The 2016 NFL offseason has begun for the Philadelphia Eagles, which means Howie Roseman and new head coach Doug Pederson will spend the next couple of weeks evaluating the 2015 roster. The team went 7-9 last season and improvement is clearly needed. By the time NFL free agency starts on March 9, the Eagles will have a good idea of which players they'll want to bring back for the 2016 season. Today we'll continue this offseason review series by looking at the cornerback position.
Number: 926 snaps, 2 interceptions, 10 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 52 tackles
Review: The Eagles spent a lot of money to bring Maxwell to Philadelphia. Was he worth all that money? No, he wasn't. He wasn't a shutdown cornerback by any means. Maxwell got off to a bad start in Week 1 when he repeatedly got roasted by Julio Jones in the first half. In fairness, Jones pretty much destroyed everyone last season, especially when the Falcons were winning early on.
The numbers showed that Maxwell improved as the season went on. He wasn't perfect by any means. Who can forget his attempts to lunge at the ball and completely whiff instead of making the sure tackle? Or how about that time when he got dragged on the back of a Cardinals tight end in the Arizona game? Despite these bad memories, he was definitely above average at times. He might not be the most cost effective starter but he can still help Philadelphia's defense.
Number: 771 snaps, 2 interceptions, 1 defensive touchdown, 10 passes defensed, 41 tackles
Review: Eagles players and coaches alike raved about how Carroll had the best 2015 offseason of any player. Carroll beat out Rowe for a starting cornerback job and started 12 games before going down with a season-ending injury on Thanksgiving. Carroll wasn't great by any means but he wasn't a total liability either. He was the team's best cornerback when Maxwell was going through some early struggles. Carroll is a reasonably effective starter given his inexpensive cost. You could do better than him, sure, but you could also do worse.
Number: 571 snaps, 7 passes defensed, 31 tackles
Review: Biggers largely served as the team's nickel cornerback when Malcolm Jenkins wasn't playing in that spot. Biggers was also forced into action as a starter on the outside late in the season. Biggers struggled a lot, which was expected. He did have an unusually good game against Washington, his former team, in Week 16. That was weird. He was breaking up passes and doing the Asante Samuel pose. Biggers isn't really a guy you want on the field in a regular role. He's a veteran backup.
Number: 512 snaps, 1 interception, 5 passes defensed, 24 tackles
Review: Some thought the Eagles were going to use Rowe at safety since he played that position at Utah, but it became pretty clear pretty quick that the team viewed Rowe as a cornerback first. Defensive backs Cory Undlin went as far to say that Rowe "can be a top-level cornerback in the NFL."
Rowe played sparingly early on in the season. Most of his playing time came on special teams. His first career interception came in Week 3 when Ryan Fitzpatrick tried to target Devin Smith for a deep pass in the end zone. The ball was underthrown but Rowe still made a nice diving effort to make the catch.
Rowe resurfaced when Carroll when down to injury on Thanksgiving. The rookie cornerback was beat by Calvin Johnson several times, though not for a lack of effort. It was a tough situation being thrown into the fire during a blowout like that. Rowe fared much better when he had a full week of preparation as a starter. He turned in two very good performances against the Patriots and Bills. He was a little shaky down the stretch but part of that was because he was dealing with an ankle injury that he was playing through.
Overall, Rowe's rookie performance was encouraging. I'd argue it takes time for most rookie defensive backs to adjust to the NFL. He showed promise to build on. Opposing quarterbacks had a 80.3 rating when targeting Rowe in 2015. That figure ranked 26th best out of 118 cornerbacks last season. Rowe was targeted 58 times as a rookie and he only allowed 51.7% of those attempts to be caught. That ranked as the 12th best rate in the NFL. There are reasons to be encouraged about Rowe moving forward.
Numbers: 85 snaps, 4 passes defensed, 2 tackles
Review: Watkins was waived in final cuts after struggling in the summer. Buffalo signed him to their practice squad and he spent most of the season there. The Eagles signed Watkins to their main roster in late November after Carroll suffered a season ending injury. Watkins ended up seeing some snaps due to all the injuries the Eagles had at corner. He was up and down.
Numbers: 20 snaps
Review: Rice was the only undrafted rookie free agent to make Philadelphia's final 53-man roster. He earned his spot by being really good at making plays on the ball in practice. It'll be interesting to see if he can develop into a contributor.
Review: After being selected in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Evans failed to impress in the summer. He stuck on the practice squad all season before being called up to the main roster in Week 17. He'll have a chance to compete for a depth spot this offseason.
Review: Shepherd, who was arguably one of the biggest steals in the 2015 NFL Draft, showed a lot of promise in spring practices (OTAs and minicamp) before suffering an ACL tear early in training camp. He made a lot of plays on the ball in practice. His progress is probably part of the reason why the Eagles were so comfortable trading Brandon Boykin away. Shepherd projects to be the team's starting slot cornerback moving forward if he can stay healthy.
Who Could Leave
Maxwell's big contract isn't coming off the books any time soon.
Carroll will be an unrestricted free agent. He said he wants to be back but do the Eagles feel the same way?
Biggers will also be an unrestricted free agent. He's the kind of player you can let test the market and bring him back on a minimum deal for depth purposes.
Who Could Sign
The Eagles won't be looking to spend big on this position. The team could afford to add some depth. Signing one of Biggers and/or Carroll could make sense. Otherwise the Eagles will need to bring in another veteran backup guy.
NFL Draft Options
Jalen Ramsey is one of the most talented players in the draft and won't be available for the Eagles at No. 13. The Eagles could look to draft a cornerback in the mid to late rounds.