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January 18, 2020

Eagles stay or go: Cornerback

Eagles NFL
4_01052020_EaglesvsSeahawks_Jalen_Mills_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Jalen Mills during the Philadelphia Eagles wild card game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on January 5, 2020.

The Philadelphia Eagles' 2019 season is over, and there will be a lot of interesting decisions made on the players currently on the roster, more so than in most years. Let's take a position-by-position look at who will likely be back with the team in 2020, and who won't.

Previous stay or go positional analysis

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Tackle | Guard/center

Defensive end | Defensive tackle | Linebacker

Today we'll look at cornerback. (All money figures via OverTheCap.)

Jalen Mills

Mills' lack of ideal speed will always impede him from being a top cornerback, but he has the temperament and confidence of a Hall of Famer, always willingly taking on the challenge of covering the opposing team's best receiver, and finger-wagging them into oblivion on every overthrow. 

While the deep ball will always be a concern with Mills, he has become a good corner in the red zone, and is a physical contributor against the run.

In my view, Mills is a solid "No. 2" type of corner, but because he is the best the Eagles have had, he has been put in positions in which he hasn't gotten as much help on the back end as he should be getting. If he were to be paired with a legitimate "No. 1" type of corner, which might allow for easier assignments, the narrative on Mills might be a lot different.

Mills will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. No matter how you or I might view him, there's no debate on how Jim Schwartz views him, and I can't imagine some other team out there valuing Mills more than the Eagles.

#JimmyVerdict: Stay.

Your verdict:

Ronald Darby

Darby has been the most athletically gifted of the Eagles' cornerbacks over the last three years, and despite what the eye test often shows, he gets his hands on a lot of passes. In 26 games in his Eagles career, Darby has 32 pass breakups and 6 INTs, which are good numbers on a "per game" basis. 

On the downside, he's a bad tackler, and he has suffered significant injuries in every season that he has played in Philly.

  1. 2017: A gruesome-looking ankle injury shut him down for 8 weeks.
  2. 2018: Torn ACL ended his season after nine games.
  3. 2019: A hamstring injury shut Darby down for four games early in the season, and a hip flexor injury ended his season after Week 16.

Far too often over the last three seasons the Eagles have been put in situations where they're pulling guys off the street to play corner because they don't have enough healthy bodies. Darby's unavailability has been a major contributor to that theme, and the Eagles cannot continue to rely on him.

#JimmyVerdict: Go.

Your verdict:

Avonte Maddox

During training camp, Maddox looked like he was going to take a big jump forward in his second season in the league as the team's slot corner. His season was halted temporarily when a reckless Andrew Sendejo delivered a "friendly fire" helmet to helmet shot on him Week 4 in Green Bay. Maddox suffered head and neck injuries, and missed four games. Upon his return, Maddox was up and down the rest of the way.

Maddox is another Schwartz favorite, and it was revealing what Schwartz thinks him (or perhaps more accurately, Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones) when Maddox started on the outside at 5'9 in the playoffs against the Seahawks while Douglas and Jones sat.

Maddox is a not equipped physically to line up on the outside, and should only play there in an emergency, but he has shown that he can play in the slot or at safety in the NFL. As such, his versatility affords the Eagles some options in the secondary this offseason, where they have a lot of work to do.

#JimmyVerdict: Stay.

Your verdict:

Rasul Douglas

As noted above, Maddox (5'9, 183) started on the outside against the Seahawks in the playoffs, while Douglas (6'2, 209) seemingly would have been a better matchup against the 6'4, 229-pound DK Metcalf. I think that tells you all you need to know about how much Schwartz trusts Douglas in a big game.

Three years into his career, Douglas is just a backup on the outside, and I'm not even sure we can call him that, seeing as the Eagles shuffled the secondary in the playoffs, putting a slot corner on the outside to replace Darby.

Many have called for Douglas to play safety, but he did not play there at all at West Virginia, and did not look comfortable in that role in his lone NFL opportunity there in a game against the Giants in 2018. His lack of short-area quickness would likely not translate well to slot coverage duties as a safety, when necessary, and as a single-high safety, again, the lack of speed and the ability to cover sideline to sideline would be questionable.

Douglas does have some traits. He has great size, he's a physical tackler, and he has some ball skills, but he simply can't run with fast receivers. Maybe that might make him appealing to teams running schemes that can mask his speed deficiencies, and he could be had in a trade? If not, Douglas will be back in camp again in 2020, and I don't think his roster spot is guaranteed.

#JimmyVerdict: Camp. Or trade.

Your verdict:

Sidney Jones

If the Eagles could find a way to put Mills' temperament into Jones' body, they might really have something. However, despite possessing intriguing skills, Jones has not yet panned out after the Eagles took a long-term gamble on him as an injured second-round pick in 2017.

Jones might be attractive to other teams around the league that liked him as a prospect coming out of Washington three years ago. Many had him rated as the top corner in that draft before he ruptured his Achilles at his Pro Day. If so, the Eagles would obviously consider trade offers.

If no such offers present themselves, because they invested so much in him, and because Jones showed at least something down the stretch when he made two clutch pass breakups to help seal wins against the Giants and Cowboys, the Eagles are unlikely to cut him in training camp. The thinking here is that Jones' place on the roster is on more solid ground than Douglas', for those reasons, and because he, in theory, has inside-outside versatility.

At 23 years of age (he'll turn 24 in May), Jones is still as young as some guys who will get selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. He'll have at least one more year to prove himself, but time is running out.

#JimmyVerdict: Stay. Or trade.

Your verdict:

Cre'Von LeBlanc

LeBlanc started at slot corner against the Seahawks in the playoffs, and while he didn't have a good game, it revealed that Schwartz preferred him on the field over Douglas and Jones. 

The Eagles signed LeBlanc to a one-year contract extension just before the start of the 2019 season. He'll count for $1,225,000 against the cap in 2020. On March 22, $250K of LeBlanc's salary will become guaranteed.

LeBlanc will be back with the team in 2020, and depending on what the Eagles do with Maddox, LeBlanc could be forced into a bigger role.

#JimmyVerdict: Stay.

Your verdict:

Craig James

James was a good special teams contributor in 2019, racking up 10 special teams tackles. He also made a huge play against the Packers, when he broke up a pass that was picked off by Nigel Bradham, sealing a win.

James is an exclusive rights free agent this offseason, which means he cannot negotiate with other teams. The Eagles can tender him for peanuts, which they likely will.

#JimmyVerdict: He'll have an opportunity to win a job in training camp.

Your verdict:

#JimmyVerdict Stay or Go Results

"Stay" means stay (duh), "go" means go (duh, again), while "camp" means that I think they'll be at Eagles training camp this year, but do not yet have a firm grip on a roster spot in 2020.

 QBCarson Wentz (stay) Josh McCown (go) Nate Sudfeld (stay)  
 RBMiles Sanders (stay) Jordan Howard (stay) Darren Sproles (go) Corey Clement (camp) 
 RB (cont.) Boston Scott (stay)Elijah Holyfield (camp)   
 WRAlshon Jeffery (go) DeSean Jackson (stay) Nelson Agholor (go) J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (stay) 
 WR (cont.) Greg Ward (camp)Robert Davis (camp) Deontay Burnett (camp) Shelton Gibson (camp) 
 TEZach Ertz (stay) Dallas Goedert (stay) Josh Perkins (camp) Richard Rodgers (camp) 
 OTJason Peters (go) Lane Johnson (stay) Andre Dillard (stay) Halapoulivaati Vaitai (go) 
 OT (cont.)Jordan Mailata (camp)    
 OGBrandon Brooks (stay) Isaac Seumalo (stay) Matt Pryor (stay) Sua Opeta (camp) 
 CJason Kelce (stay) Nate Herbig (camp)   
 DEBrandon Graham (stay) Derek Barnett (stay) Josh Sweat (stay) Vinny Curry (stay) 
 DE (cont.)Genard Avery (stay) Shareef Miller (camp) Joe Ostman (camp) Daeshon Hall (camp) 
 DTFletcher Cox (stay) Malik Jackson (stay) Timmy Jernigan (go) Hassan Ridgeway (stay) 
 DT (cont.)Anthony Rush (camp) Bruce Hector (camp)   
 LBNigel Bradham (stay) Kamu Grugier-Hill (go) Nate Gerry (stay) T.J. Edwards (stay) 
 LB (cont.)Alex Singleton (camp) Duke Riley (stay)   
 CBJalen Mills (stay) Ronald Darby (go) Avonte Maddox (stay) Rasul Douglas (camp) 
 CB (cont.)Sidney Jones (stay) Cre'Von LeBlanc (stay) Craig James (camp)  

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