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What the Eagles should do at cornerback

Eagles roster outlook: position-by-position.

Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Today we continue our Philadelphia Eagles roster outlook series by examining the cornerback position. Previously: Defensive end | Defensive tackle | Linebacker.

THE PLAYERS

DARIUS SLAY

STATS: 884 defensive snaps, 62 special teams snaps, 59 tackles, 6 passes defensed, 1 interception

REVIEW: For a guy who prefers to be called “Big Play Slay,” he sure didn’t make a lot of them in his first season with the Eagles. This isn’t to suggest Slay was terrible; he certainly represented an upgrade over what the Eagles have previously had at cornerback. But he wasn’t anything amazing. Pro Football Focus had Slay graded 59th out of 136 corners and a 115.6 passer rating allowed when targeted. Slay memorably got his lunch eaten by D.K. Metcalf and Davante Adams in back-to-back weeks. In fairness, he was less than 100% and those are some really, really good wide receivers. But expectations were rightfully high with the Eagles giving up two picks in the 2020 NFL Draft AND making Slay the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL at the time of his acquisition. Slay was good but wasn’t anything resembling an elite difference-maker for the Birds. At least he seemed pretty happy about the one pick he had during a blowout loss to the Eagles’ biggest division rival in which they were officially eliminated from the playoffs.

OUTLOOK: I don’t think they will do it but the Eagles probably should trade Slay. He just turned 30 and the team can clear $6 million in cap space ($9.75 million in dead money) by trading him. The Eagles don't really have ... anything ... at corner without him, yeah, but the Eagles aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be) in win-now mode anyway. It’s very possible Slay is coming off what will be his best season in Philly; it’s not like corners typically get better with age. The guess here is the Eagles will bring him back for at least one more season, though. They can easily move on from him after 2021 via cut or trade ($13.5 million cleared) if need be. That is unless they restructure his deal this offseason, which might be necessary to get under the cap limit. Such a maneuver would signal the Eagles’ belief in him as a long-term piece despite his age.

MY TAKE: Stay.

Poll

Darius Slay: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 82%
    Stay
    (3173 votes)
  • 17%
    Go
    (673 votes)
3846 votes total Vote Now

NICKELL ROBEY-COLEMAN

STATS: 612 defensive snaps, 101 special teams snaps, 44 tackles, 1 pass defensed, 1 forced fumble

REVIEW: Remember when the Eagles told ESPN they felt like they got a top-five slot corner by signing NRC? Yeah, well, they didn’t. NRC didn’t look good in coverage (124.2 passer rating when targeted) and he finished the season tied for the 12th most missed tackles (12) at his position. NRC’s effort was drawn into question when it looked like he was dogging it during Daniel Jones’ memorable long run against Philly in Week 7. Just an overall bad season from the veteran nickel defender.

OUTLOOK: The Eagles shouldn’t re-sign this 29-year-old who’s on pace to be on his fourth team in six seasons. Gotta aim to get younger and better in the slot.

MY TAKE: Go.

Poll

Nickell Robey-Coleman: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Stay
    (247 votes)
  • 93%
    Go
    (3315 votes)
3562 votes total Vote Now

AVONTE MADDOX

STATS: 508 defensive snaps, 42 special teams snaps, 40 tackles, 3 passes defensed

REVIEW: Some thought that there was going to be an open competition for the No. 2 cornerback job last year but that wasn’t really the case. Maddox took all the reps at that spot heading into the season. The Eagles’ plan to move Maddox to the outside hardly paid off, though, as he really struggled throughout the year. PFF gave him the sixth worst coverage grade of any corner in 2020. Maddox finished the season on IR, bringing him up to 13 missed games over three seasons.

OUTLOOK: The Eagles won’t be in a rush to cut him since he’s relatively young and cheap. Not to mention Philly’s secondary landscape is pretty barren. But Maddox has only regressed since intitally showing some promise as a rookie and he’s clearly not a viable long-term solution on the outside. Just doesn’t have adequate size and length. Maybe they can try to move him back into the slot or try him out at safety. Perhaps there’s some hope for Maddox under new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who helped bring out the best of Kenny Moore in Indianapolis. Maddox (5-9, 183 pounds) and Moore (5-9, 179 pounds) have similar statures.

MY TAKE: Stay.

Poll

Avonte Maddox: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 79%
    Stay
    (2728 votes)
  • 20%
    Go
    (709 votes)
3437 votes total Vote Now

CRE’VON LEBLANC

STATS: 217 defensive snaps, 25 special teams snaps, 22 tackles, 2 passed defensed, 1 forced fumble, 1 sack, 1 QB hit

REVIEW: There was a brief scare that the Eagles might lose Strap when they cut him (as a roster numbers workaround) in September. The cult hero fan-favorite re-signed with the Eagles shortly thereafter, however. Strap saw limited playing time in nickel and dime packages and didn’t play very well before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week 11. Strap was one of PFF’s very worst graded coverage corners with a 113.1 passer rating allowed when targeted.

OUTLOOK: Strap’s going to be a free agent this offseason. He might not feel indebted to a team that cut him last year and brought in a new coaching staff. The Eagles might not feel indebted to a player who struggled last season and played in only 13 out of his last 32 possible games. I wouldn’t mind the Eagles re-signing Strap for the minimum and letting him compete for a roster spot but I’m guessing he might look to go elsewhere. The 49ers need a slot corner and Strap has familiarity with Cory Undlin, who just got hired by San Francisco.

MY TAKE: Go.

Poll

Cre’Von LeBlanc: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    Stay
    (1661 votes)
  • 48%
    Go
    (1590 votes)
3251 votes total Vote Now

MICHAEL JACQUET

STATS: 159 defensive snaps, 61 special teams snaps, 18 tackles, 3 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble, 1 sack, 1 QB hit

REVIEW: The Eagles signed Jacquet as an undrafted rookie free agent following the 2020 NFL Draft. Curiously, Doug Pederson named him among the players that stood out in training camp. Jacquet was added to the practice squad and finally saw the field when injuries forced him into action in Week 8. He looked solid in his first NFL game but it was hard to make much of it since the Eagles were going up against Ben DiNucci. Jacquet later saw significant action in Week 16 when he had to go up against DeAndre Hopkins. The rookie predictably struggled while pitted against a future Hall of Famer but he battled his butt off and still made some big plays in that game. Unfortunately, Jacquet failed to build on any promise by mightily struggling in Dallas to the point where he got benched.

OUTLOOK: Jacquet’s rookie season ended on a bad note, sure, but he ultimately showed some promise. He boasts some intriguing size (6-1, 203) and length (longer wingspan by 4 inches than any defensive back at last year’s NFL Combine). The 24-year-old deserves a chance to compete for a spot on this year’s roster.

MY TAKE: Stay.

Poll

Michael Jacquet: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 72%
    Stay
    (2305 votes)
  • 27%
    Go
    (861 votes)
3166 votes total Vote Now

KEVON SEYMOUR

STATS: 82 defensive snaps, 24 special teams snaps, 8 tackles

REVIEW: The Eagles signed Seymour, who had been out of the NFL since 2017 and was working in a tire shop, to their practice squad in early December. He was elevated to the game-day roster for two games before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 15.

OUTLOOK: On one hand, Seymour’s NFL experience could give him a leg up on other fringe corners competing for a roster spot. On the other hand, he turns 28 this season and the Eagles might be better off going with their younger options.

Poll

Kevon Seymour: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Stay
    (371 votes)
  • 85%
    Go
    (2262 votes)
2633 votes total Vote Now

TREVOR WILLIAMS

STATS: 34 defensive snaps, 9 special teams snaps, 3 tackles, 1 pass defensed

REVIEW: Williams spent some time on Philly’s practice squad before injuries forced him into game action. Then the veteran defender got hurt and the Eagles waived him from injured reserve. Williams signed a futures contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers last month.

JAMESON HOUSTON

STATS: 22 defensive snaps, 22 special teams snaps

REVIEW: The Eagles added Houston to their practice squad in late November. He saw some limited playing time due to injuries ahead of him on the depth chart.

OUTLOOK: The 2020 undrafted rookie free agent wasn’t in camp with Philly so this offseason marks his first with the team. Houston, who turns 25 this summer, figures to be a long shot to make the roster.

MY TAKE: Go.

Poll

Jameson Houston: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Stay
    (241 votes)
  • 88%
    Go
    (1795 votes)
2036 votes total Vote Now

CRAIG JAMES

STATS: 15 defensive snaps, 80 special teams snaps, 2 tackles

REVIEW: James’ stock was looking up heading into the 2020 season. He had a good camp by beating out Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas to make the roster. He earned a contract extension with some guaranteed money. He was named a special teams co-captain by the coaching staff. But then James got hurt in Week 1 and landed on IR. The Eagles activated him but he got hurt again and finished the season on IR.

OUTLOOK: James was pretty good on special teams when healthy in 2019. He’s also shown some viability at cornerback in practice settings. The 24-year-old deserves a chance to compete for a spot on this year’s roster.

MY TAKE: Stay.

Poll

Craig James: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 78%
    Stay
    (1778 votes)
  • 21%
    Go
    (483 votes)
2261 votes total Vote Now

LAVERT HILL

REVIEW: The Eagles added Hill to their practice squad in early December.

OUTLOOK: Hill projects as a nickel cornerback. The 2020 undrafted rookie free agent will have an uphill (no pun intended) battle to make Philly’s roster, assuming they even keep him around for camp. He is helped by NRC and Strap potentially not returning.

MY TAKE: Go.

Poll

Lavert Hill: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Stay
    (324 votes)
  • 82%
    Go
    (1499 votes)
1823 votes total Vote Now

FREE AGENCY OR TRADES

Gannon was credited for resurrecting Xavier Rhodes’ career in Indy but he turns 31 this offseason. Doesn’t make sense to add him as a short-term piece. T.J. Carrie also turns 31 this year but will likely be cheaper than Rhodes. Could be a place-holder (in the Leodis McKelvin mold) if the Eagles are desperate to fill a spot. Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas are free agents if the front office wants them back! I’m guessing they won’t.

NFL DRAFT APPROACH

The Eagles could reasonably pick a corner — Patrick Surtain II or Caleb Farley — at No. 6 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. Especially if Ja’Marr Chase and DeVonta Smith are both off the board at that point. The Birds probably need to take a corner with at least one of their first three selections.