Eagles

Eagles Stay or Go 2020: Time to revamp the cornerback position

Eagles Stay or Go 2020: Time to revamp the cornerback position

Reuben Frank, Dave Zangaro and Andrew Kulp bring back Stay or Go with the 2020 version, trying to figure out the future of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Today, we’ll look at cornerbacks:

Jalen Mills 

Roob: Mills is an interesting case. He’s been the Eagles’ best cornerback by default over the last few years, and he certainly gives you a lot in terms of toughness, swagger and red-zone playmaking. It really is going to come down to how extensively the Eagles want to rebuild the cornerback position. Mills is an unrestricted free agent, Jim Schwartz loves him and my hunch is he’ll be back.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: Mills is going to be a free agent and while I think the Eagles should probably completely revamp the position, my bet is that he comes back on a reasonable deal. Jim Schwartz loves him and Mills is a competitor. He’s somewhat limited but he’s been a solid player in his four years here. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Other than concerns with his speed, Mills really seems like the prototypical Jim Schwartz cornerback in many ways. He's physical, confident and has a short memory. In all honesty, his four-year run with the Eagles has been pretty good, minus the injuries. Ideally, the team would not put itself in a position where it has to replace starters at both spots in the same offseason, so if they can get him back on an inexpensive short-term deal, that would be a big help. Seeing as he missed 15 games the last two years, it's not at all implausible. 

Verdict: Stays

Ronald Darby 

Roob: The Eagles really goofed bringing back Darby for one year at $6.5 million. It just seems like years of injuries have caught up to him, and the player we saw this past year was only a shadow of the guy we saw during the stretch run and playoffs in 2017. 

Verdict: Goes

Dave: The Eagles never should have brought Darby back for the 2019 season and it’s hard to imagine they’ll make that mistake again. It’s a shame because Darby had all the physical skills to be a top-end corner but he couldn’t stay healthy and even when he did, he wasn’t the player we once saw as a rookie in Buffalo. 

Verdict: Goes 

Kulp: Darby's tenure in Philadelphia wasn't nearly as bad as some would have you believe -- he did start for a Super Bowl champion -- but 2019 was awful. It didn't even look like he lost much speed coming off the ACL injury. He was plain getting beat on the reg. Even when he was in position to make a play, he couldn't. Constantly getting posterized whenever he goes to tackle somebody, too. Darby is only 26, so he could easily go on to have a nice career with wherever he signs in free agency. It's just time for a change of scenery. 

Verdict: Goes

Avonte Maddox 

Roob: Maddox took a step backward this year and it will be interesting to see where he fits in moving forward. He’ll be here, but in what role? He can start inside, outside or at safety or he can back up anywhere. He was so good as a rookie in 2018. The Eagles could sure use him regaining that form wherever he plays.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: Heading into Year 3 and we still don’t really know which position is best for Maddox. But I know what I’d do. I’d sign Malcolm Jenkins, let Rodney McLeod walk and turn Maddox into a full-time safety. I get that at his size it would be a little unusual but I like his fit there and thought he played well as a safety in 2018. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Some people way overreacted to Maddox's rookie season, which was fine, far short of spectacular. This offseason, we should be able to comfortably write he wasn't the second coming of Eric Allen without starting a flame war. That being said, Maddox will only be 24, he's competent with the tools to become dependable, he's a tough kid and he's played just about every position in the secondary for the Eagles. He'll have a role next season, his third. 

Verdict: Stays

Rasul Douglas

Roob: I was high on Rasul when the season began, but he did not play well and after getting nearly 600 snaps on defense during the regular season he played none in the playoff loss to the Seahawks. Douglas has actually played more games than any other Eagles corner over the last three years because he’s the only one who’s generally been able to stay healthy. But he goes into 2020 with a future that’s uncertain at best. 

Verdict: Goes

Dave: I didn’t particularly like what I saw from Douglas this season. He again got a chance to play a ton but didn’t make the most of it. But you need backups on a team too and at least Douglas has some starting experience under his belt. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Douglas is a confounding player. At times, he's looked like the Eagles' best corner the past few seasons. Then he'll have stretches where all he does is give up 80-yard touchdowns -- and when he gets beat, he's often not even the same hemisphere. 2019 seemed like more of the latter. His size and physicality are great attributes, yet he would probably fare a lot better in Cover-3 or some sort of zone defense. He's got one year left, it's just time for a change. And, no, he would not make a good safety in today's NFL.

Verdict: Goes

Sidney Jones

Roob: Just when you thought Jones was showing some positive signs in spot action late in the season, he gets benched for the playoff game against the Seahawks. When your second-round pick is finally healthy and can’t even get on the field for the biggest game of the year that’s a problem. What does it mean for his future? Not encouraging. Jones will get another chance in 2020 because he's a 2nd-round pick on his rookie contract, but it's hard to be optimistic.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: I have always been bullish on Jones and he made some big plays down the stretch in 2019. But I’d expect the Eagles to bring in at least two high-level corners through free agency or the draft, which would push Jones down the depth chart. And if the Eagles are going to trade Jones or Douglas, I think Jones has more more value. But if I’m the Eagles, I’m just not ready to give up on him yet. 

Verdict: Stays

Kulp: It's frequently very unfair to presume to know what's going through a young athlete's mind, but there was a point last season where Jones looked like he was playing scared or at least thinking too much. Not coincidentally, he was inactive for awhile after that. Then just when it looked like his story might be written, he got into some games down the stretch, sparingly, and took care of business. Even though Jones couldn't get back on the field in the Eagles' playoff loss, and he's dealt with so many injuries, there's still this nagging feeling about his talent and potential. The kid was supposed to be a top-10 pick. He'll only be 24. At least give him a shot to crack the roster. If his head is right and he's healthy, who knows what will happen. 

Verdict: Stays

Cre’Von LeBlanc

Roob: LeBlanc is on a bargain contract and has shown enough positives to warrant a long look this summer. LeBlanc has the versatility to play inside or outside, although he’s probably best suited for the slot. Like several of these young corners he’s shown up at times, but what’s his ceiling? What’s his role? What is he best at? LeBlanc will get every opportunity to show the Eagles this summer.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: Every time LeBlanc is given an opportunity to make plays, he makes them. Can’t argue with that. Is he ever going to be a Pro Bowl corner? Probably not. But he’s a pretty solid nickel and I’d give him a chance to earn that role going into next season. 

Verdict: Stays  

Kulp: LeBlanc is a perfectly capable slot corner. Of course, that's where Maddox is probably most suited to play, too. Unless Maddox is moving to safety, not sure the Eagles' best lineup would never feature both players on the field at the same time. LeBlanc only make a cool mil though, and Maddox can move, so it's not really hurting anything. 

Verdict: Stays

Craig James 

Roob: James played 237 snaps on special teams this year, and if he’s here it will be because of his special teams ability. But you know how these things go. Assuming the Eagles overhaul the cornerback spot, a guy like James, who probably isn’t going to help much on defense, could be the first to go.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: For a while, James seemed to be a pretty good special teamer, working as a gunner for most of the season. But that shouldn’t be enough to keep him around. And if the Eagles bring him new talent, his chances to return will be shot. Maybe he sticks around on the practice squad. 

Verdict: Goes

Kulp: Good back end of the roster type, but the Eagles need to upgrade the position in the worst way, so there should be new bodies and plenty of competition. Which means if James is back, something went terribly wrong. 

Verdict: Goes

Tremon Smith

Roob: One thing we know about Smith is that he can run. He ran 4.32 at his pro day, which puts him in elite company. But he hasn’t been able to make that speed work for him yet in stints with the Chiefs and Packers. He does have a 25.8 career kick return average, which is legit – 6th-highest among active players. But it’s not enough. 

Verdict: Goes

Dave: Smith’s ability as a return man is intriguing to me but I’m not sure if that’ll be enough to keep him around. I’m looking forward to at least seeing that speed in training camp. 

Verdict: Goes

Kulp: The Eagles are his third team in two years, and while they need a lot of help at corner, that means draft picks and/or big ticket free agents, not practice squad prospects.

Verdict: Goes

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Eagles activate linebacker Nathan Gerry from Reserve/COVID-19 list

Eagles activate linebacker Nathan Gerry from Reserve/COVID-19 list

The Eagles have activated Nathan Gerry from the Reserve/COVID-19 list, which means the starting linebacker will be able to resume training camp with his teammates today. 

Gerry, 25, was placed on the list on July 29 so he spent about a week and a half out of the NovaCare Complex. Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata, who were also placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list that day, remain on it. 

The Reserve/COVID-19 list is for players who either test positive for the coronavirus or players have been exposed to someone who has. Teams can’t comment any further than roster status, but Johnson later confirmed that he contracted COVID-19. Doug Pederson also announced he contracted the virus. 

But Gerry will be able to resume normal activity today. The Eagles are still in the ramp-up portion of training camp. This week, on Wednesday, they’ll begin to have non-padded practices. Padded practices don’t begin until Aug. 17. 

Gerry is an important piece to Jim Schwartz’s defense as the top returning linebacker from the 2019 season. It’s likely that Gerry will get the most snaps of any linebacker this season. The converted safety is entering his fourth NFL season. 

In 2019, Gerry became a starter. He played in 16 games, started 12 and had 78 tackless, a pick-6 and 5 passes defensed. 

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Eagles OL coach Jeff Stoutland impressed by Andre Dillard’s growth

Eagles OL coach Jeff Stoutland impressed by Andre Dillard’s growth

There’s no doubt about how much pressure Andre Dillard will be facing as he enters his second NFL season. 

After one year as a backup, the former first-round pick is taking over at left tackle for a future Hall of Famer who will be playing just a few feet away. 

The Eagles are putting a ton of trust in Dillard after limited game action as a rookie. They were always going to go with Dillard at left tackle; they didn’t bring back Jason Peters until Brandon Brooks went down with an injury. Dillard is their future and that future starts in 2020. 

This offseason, Dillard’s biggest goal was to put on more weight and he has. Brooks said earlier this offseason that Dillard is up to 335 pounds. 

I absolutely have identified with him the areas that we need to improve on,” offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said recently. “And I would say that the one thing that he has done a great job of is his strength. I think he has absolutely improved in the strength department and he needed to.

It was obvious that the Eagles decision to put Dillard at right tackle last year was a complete disaster. He lasted just one half until the Eagles pulled the plug on an experiment that seemed doomed from the beginning. But the Eagles didn’t draft Dillard to play right tackle and they’re not going to ask him to again. 

While it wasn’t a great sign that he struggled so much on the right side of the line, the Eagles saw much more positive signs when he started three games for Peters at left tackle as a rookie. 

“When you look at the installation tapes, which we’re using right now to teach the players. The installation each day, here’s how you go about it: You go about it by clipping out the best teaching film or clips for that concept,” Stoutland said. “You might have 300 of these but you can’t use 300. You don’t have that much time. For the group meeting, maybe you use three or four clips. When you go to your position meeting, you might have 30 clips. 

“To make a long story short, my point is, when you go back and you really analyze, you go back and you watch these specific concepts one at a time. And then you start to notice Andre’s in a lot of these. I think he played over 400, 500 plays, something like that. You see the change of direction, you see the foot and body quickness.”

The Eagles look back at his 2019 tape and see all the reasons they drafted him. Dillard is athletic, he’s quick, he has solid technique. He just very obviously needed to get stronger and put it all together. 

We’ll find out soon enough if that happens. 

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