Are the Eagles beginning to build their secondary of the future?

NFL: AUG 04 Arizona Cardinals Training Camp
GLENDALE, AZ – AUGUST 04: Arizona Cardinals cornerback Tay Gowan (32) celebrates a big play during Arizona Cardinals training camp on August 4, 2021 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire)

The NFL Trade Deadline has passed and did so without a major move from the Philadelphia Eagles. They did pick up a rookie cornerback in the way of Kary Vincent Jr. and when partnered with the earlier arrival of Tay Gowan, we can begin to see a pattern emerging.

The Eagles are stacked with 2022 draft picks to fill their key roster needs and should have more than enough cap space to attack free agency and strengthen spots in need of veteran leadership. Cornerback is undoubtedly going to be one of several areas that needs TLC, but it looks as though Howie Roseman has given himself a head start when it comes to building for the future.

We could see a very different looking group hit the field in 2022. Darius Slay is likely to still be around, but will carry a staggering $22M cap hit, while both Steven Nelson and Avonte Maddox will be on the open market. Both are definitely candidates to return, but we know that Nelson is hungry for a big payday and Maddox might be playing himself above what the Eagles are willing to pay. This isn’t to say that the two new names to the nest will be competing for starting roles anytime soon, but losing two starters would sting any secondary, let alone one that is lacking the talent to replace them.

It’s been a while since the depth at cornerback has been a strength. There was once a time where Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas were backups in the Eagles secondary, with Cre’Von LeBlanc sitting in the backup nickel role. Two of those three names were able to find greener pastures, with Douglas recently sealing a Packers win with a big-time interception.

Things are a little different now.

Zech McPhearson is likely the heir to the nickel throne, but the rookie was tossed to the boundary in preseason and struggled to stay afloat. He’s yet to see regular season action. Second-year CB Josiah Scott was acquired during the offseason and is also yet to see defensive snaps this year. If the injury bug bit the starters, the Eagles would be down to bare bones.

Jonathan Gannon’s scheme is unsurprisingly built to help cornerbacks. There’s a reason why he’s had so much success as a positional coach over the years and been able to squeeze all of the juice out of some top-tier talent. As a result, the Eagles may not want to go all-in and pay a premium for elite talent, knowing that the system will help elevate the floors of players.

As part of Gannon’s ‘HITS’ philosophy, interceptions are prioritized and we’re beginning to see the Eagles look for players who are going to put themselves in a position to make big-time plays, just as the starters are doing this season. The Birds have 6 interceptions to their name already this season and. Had 8 through the entire 2020 campaign, and 11 in 2019.

With that said, bringing in a pair of rookie corners in Tay Gowan and Kary Vincent Jr through a pair of trades brings developmental upside to a position that is currently lacking it. Both players are surprisingly productive around the catch-point, with Gowan bringing the typical UCF wingspan to the table, and Vincent shining with 8 PBU’s and 4 picks for LSU in 2019.

In a best-case scenario, we can presume that Slay will return next season. If the team lose Nelson/Maddox, they have the funds and requisite picks to find a long-term solution at CB2, who could one day replace Slay (someone like Derek Stingley Jr.) and have Zech McPhearson ready and waiting to take the nickel leap.

They now have some strong developmental candidates behind in Gowan and KVJ who over the next few years could grow into players with rotational roles and maybe even beyond that. Their arrival allows the Eagles to use their draft assets on bigger areas of need and find bonafide starters, safe in the knowledge that their is a clear mid-term picture at cornerback again and one that now has contingency plans in the event that injuries strike in 2021.

Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire