for players like Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas, and Sidney Jones.
Getting the best players on the field should always be the priority for a defensive coordinator, but that won’t exactly be easy when it comes to the secondary. With versatility becoming such a key trait to possess in this defense and both Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills absent for OTA’s for different reasons, the window to make an early impact is swinging off its hinges.
“Some of the younger guys we want to try to settle in at one position and let them compete there.” Jim Schwartz told reporters last week. “But once you’re in the mix of making our roster, you have to have some versatility: play inside, play outside, play safety, play corner. All those things help you not only make the roster but help us over the course of the season.
You’re going to see it probably more now and then early in camp, and then when we get later in camp, probably zero guys in to compete for some certain spots. This time of year, we’re really not competing. The players are really competing against themselves. They’re not competing against their teammates, they’re not competing against somebody else at the position or the offense.
They’re competing to get themselves better as a player. We try to keep that in mind at this time of year.”
That may be true, but this is a crucial offseason for just about everyone. Take Rasul Douglas for example. At just 23-years old, Douglas has been overlooked since being drafted by the Eagles in 2017. His rookie campaign showed promise in the absence of Ronald Darby, but he rarely saw the field once the starter returned. But after the Eagles exhausted (literally) every option during an injury-plagued 2018, they dropped the WVU product into deep waters once more.
Douglas totaled four games with 9+ tackles in his return to the Eagles defense, not to mention leading the team in interceptions with 3. He’s not as polished as Darby, or as consistent in tackling as Mills, but flashes of starting quality were visible in every game he played.
Secondly, there’s Sidney Jones. The former second-round pick has battled injury setbacks since entering the NFL, but when he’s on the field, the fluidity and play-recognition are almost mesmerizing. ‘You can’t make the club in the tub’, but if he can stay on the field, Jones has the potential to blossom into a truly dominant corner. Jones should have the nickel reins next year, but one could argue that Cre’Von LeBlanc did more than just ‘make a case’ in his short time with the team.
Then, there’s Avonte Maddox. One of 2018’s biggest surprises, Maddox was a key cog in the Jim Schwartz defense as a rookie. He started at Safety, a position the former Pitt nickel corner had never played in his life until that moment, lined up outside, and played inside too. It’s clear that Maddox has buckets of potential and deserves to be on the field…but in place of who?
With Darby and Mills both on one-year deals, it’s entirely possible that the Eagles lose their starting tandem next offseason. They may keep one, or even both players, but they need to have an insurance policy ready. And for instance, if in the back of your mind, you know one of the aforementioned trio is ready to start, is younger, and has a higher ceiling, why would you let that talent stagnate on the sideline while Mills, who is hardly the most consistent corner in the league, battles with that reputation?
The wildcard here would be that third Safety spot. The Eagles could technically cut Andrew Sendejo and receive what is assumed to be a fourth-round compensatory pick for next year’s NFL Draft. This would likely bump Avonte Maddox to Safety, at least getting one of their incredibly talented young corners on the field.
There is every chance that the cornerback position as we know it, sees an overhaul this offseason. All it takes is a mighty training camp showing from guys like Douglas and Maddox to really throw the Cat among the Pigeons. Considering that Mills and Darby are watching OTA’s from the sideline, one can only assume this gives every other cornerback in those shark-infested waters, the smell of blood.