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May 31, 2019

The time for Sidney Jones to begin paying dividends on the Eagles' investment in him is now

When the Philadelphia Eagles selected Sidney Jones with a relatively high second-round pick (43rd overall) in the 2017 NFL Draft, they did so knowing full well that he was highly unlikely to contribute in any sort of meaningful way his rookie season, after having torn his Achilles during pre-draft workouts.

They made that investment in Jones because he was considered by many to be a top 15 type of talent in that draft class, and were willing to patiently wait for his skills, hoping for a long-term payoff at the expense of short-term gratification.

After a redshirt rookie season and a disappointing second season, the time is now for Jones to start paying dividends.

"(He) battled some injuries early, then had some productive time on the field, and then battled injuries again and struggled through some times on the field," Jim Schwartz said of Jones on Tuesday. "I think that'll be an advantage for him going forward. It was a tough season for him, but he did experience some success. He saw some tough times. Persevered through it. Finished the year healthy even though he wasn't really back on the field for us. It's an important offseason, important training camp for him."

The revelation that Jones seemingly could have played in the Eagles' divisional round loss to the Saints is interesting, though certainly not surprising. Jones was listed as questionable for that game, but he was apparently a healthy scratch in a game in which mid-season practice squad addition Cre'Von LeBlanc started. LeBlanc, it should be noted, was exceeding all reasonable expectations on the field at the time.

Schwartz also noted the "productive time on the field," as has Howie Roseman, who specifically cited the Eagles' 2018 Week 3 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts, a game commonly regarded by personnel people and media as Jones' best game. For the purpose of finding Jones' upside, I took a closer look at that game. He did indeed make some nice plays, but in my view, was up and down, and showed some distinct deficiencies.

The Eagles aren't worried about Jones' ability to stick with receivers in coverage, or his instincts. The alarming moments in the above video come, however, when Jones is simply over-matched physically by his opponents. Schwartz was asked specifically about Jones' need to get stronger.

"It's a tough skill set to play corner when you have to be able to run with world-class athletes down the field," Schwartz explained. "Then you also have to step up and take on a pulling guard that weighs 330 pounds or take down a running back that weighs 250. A lot of times those are mutually exclusive skill sets, and corners have to have those. The way that you handle those things is you really have to be – I don’t want to say just strong, but strong is a lot of different ways.

"No. 1, strong being able to take those plays on. No. 2 having the wherewithal to withstand those over the course of 16 games. I have had some really good corners in my history. A lot of them were 400-pound benchers. The 400-pound bench didn't show up in the way that they played, but it showed up in the fact that they were able to play 16 games and be on the field. As you're working to get stronger, you're working to be more consistent and be available more, so I think that goes into it."

Opposing teams are going to attack Jones physically until he proves that he can hold up against it. Sean Payton and the Saints, for example, as revealed in a piece by Peter King last November, designed their offensive game plan around trying to attack Jones and exploiting his tender hamstring.

The all-coaches meeting has a discussion of injuries and who will be active and inactive, and a message from Payton. Two things tonight: “We gotta run right at 22 [Jones] and we gotta throw at 22. We’re gonna make him defend the run on the first play. We’re going after him on three of the first eight plays.”

They were indeed successful doing just that. Payton took advantage of Jones early and often in that game, and Jones was forced to come out after just 22 snaps.

Still, Schwartz left room for optimism about Jones' future.

"He has a lot of talent," Schwartz said. "He's been playing inside and outside for us in the corner position, both right and left. But it won't just be about where he is in the off-season. It's going to be about where he is in training camp and where he is at the end of training camp, and at the end of preseason games."

It helps Jones that he has been cross-training at outside corner and slot corner, and has played both sides, but he'll have his share of competition both outside (Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, and Rasul Douglas), and inside (Avonte Maddox and LeBlanc) in what is a very crowded -- and young -- group of Eagles corners. As Schwartz noted above, it is indeed a very important offseason for him.

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