Three cornerback questions that the Eagles need to answer this offseason

NFL: SEP 27 Bengals at Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Trevor Williams (41) breaks up a pass intended for Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Auden Tate (19) in the end zone during the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Philadelphia Eagles on September 27, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

Kenny Golladay’s move to New York is a notable one. The Eagles will now have to face three elite receiving tandems twice a year and currently do not have the cornerback prowess to stop the bleeding. But before we begin to look at potential signings and targets, there are three questions that need answers.

Is Avonte Maddox an outside corner?

Avonte Maddox is the unaware gatekeeper this offseason when it comes to the secondary. Now entering his fourth year, there are some important questions to be asked about where Maddox fits in this new-look defense. What doesn’t help is that the answers to those questions will now trigger a domino effect.

Since entering the league in 2018, Maddox has played in the nickel, over the top, and most recently outside. Jim Schwartz doubled down on the Pitt product last year after seeing him hold his own against the Giants in 2019. While injuries have held him back, they haven’t been the lone criticism.

He allowed a 67.3% completion percentage last year and gave up 13 yards per completion. This resulted in QB’s amassing a 108.3 passer rating when throwing his direction. A lot of this could logically be attributed to the fact that he’s only 5’9. While athletically gifted, it’s just too easy even for average-sized wideouts to physically have their way with him.

On the inverse of this is the fact that both Nickell Robey-Coleman and Cre’Von LeBlanc are now free agents and neither have been brought back yet. If the Eagles view Maddox as an outside corner, then their offseason plans have to revolve around finding a long-term CB3. If they would rather push him back to his comfort zone, then that’s where the fun begins.

It’s worth noting that new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has a strong history of bringing along talented nickel CB’s, with players like Kenny Moore and the ageless wonder Captain Munnerlyn both thriving under his tutelage.

Moore is the most recent example, having blossomed into arguably the league’s top nickel corner since joining Indy back in 2017. With 13 passes defensed and 4 picks to his name last year, many regarded him as a Pro-Bowl snub due to his ability to contribute in every facet of the defense.

If Gannon can squeeze all of the juice out of Avonte Maddox, then maybe the Eagles need to look at outside options and not another nickel candidate.

What does the roadmap look like?

Darius Slay is an extremely talented cornerback, but how long is he going to be around? He recently restructured his deal, but the Eagles have a ‘potential out’ after this season as a result. What was a three-year deal is now tricky. Slay is on the books for a whopping $22M cap hit next season. Ouch.

If the team hands him a new long-term deal, then finding a CB2 won’t be too hard. There are some nice free-agent options available and the Draft has some intriguing options. However, if Slay is going to be a future cap casualty, then maybe drafting a future CB1 is the way.

Is it time for the Eagles to fully invest?

That leads me to my final question. Admittedly, the Eagles hardly have a stellar history when it comes to the drafting and development of young cornerback talent. Conversely, the last time they took a corner in the first round was back in 2002 when they drafted Lito Sheppard. If Maddox does move back inside and there are natural questions surrounding Darius Slay’s future, does this open up the possibility of the team finally drafting a corner in the first round? Who’s to say Patrick Surtain II isn’t a plausible option at 6?

Every other NFC East team now has a receiving tandem that demands respect and as things stand, the Eagles do not have the firepower to even think about going toe-to-toe. Drafting an heir to Slay’s throne is not only logical in that it creates a level playing field, but they might be being forced into it if they are to avoid what we saw last year.

It was all too easy for opposing quarterbacks in 2020. Darius Slay shuts down their top targets, but on the other side of the field, it’s an absolute field day. That will not change unless the team fully invests and this might be the year in which finally parting ways with a substantial draft pick to bolster the secondary makes sense.

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