It was a bold move by Howie Roseman. A day after taking defensive end Derek Barnett in the first round of the 2017 draft, the Eagles’ then executive vice president of football operations and now general manager used the team’s second-round pick — the 43rd overall selection — on cornerback Sidney Jones.
Jones was considered one of the top two corners in the draft until he ruptured an Achilles tendon at the University of Washington’s pro day.
He wasn’t going to play much, if at all, as a rookie. But so what? Roseman had a chance to get one of the best corners in the draft to go with one of the best pass rushers (Barnett), and he jumped at it.
Fast forward to the 17-9 playoff loss to Seattle. Jones, who made some big plays down the stretch to help the Eagles get into the postseason, didn’t play a single defensive snap against the Seahawks. Not a one.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz opted to go with Jalen Mills, who was playing on a bad wheel, at one outside corner, and 5-foot-9 Avonte Maddox at the other.
The Seahawks’ 6-4, 220-pound rookie wide receiver, DK Metcalf, torched the Eagles for seven catches and 160 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown against Maddox and a 36-yard, game-clinching, third-and-10 catch against Mills and safety Marcus Epps, who was claimed off waivers from the Vikings in early November.
The fact that Schwartz didn’t see fit to use Jones at all in the game pretty much tells you how little trust he has in the young corner. Whether that’s because he grew weary of Jones’ repeated hamstring issues or because it’s his nature to favor resilient overachievers like Mills and Maddox over players with more physical ability, it’s difficult to say.
The fact that Jones spent all but four special-teams snaps on the bench against Seattle couldn’t have pleased the man who drafted him. Asked last week about that, the Eagles GM said, “Sidney is a guy that had so much adversity in his first couple of years but came in at the end of this season and really played well. We’ll just see going forward.’’
The Eagles finished 19th in fewest passing yards allowed this season. They gave up the 11th-most touchdown passes (27) and fifth-most pass plays of 30 yards or more (25).
Mills and their other starting corner, Ronald Darby, who finished the season on injured reserve with a hip injury, are free agents. Cornerback is expected to be one of the Eagles’ top offseason priorities, along with wide receiver.
If Jones can develop into the player the Eagles hoped he would be when they drafted him, it certainly would help matters.
“That’s an important position,’’ Roseman said. “You see it when you have a guy who can really kind of take over and take one side of the field. But those guys are hard to find. They don’t grow on trees.’’
Which was why he jumped at the chance to take Jones in the second round three years ago.
Jones played just one game as a rookie, in Week 17 against Dallas, and ended up injuring a hamstring. He played in the first six games in 2018, then suffered yet another hamstring injury, which affected him the rest of the season.
Earlier this season, the hamstring cried uncle again. Before coming off the bench and making a key third-down pass breakup in the Eagles’ Week 14 overtime win over the Giants, he played just four defensive snaps in the previous six games.
Two weeks later, he had a game-saving fourth-down pass breakup in the end zone against Dallas. With Mills out with an ankle injury, he played 57 snaps and had an interception in the Eagles’ division-clinching Week 17 win over the Giants.
Then he didn’t play a snap against the Seahawks.
“I try not to dwell on it,’’ Jones said after the season, when I asked him how disappointed he was about not playing in the playoff game. “I knew I was a backup. So, if nobody got hurt, I knew I wasn’t going in.
“It’s out of my control. It’s a new year. We’ll see what happens this year. It was good to finish strong. Just being able to contribute to this team was big. Going forward, looking back on those moments and knowing I made big plays in critical situations when the lights were the brightest is important. Coming from essentially the bottom and making big-time plays, that felt good.’’
The even better news for Jones is he’s heading into this offseason completely healthy for the first time since he was drafted.
“I’m finally healthy,’’ he said. “I’ve never been 100% healthy going into an offseason. Last year, I had to rehab my hamstring and then train. I didn’t start running full speed until two weeks before [organized team activities] started. This time, I can start early and get the ball rolling. That’s going to be big.
“I’m looking forward to totally redefining myself, redefining my game.’’
Jones and/or the Eagles need to figure out a way to deal with his chronic hamstring issues. If he can’t avoid those, he’s not going to be of much use to the Eagles or any team.
“I had one bad one in high school," Jones said. “I had [injured] hamstrings in college, but they never lingered. I never missed more than a week with one. If it happened in practice, I would play the next game and be fine. I never missed a game my whole college career.
“It’s been worse since I got here. They’ve been Grade 2s. Almost Grade 3s. Those are the ones that shut you down for five to six weeks. Those are the tough ones. Then, you come back and it’s still not 100%, and you’re still trying to cover the best in the game every week."
Jones injured his hamstring in Week 4 against Green Bay, played just 10 snaps in that game, and didn’t play at all the next week against the Jets. He said it still was bothering him the next week, when he returned and struggled against the Vikings.
“I feel like nobody truly understands it,’’ he said of his hamstring issues. “I came back from my injury this year. I still didn’t feel I could move like I know I can move. I put myself out there for the team. I feel that’s been my fault in a way. I don’t know if I’m wording that perfectly, but even last year, even though I felt I wasn’t ready, I did it for the team. I came back [too soon] this year because we were light [at cornerback], and have not-so-good games, and I get scrutinized for it.
“I feel I know my ability. When I’m healthy, I know what I can do. That’s all that matters at the end of the day. It is what it is, and I’m going to come back at peace next year.’’