Eagles free agency: Five cornerbacks the team should target

NFL: OCT 18 Bengals at Colts
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – OCTOBER 18: Indianapolis Colts Cornerback Xavier Rhodes (27) looks on in game action during a NFL game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals on October 18, 2020, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by MSA/Icon Sportswire)

With NFL Free Agency set to ignite in a little over two weeks, it’s time to start surveying the market. As things stand, it’s clear the Eagles won’t be big spenders due to their salary cap problems that need to be amended first. However, there’s nothing wrong with some window-shopping, especially when it comes to bargain bins.

We’re going to be taking a look at every major position of need between now and March 17th to try and find some cheap and cheerful plug-and-play options that the Eagles should consider, kicking things off with cornerback.

The Eagles have a dire need for cornerback help opposite Darius Slay. The former Lions pro bowler showed that it doesn’t matter how well you can blanket a teams’ #1 receiver if their #2 is running around doing crosswords in fields of Barley.

With a plethora of nickel corners and a total lack of boundary help, it’s time to see if the Eagles can find some value in the free-agent market.

Xavier Rhodes

This is the most obvious link. Rhodes was once a Pro Bowler under Jonathan Gannon in Minnesota before his play declined massively. He followed his old DB’s coach to Indianapolis and enjoyed a wonderful year, playing in all 16 games. He picked off two passes and allowed 51.9% completion percentage when targeted.

Xavier Rhodes would be a perfect partner opposite Darius Slay and give the Eagles a strong veteran with a pro-bowl ceiling under a defensive coordinator who has done nothing but get the best out of him.

His spike in production should raise his price, but his age will only bring it back down. If Rhodes wants to thrive under Gannon once more, who is to say that he won’t take a slight discount?

Brian Poole

If the Eagles still view Avonte Maddox as a potential CB2, or go on to draft one, then Poole would be the perfect nickel candidate.

Somehow, the Eagles overlooked Brian Poole last year, as they did in 2019, and landed ‘slot-god’ Nickell Robey-Coleman. Poole re-signed with the Jets on a cheap $5M deal despite a stellar 2019 campaign and he was once again worth every penny…when healthy. The injury bug sunk its teeth into the 28-year-old in 2020 and a shoulder setback led to him needing season-ending surgery.

Poole is more of a man-cover corner and may not be the perfect schematic fit here and he’s certainly among the more ‘premium’ options on this list. However, Poole’s nine starts in 2020 proved that 2019 was anything but a one-hit-wonder, registering 7 passes defensed, 2 picks, and 43 tackles. If the Eagles want to make sure they have a reliable nickel corner next year while they continue to groom Maddox as a CB2, Poole is easily going to land them the most bang for their buck.

Sidney Jones

The Sidney Jones experiment failed and the last thing the Eagles should be doing is bringing back former players after last year’s disaster-class. However, there is significant value here for a team already with their backs to the wall when it comes to cap space.

As Eagles fans were promptly reminded after his departure, Jones is a solid cornerback when healthy. It only took a couple of weeks for him to make a significant impact in the Jags secondary, but the problem, as it always has been, was injuries.

Jones ended 2020 on IR after battling an Achilles injury. He ended the year with 9 passes defensed, 26 tackles, and a forced-fumble, along with a notable pick against Deshaun Watson.

The Eagles know Jones and they’re no longer in a scheme that will exploit his weaknesses. The cover-2 base that often sees Safeties in zone coverage would provide shelter for Jones, which is all he ever really needed.

With yet another injury to his name, Jones should be an affordable option for the Eagles. The only thing here is that if he does sign, there should absolutely be a cornerback drafted in the first few rounds, with Jones then becoming the stop-gap while the rookie prepares.

Ahkello Witherspoon

I fell in love with Ahkello’s Colorado tape, but his NFL career to date has been disappointing. He’s been benched, injured, and shown flashes of the potential the Niners saw in him before drafting him in the third round.

What’s really interesting here is that Michael Clay, the Eagles’ new special teams coordinator, was Witherspoon’s assistant special teams’ coach at San Francisco.

Witherspoon amassed 28 tackles, nine passes defended, and an interception in 10 games during the 2019 season, but with only 4 starts in 2020, his numbers dipped significantly.

However, Witherspoon plays in a scheme similar to that which Jonathan Gannon will deploy in 2021. He’s a dinner cornerback who brings size, and ball production (24 passes defended and 4 picks in his career), fitting the mold perfectly.

The bottom line is this. The Eagles can’t afford to get picky here and Witherspoon still has plenty of upside at just 25-years-old and could benefit hugely from a change of scenery. At 6’2, 195 lbs, he’s the perfect prototype to play opposite Darius Slay and stop the bleeding from the CB2 spot while the team search for a long-term answer.

Michael Davis

Michael Davis could be the gem of this free-agent CB class. The former UDFA out of BYU is coming off of an incredible 2020 season where he recorded 14 pass breakups and 64 tackles, while his 3 interceptions led the team.

Just one year after catching on with the Bolts in 2017, he unseated Trevor Williams and hasn’t looked back since. He only gave up two touchdowns last year in what became his most prolific campaign yet.

At 6’2, 196 lbs, Davis would bring a Xavier Rhodes-type skill set to the table for a similar price. The allure here is the fact that he is still only 26-years-old. He would be a great fit opposite Darius Slay, having co-piloted the secondary with Casey Hayward for two and a half years now, and due to the depth of this years’ group, he could come at a slight discount.

Photo by MSA/Icon Sportswire