Unsung hero of Eagles defense deserves an extension


Part of what made Avonte Maddox so valuable in the first three years of his NFL career was his versatility to play multiple positions, but this year he’s been able to stick as the Eagles’ nickel corner.

He’s playing better than ever.

“That’s where he belongs,” Darius Slay said this summer.

Slay was right.

Sure, Maddox could still move outside or even back to safety in a pinch, but this season he’s proving that his best spot is as a slot or nickel cornerback. Finally in this one position, Maddox has been proving his worth in the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. And it’s time for the Eagles to think about extending him.

“Right now, I think he’s playing at a very high level,” Eagles defensive captain Rodney McLeod said. “He understands his role on this team. And so he’s mastered it, man.”

Maddox, 25, spent all last season as the Eagles’ CB2 in Jim Schwartz’s defense. It was a role he relished but it clearly didn’t fit him. At 5-9, 184 pounds, Maddox’s body type fits better inside. But it takes more than that to play the position too.

And Maddox has everything Jonathan Gannon is looking for in a nickel corner.

“The first thing I look for is slot cornerback: quickness, instincts and strike,” Gannon said. “And he has those three things. You talk about that position … I would argue with anybody, he has the most mental stress on him.


“ … we put a lot on his plate, and he handles it extremely well. And not to say that he doesn't make mistakes or can’t he keep improving, but he's an ultra-competitive player. Everything that we ask him to do, and we ask him to do a lot, he can do really well.”

This season, Maddox has been locking up some great slot receivers all year and he’ll have another tough test against Keenan Allen in Week 9. But through eight games, Maddox is ranked as the No. 9 overall cornerback in the NFL, according to ProFootballFocus.

All season, Maddox has given up just 23 catches for 145 yards. That comes out to just 18.1 yards per game. His worst game all season came against Kansas City, when he gave up five catches for 35 yards.

So, yeah, Maddox has been tremendous this season.

And now it’s time for the Eagles to give him an extension. This year, Maddox is in the final year of his rookie contract, but he did hit an escalator to bump up his pay. He has a base salary of over $2 million in 2021 and he’s been worth every penny.

As a fourth-round pick out of Pittsburgh in 2018, he’s really come into his own this year.

“Yeah, I’d say I’m playing pretty well, for the four seasons, for sure,” Maddox said. “But I know I could do better. There’s always little things that you can work on and little things you can see yourself fixing on the field or even if it’s in the film room. I’m definitely playing really well but I feel like I can play better.”

On Thursday, Maddox said there haven’t yet been discussions between him and the team about a new contract, but he said he’s not worried about it. He just wants to play well and hopes the contract will take care of itself.

The tricky thing for Maddox and his agent is that the nickel corner, even in the modern NFL, doesn’t get the respect it probably deserves in terms of recognition or pay. The outside corners get the big bucks, but you can make a strong argument that nickel corners have a tougher job.

That recognition for the position has been slow to come but Maddox is seeing a shift.

“It’s the nickel spot but it’s starting to come up since I’ve gotten into the NFL,” he said. “It’s becoming a primary position. You need a nickel because the guys on offense start lining up in all these different type of personnel (packages) nowadays.

“You want someone who can move around on the inside on those quick receivers other than linebackers and things like that. Nickel is definitely evolving, and as the years come, I feel like it’ll just keep getting better and better.”

In this pass-happy NFL, teams need a good nickel cornerback. Maddox has proven he’s one of them.

Now, the Eagles just have to figure out a way to keep him.


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