Eagles Offseason Overview: Cornerbacks
EAGLES POSITIONAL REVIEWS
The Eagles only have three cornerbacks under contract for 2015: Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll, and Jaylen Watkins.
Boykin, 24, is entering the final season of his rookie contract. He's a talented cornerback who happens to be (listed at) 5-foot-10, which seems to be an issue with the Eagles' coaching staff. They've kept Boykin as the slot cornerback, where they think he is best. The Eagles say that's a starting position, and there's validity to the idea that teams are so often in their sub packages. But the reality is Boykin played only 43 percent of the defensive snaps last season, which was less than half what the outside cornerbacks play. So however the Eagles want to spin it, Boykin is on the sideline for 57 percent of the snaps.
Maybe they're correct in their assessment that he's best as a slot cornerback, but Boykin has intriguing skills in a secondary that struggled. Although his interceptions were down last season, he allowed fewer yards and yards after the catch than 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. The Eagles don't have starters at outside cornerback next season, and it's worth wondering whether Boykin will get a shot. If he doesn't, it's also reasonable to wonder whether Boykin would even want to re-sign when he becomes a free agent.
Carroll, 28, was the Eagles' dime cornerback last season. That was a new role, and it was almost a hybrid linebacker spot. He has starting experience, but he could not unseat Bradley Fletcher. Maybe the Eagles have more confidence with Carroll after a full offseason, but he could be back in a dime role and a backup on the outside. He possesses some of the physical traits that the Eagles like, and he also contributes on special teams. Carroll's contract jumps up to $2.9 million.
Watkins, 22, was the Eagles' fourth-round draft choice in 2014. He did not take a defensive snap until the season finale. Watkins is one of the team's fastest players and the coaches like his intelligence, but he could not crack the rotation. This will be an important offseason for him. Watkins bounced between cornerback and safety last season, and he'll need to prove he's more than a depth piece in 2015.
The only free agent cornerback is Bradley Fletcher, who started the past two seasons. Fletcher is not as bad as his reputation would indicate in Philadelphia, but he struggled stopping the deep ball last season. He will have an NFL job next season, but I wouldn't anticipate that being in Philadelphia, and don't anticipate it as a starter.
The Eagles already made their biggest roster decision when they released Cary Williams, who was the other starting cornerback. By jettisoning Williams and saving $6.5 million in cap space, it made the Eagles even bigger players in free agency. It also meant they must replace two starting cornerbacks, assuming Fletcher is not retained.
If the Eagles wanted to open even more space, they could cut Carroll and save all $2.9 million. So far, they haven't done it, and Carroll can be part of the cornerback rotation and play special teams next season.
FREE AGENT OPTIONS
The Eagles are expected to be aggressive in the free-agent market next week, and cornerback will be a target. The player to watch is Seattle's Byron Maxwell (6-1, 207). He's a good fit for what the Eagles are looking for in terms of size, playing style, age, and experience. Maxwell turned 27 last month and started 17 games the past two seasons for the Seahawks. He has the length, physicality, and tackling ability to be the Eagles' top cornerback. He also has good ball skills. The worry with Maxwell is that he benefited from playing in a top secondary – this can be overstated, as it also meant balls were thrown in his direction – and that he'll be expensive. The second part is accurate. Maxwell is a candidate to be overpaid on the free agent market, but that's usually the case with a Day 1 target at that position. If the Eagles want him, they'll need to beat other interested teams – Atlanta and Jacksonville reportedly among them. Considering cornerback was a weakness on the team last season, it might be worth the investment.
The Eagles can sign more than one cornerback – remember, they don't have either starter under contract – and there are some other intriguing cornerbacks out there who can pair with Maxwell if the Eagles don't land him, or who could become a top cornerback if the Eagles cannot land Maxwell.
Two names to watch that fit with the age and size profile the Eagles seek are Green Bay's Davon House (6-0, 195) and San Francisco's Chris Culliver (6-0, 199). House, 25, has started only 14 games over his four-year NFL career. He has been known mostly for his special teams to date and has also dealt with injuries. But House has the talent and the size that will intrigue the Eagles, and he won't command the type of contract that Maxwell is expected to receive.
Culliver, 26, is a Philadelphia native, who started 14 games last season after missing all of 2013. He had four interceptions last season, and Pro Football Focus ranked him as No. 13 cornerback in pass coverage last season. Culliver was arrested last March and charged with felony possession of brass knuckles and two misdemeanors in a collision with a bicyclist, and there will be a hearing on the charges this spring, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Arizona's Antonio Cromartie (6-2, 210) has the size the Eagles like and is coming off of a Pro Bowl season, although he's 30 years old and is not known for tackling. But as far as coverage and play-making ability, he's among the better cornerbacks in the league.
Another name to watch is Houston's Kareem Jackson (5-10), a 26-year-old former first-round pick with 71 career starts. Jackson does not have the size the Eagles crave, but he is a versatile cornerback with good experience, and is still among the younger top free agents.
Walter Thurmond (5-11, 190) was injured for much of last season with the Giants, but the former Oregon standout spent the previous four years in Seattle and has value as a slot cornerback. San Francisco's Perrish Cox (6-0, 190) has had four different stops in his career, but he finally had a chance to start last season and showed flashes.
The top cornerback in the draft is Michigan State's Trae Waynes (6-0, 186), who comes from a top college program and tested well at the combine. He might not be available if the Eagles pick at No. 20. Washington's Marcus Peters (6-0, 197) has top talent, but he was dismissed from his team at Washington and the Eagles must be comfortable with how he'd fit in the locker room to make an investment. LSU's Jalen Collins (6-1, 209) lacks much starting experience, but he has the size and the skills that the Eagles crave. Collins could rise in the pre-draft process.
If the Eagles take a cornerback in the first round, Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson (6-0, 188) might enter discussion. Johnson was a three-year starter for Demon Deacons. Florida State's P.J. Williams (6-0, 194), Miami's (Ohio) Quinten Rollins (5-11, 195), UConn's Byron Jones (6-1, 199), and Stanford's Alex Carter (6-0, 196) are also expected to go in the first two days. Jones was a standout at the combine, setting the broad jump record.
On Day 3, one cornerback that might intrigue the Eagles is Oregon standout Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (5-9, 192). He tore his ACL leading up to the Rose Bowl, so he would require patience, but a team that waits could be rewarded. Auburn's Nick Marshall (6-1, 207) was a college quarterback who could be intriguing as a project. Utah's Eric Rowe (6-1, 205) is a size/speed prospect on Day 3.