Four days before Byron Maxwell played in the latest Super Bowl, he did not hide what he thought awaited him after that game. He quipped that he would be the "prettiest girl at the dance" once free agency started, when Maxwell would no longer be the supporting actor and could instead become the headliner.

During Super Bowl week, Maxwell's name never neared the debate about who was the best cornerback in the NFL - the Seahawks' Richard Sherman or Darrelle Revis, formerly of the Patriots. When that debate takes place at the end of this season, Maxwell expects another contestant.

"I can definitely be in that mix," Maxwell said. "You'll see."

Maxwell's confidence could come off as baseless bravado, but the Eagles think he could become - and are paying him to be - a top cornerback. Chip Kelly made Maxwell the Eagles' top priority and the fifth-highest-paid cornerback in the NFL with a six-year, $63-million contract in March, proving Maxwell's pre-Super Bowl prediction. It is hefty compensation for a 27-year-old who started only 17 career regular-season games and was always the least-heralded player in his own secondary.

The Eagles targeted Maxwell to help fix a beleaguered secondary. Their interest was piqued by Maxwell's 6-foot-1, 207-pound frame with 331/2-inch arms, and a skill set that allows him to thrive in the press coverage that their defense requires.

"I wouldn't call [the contract] a burden," Maxwell said. "It's a responsibility. Because I'm the guy. So a lot of times, I'm automatically thrust into a leadership role just because of the position I'm in. It's a responsibility I have. I'm aware. I've just got to make sure I'm giving them Byron Maxwell and I'm not trying to be somebody else."

Philadelphia fans don't want that "somebody else" to be Cary Williams, the Eagles' former top cornerback who replaced Maxwell in Seattle. They'd be pleased if the "somebody else" was Sherman, Maxwell's former roommate and advocate when Maxwell emerged from a little-known substitute in 2013 to a starter on a Super Bowl-winning defense.

Sherman, writing for The MMQB in January 2014, said Maxwell was so stiff as a rookie that he could not touch his toes while standing. After dedicating himself to yoga, Maxwell improved his flexibility, going so far as practicing his yoga poses in the hotel room on the night before games.

It helped Maxwell enter the lineup in 2013, and is also important for his versatility. Maxwell is capable of playing both outside and slot cornerback, which he did in the Seahawks' win over the Eagles last season. Eagles receiver Jordan Matthews said Maxwell was the best cornerback he faced all year. Seeing Maxwell on the field that day resonated with Kelly when preparing for free agency.

"When you see him in person, not evaluating him on film, but it's just how big and tall and long he is, and what a disruptive force he was, especially when he was playing those guys in press man," Kelly said.

The Eagles didn't expect a finished product when they pursued Maxwell. A light resume relative to other big-money free agents means there is still untapped potential. Defensive backs coach Cory Undlin, who coached two Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Denver, told Maxwell that he's going to "milk every ounce of ball I got out of you."

"Does he, in my mind, got all the technique down to play with great technique all the time? No," Undlin said. "So he's growing just like everybody else is."

Maxwell arrived a willing learner. Undlin found that Maxwell carried no pretense from starting in the past two Super Bowls, and Maxwell utilizes the "growth mind-set" that's become a buzz term around the NovaCare Complex this offseason.

Maxwell admitted that his "technique could always get better," but at this stage of his development, the details are what will help separate him. He noted film study as an area where he can make those strides, and Kelly witnessed Maxwell studying film during early spring mornings.

Maxwell was the Eagles' highest-rated defensive back on the free-agent market, according to Kelly. He turned into the team's top offseason priority, and part of the motivation for some of the team's other high-profile moves was opening space they could allocate to Maxwell.

Maxwell did not play coy about the draw of Philadelphia – "To be honest, Philadelphia paid me the most money," he said – and he laughed when admitting he "should have gotten a little bit more money." Maxwell came from a team and a secondary with an identifiable swagger. So when he told The MMQB that he believes the Eagles will play in the Super Bowl this year, it was a pledge of confidence more than foresight.

"It's better than saying, 'I guarantee we're not going to be in the Super Bowl'," Kelly said. "That would be a real good quote, right?"

But it's understandable coming from a player who thinks he should be in the category of Sherman and Revis, and who signed a deal worth $63 million after starting parts of only two seasons, then says he thought he should have been paid more.

"I've learned since I've been here that your actions and what you do is a direct reflection of your thoughts," Undlin said. "And Byron, I would say, he's very confident in the way he plays."

The Eagles made sure Maxwell was paid like one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Now they need him to play like one.

@ZBerm