Remember that time Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz thought Leodis McKelvin was a better NFL cornerback than Eric Rowe?
Let's clear something up right away: Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman was absolutely correct to trade Rowe to the Patriots for a conditional fourth-round draft pick. It was the right move because Schwartz wasn't going to let the kid see the field. Barring an injury to another player, Rowe wasn't even going to be active on game day. From a GM's point of view, all keeping him on the roster would've accomplished was further diminish his value to a potential suitor.
Where this whole situation gets bungled is when Schwartz determined, seemingly very early into his tenure with the Eagles that began last year, Rowe simply wasn't going to play for him. The club signed McKelvin, signed Ron Brooks, re-signed Nolan Carroll, then drafted Jalen Mills, all no doubt under heavy influence from the defensive coordinator — especially McKelvin and Brooks, who played for Schwartz for one season in Buffalo.
Now, there's nothing wrong with a new coach asking for some of "his" guys, people who know the scheme and bring a certain level of comfort to the equation. The problem is when one of those guys is 31 years old and was never particularly good to begin with, and said coach insists on that person playing a large role, without so much as the appearance of a legitimate competition.
We watched when the Eagles opened OTAs with McKelvin and Brooks as starting cornerbacks, assuming their knowledge of Schwartz's system made them natural choices in April. We watched as Mills, a seventh-round pick, saw his opportunities increase while Rowe lagged behind on the depth chart, figuring they were pushing the second-year player. We watched in training camp as Carroll — finally recovered from an ankle injury — was added to the mix at the top of the depth chart, and still there was nary a sign of Rowe. We even watched undrafted rookie C.J. Smith start an exhibition game, and less than two weeks later, Rowe is on the field for almost the entirety of the preseason finale, typically an audition for players who are about to be released.
So Roseman traded Rowe, a 24-year-old defensive back the Eagles chose 47th overall only 16 months earlier. You already have some idea of how that worked out — Rowe earned a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots, while McKelvin was released on Wednesday — but let's look at the numbers.
According to Pro Football Focus, Rowe ranked seventh out of 109 cornerbacks with 61.9 opponents' passer rating when targeted in coverage (minimum 25 percent of regular season/postseason snaps). McKelvin ranked 97th with a 113.0 opponents' passer rating.
It's not even close. We can talk about the differences in schemes between the two teams, supporting cast, quality of opponents, you name it. We can discuss experience, mentality, locker room presence, whatever.
There is absolutely no situation, no world where McKelvin was a better option than Rowe.
How on earth did Schwartz manage to make such a woefully wrong evaluation? McKelvin wasn't a starter for most of his nine-year NFL career before he joined the Eagles — he was benched and later moved to safety during his final season with the Bills. He's also seven years older and three inches shorter than Rowe, which would seem a distinct advantage in terms of pure physical ability. Honestly, what did Schwartz see that laypeople did not? Because the ugly end result was nothing less than what was predicted.
Rowe appears to be developing into a fine NFL cornerback, McKelvin is likely one more shoddy season away from forced retirement, and the Eagles are left with a mess at the cornerback position. Don't blame this one on Roseman, either. All he did was what Schwartz desired.
If nothing else, the defensive coordinator probably deserves to lose some of his sway in personnel decisions. Signing a one-year stopgap at the expense of a promising, young talent like Rowe might turn out to be a catastrophic setback, and for once, everybody knows exactly where to point the finger.