The Eagles have a lot of cornerbacks. But are any of them good?
When we think of the Eagles secondary over the past decade, stability is not a word that comes to mind. 2016 will be no different. After years of searching for a steadying leader at safety, they finally found one in 2014 in Malcolm Jenkins. In 2015 he got a competent partner in Walter Thurmond, and in 2016 he will have a new and better one in Rodney McLeod. Starting positions at safety are locked down for at least the next two seasons, but meanwhile cornerback is very much in flux, because the Eagles can’t seem to have a stable secondary.
The incumbents: Nolan Carroll, Eric Rowe
Carroll started every game he played for the first time in his six year career, but it was only for 11 games as he suffered a season ending broken ankle. After a brutal start replacing him, Eric Rowe settled in and performed respectably for a rookie. Byron Maxwell’s contract was offloaded to the Dolphins, and EJ Biggers was not retained after a poor season as the slot corner.
The challengers: Many
The Eagles brought in a couple of Jim Schwartz’s former players in Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks, and CFL standout Aaron Grymes was also signed. Along with Carroll and Rowe, Randall Evans, Denzel Rice, JaCorey Shepherd and Jaylen Watkins remain from 2015. Jalen Mills was drafted in the 7th round this year, and Carson Wentz’s teammate CJ Smith was signed as an undrafted free agent.
Leader in the clubhouse: McKelvin on the outside, Brooks at slot
Through OTAs and minicamp, McKelvin, who had the best season of his career under Schwartz, consistently ran with the first team, and Doug Pederson singled him out as a standout in them. He has one of the starting jobs on lock. The other is entirely up for grabs.
McKelvin had no steady partner through out OTAs and minicamp. Rowe struggled and spent much of the time with the second string. The lack of a pass rush during spring camps must be noted here though, it’s not quite fair to judge a player in a no pads environment. Carroll missed OTAs recovering from injury. Mills was also singled out as a standout in OTAs, if he can keep up his play when the pads come on the Eagles could have a very good problem on their hands.
Brooks is at least on paper the starter at slot. His strongest competition could be Shepherd, who has yet to see the field as he continues to recover from injury.
Contract implications: McKelvin, Rowe, and Brooks, who signed a three year deal and would cost more to cut than keep, are locks to make the roster. Jalen Mills potential and strong showing in camp means he is almost certainly safe. That leaves two jobs up for grabs. Releasing Nolan Carroll saves $2M and incurs no dead money. If he fails to win a starting job, he could be out of a job entirely. Grymes, Rice, Evans, and Watkins cost nothing to release, Shepherd next to nothing.
Wild card: Picking up a rookie or second year player who is released by another team wouldn’t be shocking. Any ex-Schwartz CBs being cut would be a surprise though.
Way too early prediction: McKelvin and Carroll on the outside, Brooks on the inside.
This is one of a few positions where we can reasonably expect the season to end with different starters. McKelvin and Carroll have never started a full season, the likelihood of both starting 16 games is pretty much nil. Rowe will get his chances, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising that if he doesn’t begin the season as a starter that he ends it as one, either by coach’s choice or by injury. Mills, who fell to the 7th round due to character concerns, is definitely a guy to keep an eye on. What looks like a position of weakness could look pretty good by season’s end.