The long-running saga of whether the Eagles would ever give corner Brandon Boykin a chance to work outside ended abruptly Saturday night, when the Birds traded Boykin to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a fifth-round draft choice that ESPN's Adam Caplan reported can be a fourth-rounder depending on playing time.
In a text message, Boykin said he was surprised by the move, made the night before the opening of Eagles training camp at NovaCare, but added he was "super excited for a new opportunity with a team that wants me."
Boykin has been a standout since the previous Eagles regime drafted him in the fourth round from Georgia in 2012. He intercepted six passes in 2013. However, at 5-10, 185, he did not fit Chip Kelly's preference for taller, longer-armed corners, and was stuck in a slot role, with his rookie contract expiring after this season. It seemed very unlikely Boykin would reach an agreement to stay here, given that he almost certainly wasn't going to start outside, and the top 15 NFL corners in terms of salary last season all played outside.
Boykin tweeted to Eagles fans that "it's been real," and added, "You know I always played my heart out every time I hit the field. Always got love for you."
The Eagles signed Byron Maxwell, E.J. Biggers and Walter Thurmond this offseason (though Thurmond might start at safety), and they drafted Eric Rowe, JaCorey Shepherd and Randall Evans, all of whom impressed in spring work. Nolan Carroll seemed to have the upper hand at the outside spot opposite Maxwell, though Kelly said Boykin would get a chance to compete there during camp.
Last season, the idea that Boykin couldn't play as well as struggling starters Bradley Fletcher and Cary Wailliams dumbfounded many analysts and fans, but defensive coordinator Bill Davis was resolute in proclaiming that he was starting his best corners. Fletcher and Williams were not retained.
"He's the coach, he's a man of his word. I'm going to hold him accountable to that, just like he does us," Boykin said after an early June OTA session, when asked about Kelly saying he would compete to start. "I'm going to go out there and ball and do what I'm supposed to do. Once camp hits, we'll see who outperforms whoever, and I guess you guys can worry about the rest."
Now, we don't have to. And only 13 players remain from the roster Kelly inherited from Andy Reid in January 2013, including Julian Vandervelde, who left and came back.