Prior to the start of 2015 NFL free agency, several rumors indicated the Eagles were very high on Byron Maxwell. Those whispers obviously turned out to be true as Philadelphia signed him deal worth $63 million over six years.
The Eagles clearly believe in Maxwell. Will he be able to succeed despite playing away from Seattle's top defense? Danny Kelly (@FieldGulls) from the great Field Gulls is able to give us some insight on Philly's new cornerback.
1) Maxwell got a huge deal from the Eagles. It seems like the Seahawks made a strong effort to keep him but ultimately couldn't provide what Philly could pay. What's the reaction to his deal like from Seahawks fans?
Seahawks fans were ultimately disappointed but they mostly understood the business side of things. If Seattle hadn't already been paying Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas top dollar at their respective positions I think the Seahawks would have made the final push to keep Maxwell, but in the end they seem to have set a cap on what they were willing to give Maxy and the Eagles exceeded it. Nobody's going to take a $2M per year home-town discount, and that's about what Maxwell was looking at.
Now, Seattle fans wait. There's some stress with Maxwell gone because with Tharold Simon hurt, there's no real answer for the starting position opposite Sherman. The Seahawks signed Cary Williams, ostensibly to take over Maxwell's role, and while the reaction from Eagles fans has largely been to scoff audibly about that, Pete Carroll and his staff seem to know how to coach players up to their scheme and get them to operate within it. It would seem that Williams has the requisite physical makeup to do what they want him to do, but they just need to get him to execute consistently.
2) What are his biggest strengths/weaknesses?
Maxwell is physical and fast - he's built well and he has developed some fluidity to his game that he didn't really have much of coming out of college. He's a very smart player - he understood his role in the Seahawks defense and he played it really well, and he almost never gets beat deep, so he's a disciplined player as well. He is good at punching the ball out - he has several over the past two seasons - and he's very confident. He's a very good player.
His main weakness would probably be that he's not the ‘stickiest' of defenders when it comes to man coverage. He can give up some separation at times, but keep in mind that in the Seahawks' system, it was wholly important to not get beat deep, so often Seattle corners would more or less concede slants and underneath routes to make sure they weren't beaten over the top on double moves. Because of this, he'll give up some catches.
Maxwell plays upright - he'll approach a ball carrier almost standing up - and try to punch the ball out instead of just hitting him. This can, at times, lead to him getting trucked. I wouldn't say that he misses tackles very often, but he can take a big hit now and again because he likes to try to do his punch out almost every time you come near him.
3) To what extent did Maxwell benefit from surrounding talent on the Seahawks' defense?
Seattle's corners play one-third of the field and with the press Cover-3, are typically up at the line jamming and re-routing to disrupt timing. With Earl Thomas patrolling deep, they have some help over the top, but make no mistake, Maxwell and Sherman have tough jobs because they're playing press on an island, even with deep-third coverage responsibilities behind them. Thus, you have to have great quicks to go with excellent long-speed, because if you miss your jam and get beat off the line, you have to make up ground in trailing position or hope that Earl Thomas has your back down the sideline.
So, ultimately, I think that while having Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas at safety can help you out over the top or in the flats, it's not like Maxwell had an easy job. In fact, he often saw the opposing team's best receivers (Seattle doesn't travel with their corners, they stick to a side) and quarterbacks rarely throw to Sherman's side. This meant that Maxy got the surplus of targets coming his direction, so you'd almost have to say that having Sherman opposite him was a detriment to him personally.
Now, that said, what I think did help Maxwell was Seattle's excellent pass rush. Over the past two years, it's been excellent, and when the front seven is forcing quarterbacks to get the ball out quickly, that makes deep defenders' jobs much, much easier.
4) Maxwell is being paid like he's a top five cornerback. Based on performance, where would you rank Maxwell among the NFL's best cornerbacks? Top 10? Top 20? Lower?
It's always tough to really determine a ranking system like that because there are so many strong players out there, and schemes often have a huge influence on their performance, but I'd certainly say, with a degree of comfort, that he's a top-10 type of corner. With a relatively weak crop of free agent cornerbacks on the market this year, Maxwell was able to drive his price up quite a bit because he was the best of the bunch, and he was probably paid more than his actual worth (in a vacuum). That said, that's not to say that he's been grossly overpaid, in my opinion. Like I said earlier, he's a very good player - or, he was in Seattle's scheme at the very least - and I think Philly fans are going to end up being happy with the deal that he received.
Philly faced facts: To get a player to jump ship on a team with one of the best pass defenses of all time, that has gone to two straight Super Bowls, and is offering a pretty damn good offer themselves, you have to throw in some incentive and just put your Chips out there (no pun). At the end of the day, I think that extra couple of million per year will pay off for the Eagles, because having good cornerbacks is so damn important.
5) How do you envision Maxwell's career in Philadelphia playing out?
I think Philly fans are ultimately going to end up happy with the deal. There's always the fear that he'll get utilized incorrectly and his performance will drop significantly, and injuries are always a major x-factor, but I think the sample size in Seattle was large enough for me to feel very confident in saying that Maxwell is a really good player and not just some flash in the pan. He's smart, physical, tough, ultra confident, competitive, and very fast, and he's a playmaker with good ball skills.