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March 03, 2023

Eagles stay or go: Cornerback

Eagles NFL
James-Bradberry-Eagles-training-camp_072722_89.jpg Colleen Claggett/for PhillyVoice

Eagles CB James Bradberry

Now that the Philadelphia Eagles' 2022 season is over (a little later than usual), we'll be taking a position-by-position look at which players will likely be back with the team in 2023, and which ones likely won't. Today we'll look at the cornerbacks.

Regarding the polls below, they are your votes on what you think the Eagles should do, not necessarily what you think they will do. Please think of them more as approval polls for each player.

Previous stay or go articles
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver
Tight end | Offensive tackle | Guard/Center
Defensive tackleDefensive end
SAM linebackers | Off-ball linebackers

Darius Slay

After struggling against some bigger receivers like Davante Adams and DK Metcalf in his first season in Philly in 2020, Slay was was a steady cover corner all season long in 2021, having no such obviously bad games, even when trailing the opposing team's best receiver for most of the year. He also made the Pro Bowl as a result of a number of splash plays that were integral in wins against the Panthers, Broncos, and Saints. He was arguably the Eagles' best defensive player in 2021.

In 2022, Slay started off hot. He had one of the best games that I've ever seen an Eagles cornerback have Week 2 against the Vikings, when he had two interceptions and five pass breakups while (mostly) working against the best wide receiver in the NFL in Justin Jefferson. He also had a big game against the Cowboys Week 6, when he picked off Cooper Rush once and put himself in position to make a number big plays (but just didn't finish).

However, in the Eagles' final 14 games, Slay had no interceptions and 8 pass breakups. He made the Pro Bowl once again, and deservedly so, in my opinion, but he did not sustain his All-Pro level of play the first couple of months throughout the entirety of the season.

#JimmyVerdict: Slay is now 32 years old, and 2023 is the final year of his contract. He'll obviously stay in 2023, but it will be interesting to see how his Eagles career plays out beyond that. 

The Eagles' need to bring in young cornerbacks beyond just replacing James Bradberry. They'll need to find an eventual replacement for Slay as well, and it's possible that could be as soon as 2024.

Eagles stay or go: Darius Slay

James Bradberry

This past offseason the Eagles had an obvious need at the second cornerback spot opposite Slay, and in Bradberry they found what seemed like an upgrade over 2021 starter Steven Nelson.

In his two seasons with the Giants, Bradberry had an impressive 35 pass breakups and 7 INTs. He was a cap casualty, when the cap-strapped Giants decided to cut him rather than convert his salary into a signing bonus and spread out his cap hit over future years. That was curious decision by the Giants, given that (a) Bradberry was arguably their best defender the two seasons he played there, and (b) their cornerback depth was among the worst in the NFL. 

Had Bradberry been a free agent in March, he almost certainly would have attracted a better offer than the $7.25 million he signed in Philly on a one-year deal. The Giants pretty much did the Eagles a huge favor by making him available once other teams around the league had already made their moves at corner.

And then during the season, Bradberry was fantastic. According to PFF (grain of salt, as they often misallocate targets), opposing quarterbacks completed just 40 of 87 targets (46.0%) against Bradberry for 429 yards (4.9 yards per target), 2 TDs, and 3 INTs, for a combined passer rating of just 54.2. He finished with 3 INTs and 17 pass breakups.

#JimmyVerdict: During his introductory press conference with the Eagles last May, Bradberry was well aware of how low his 2022 contract was relative to other comparable corners around the league, and he acknowledged that he was playing in 2022 with an eye toward cashing in on free agency in 2023. More recently, he once again stated that he was looking forward to maximizing his value on the open market, ideally with a contender.

The Eagles can offer the "contender" part, but they are very likely not going to be able to match the best offers that Bradberry receives on the open market. Go

Eagles stay or go: James Bradberry

Avonte Maddox

Maddox is one of the league's best slot corners. He has the speed and change of direction skills to stick with shifty slot receivers, and he's feisty both in run support and as a blitzer. However, there have been times that he has struggled against bigger receivers (a good defensive coordinator should be able to scheme around that), and he has had difficulty staying on the field at times throughout his five NFL seasons.

In 2022, Maddox missed games at three different junctures during the season: 

  1. He missed the Eagles' Week 4 and 5 games vs. the Jaguars and Cardinals.
  2. He missed the Eagles' Week 10, 11, 12, and 13 games vs. the Commanders, Colts, Packers, and Titans.
  3. He missed the Eagles' Week 17, 18, and divisional round games against the Saints, Giants, and the Giants again.

In 2022, despite missing those nine games, Maddox had 43 tackles, an INT, and 3 forced fumbles, while usually slowing down opposing slot receivers.

#JimmyVerdict: Maddox isn't going anywhere. He's a good player and his contract runs through 2024. So, stay. But, the Eagles should probably be mindful of Maddox's occasional unavailability and be prepared with quality depth behind him.

Eagles stay or go: Avonte Maddox

Zech McPhearson

McPhearson's outlook heading into 2023 looks similar to what it looked like this time a year ago. In 2021, he was the first outside cornerback off the bench, but Slay and Nelson started every game (the meaningless Week 18 game vs. Dallas aside), and we only got some clues as to what McPhearson might look like in the regular defense. 

In 2022, once again, the Eagles' starting cornerbacks — this time Slay and Bradberry — started every game. The only game in which McPhearson got meaningful playing time in a non-blowout was against the Jaguars Week 4 after Slay got hurt in the first quarter.

While he has waited for his opportunity in the regular defense, McPhearson has become one of the best special teams players on the team, which is a good sign for his work ethic / desire to be a good NFL player. 

#JimmyVerdict: As noted above, the Eagles need to refill the cornerback pipeline with young talent, not just to replace Bradberry, but also eventually Slay, so it makes sense to see cornerbacks being projected to the Eagles in mock drafts. Still, McPhearson is perhaps being forgotten a bit as a player who should have a chance to earn an elevated role. Stay

Eagles stay or go: Zech McPhearson

Josiah Scott

During 2022 training camp, the Eagles put more on Scott's plate, giving him reps at safety in addition to his usual spot in the slot, hoping that he could be a valuable, versatile backup. He played meaningful snaps in eight games during the regular season, usually filling in whenever Maddox was sidelined with injuries. In those games, opposing offenses often moved their best receivers into the slot specifically to attack Scott, usually with success.

It's worth noting that when Chauncey Gardner-Johnson returned from injured reserve (with Maddox still on the shelf), the Eagles felt more comfortable moving Gardner-Johnson into the slot in nickel, and having Reed Blankenship come off the bench to play safety rather than have Scott just fill in directly for Maddox.

#JimmyVerdict: It appeared that the Eagles lost confidence in Scott as the backup slot near the end of the 2022 regular season, which doesn't bode well for his future with the team. Go.

Eagles stay or go: Josiah Scott

Josh Jobe

The Eagles like Jobe as a gunner on the punt team, and he played 220 snaps on special teams in 2022. I was surprised to see that he only had one tackle on the season. Jobe had a good showing in the preseason, most notably against the Browns, a game that likely stamped his ticket onto the roster.

When he got action in the the fourth quarter of a few blowouts, he played with aggression.

#JimmyVerdict: Jobe will be given every opportunity to make the team in 2023. Stay.

Eagles stay or go: Josh Jobe

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