Avonte Maddox

Making sense of the Eagles' Ronald Darby contract

Making sense of the Eagles' Ronald Darby contract

Why bring back a rehabbing Ronald Darby on a fairly sizable contract — one year at somewhere north of $8 million — when you already have a large stable of promising young corners who carried the Eagles down the stretch last year and through the playoffs and are all making minimum wage or close to it?

It’s a fair question. It’s a good question.

When last year ended, the Eagles were getting very good outside corner play from Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox, although Maddox did come back to earth a bit in the playoffs. Not surprising for a rookie fourth-round pick.

But we all saw tons of potential from Douglas, who made tremendous progress as a cover corner and proved to be as capable a tackling corner as we’ve seen around here since Sheldon Brown.

The question with Maddox is does he end up at safety or corner, and the Eagles answered that — at least temporarily — when they restructured Rodney McLeod, which means Malcolm Jenkins and McLeod are your starting safeties in 2019 if McLeod is healthy.

Then there’s Jalen Mills, who fans love to hate and struggled last year before he got hurt. But Mills was a starter on a Super Bowl team and is very good in the red zone. And there’s Sidney Jones, who the Eagles liked enough to draft in the second round in 2017 even though they knew he couldn’t play for a year.

And Cre’Von LeBlanc, who really took ownership of the slot late in the season.

A lot of intriguing talent. A lot of intriguing young talent.

You would think the Eagles could go into training camp with Douglas, Maddox, Mills, Jones and LeBlanc at corner and let everybody compete for the two outside spots and the slot.

And that would have given the Eagles a pretty good secondary.

I saw enough from Douglas and Maddox the second half of last year to feel like they would wind up outside, with LeBlanc inside. That would allow Jones to back up outside as he continues to grow as a player and allow Mills to take his time getting healthy.

But most of these guys are versatile and can play inside or outside and in some cases safety as well, so there were a lot of interesting possibilities.

I would go into the 2019 season with that group.

So why Darby?

Because one absolute law of the NFL is that you can never have enough cornerbacks.

If last year didn’t teach us that, I don’t know what ever will.

The Eagles lost Mills with a foot injury in the Jacksonville game, and they lost Darby a week later against Dallas. Between injuries and guys just not playing well, they went through 10 cornerbacks during the season. And still made the playoffs.

It’s easy to sit back and say, Douglas, Maddox and LeBlanc can hold down corner, but the reality is that those three have started a combined 35 games in their careers.

They’ve shown promise, but none of them are a proven commodity over the long term. 

And relying on promise and potential isn’t always the best way to build an NFL team.

Darby — when healthy — is very good. He’s fast and aggressive, has good size and is fearless.

As much as I like the promise that Douglas and Maddox have shown and the potential Jones has and the spirit that LeBlanc played with last year and Mills’ swagger from the Super Bowl run, a healthy Darby is the Eagles’ most talented cornerback.

Now, the healthy part is key. If Darby can’t get through 2019 without getting hurt, the Eagles are off the hook with no cap hit in 2020. They'll move on, much like they did with Jordan Hicks.

There are still a lot of unknowns in the secondary. Mills, Darby and McLeod are all coming off injuries and could presumably start the season on the PUP list.

The group the Eagles start with will likely not be the one they finish with.

So the more talent you can stockpile, the better your chances of having a capable crew once January rolls around.

The cap space was there. Darby wanted to be here. He knows the system. The deal is team-friendly.

So there’s no downside to this. It’s simple. The Eagles are a better team with Darby than without him.

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Who are the biggest bargains on the Eagles' roster?

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Who are the biggest bargains on the Eagles' roster?

To even think about competing for big-ticket free agents, paying a quarterback $30 million a year or keeping your own best players, NFL teams must have bargain-basement guys on the roster as well.
The more productive players a team has with reasonable contracts, the more flexibility that team has to be competitive at the top of its salary scale.
That’s why the NFL draft — or better yet the undrafted player scrap heap — is the lifeblood of every elite football team. The more draft picks you’re able to hit on, the more guys you have on your roster making relatively little money but still contributing.
And the more money is available for you to go after expensive guys.
Eventually, those players will need to get bigger contracts — generally after their third or fourth NFL season. But by then the hope is you have another wave of young bargain-basement guys under contract to replace them or provide cap space to keep them.
Let’s take a look — in alphabetical order — at some of the biggest salary cap bargains currently on the Eagles’ roster. Salary cap positional rankings come from Spotrac. And remember, they don't include unsigned players and draft picks, so all those rankings will be much lower by this fall.

Josh Adams

2019 Base      2019 Cap Figure      Avg. Salary          Signed Through
$570,000             $570,000                 $525,000                       2019

2019 Salary Cap Rank among RBs: 89th

Say what you want about the Eagles getting away from Adams in the postseason — he played just one snap — the bottom line is during the second half of the season when the Eagles began winning games, Adams was their leading rusher. From Week 8 through Week 17, he was one of only 15 backs in the NFL with at least 100 carries and a 4.3 average. He was the leading rusher on a playoff team, and he’s making minimum wage. The Eagles hold his rights through 2021.

Rasul Douglas

2019 Base      2019 Cap Figure      Avg. Salary          Signed Through
$670,000             $846,572                 $794,010                      2020

2019 Salary Cap Rank among CBs: 85th

Probably the Eagles’ most improved player over the second half of last year. Douglas went from riding the bench to making a pretty good case that he has to be a starting cornerback in 2019. He had a team-high three INTs last year in limited duty after picking off two passes as a rookie. The Eagles have him on his rookie deal for two more years.

Corey Clement

2019 Base      2019 Cap Figure      Avg. Salary          Signed Through
$645,000             $648,334                 $558,333                   2019

2019 Salary Cap Rank among RBs: 66th

You can’t beat an undrafted rookie on a minimum-wage deal who’s already been a Super Bowl hero. Clement got hurt last year but he’s the only back on the roster that’s proven as both a runner and receiver, and he should play a significant role on offense moving forward. Clement is signed through 2019 but the Eagles hold his rights through 2020.

Dallas Goedert   

2019 Base      2019 Cap Figure      Avg. Salary          Signed Through
$735,649            $1, 278,243             $1,406,068                   2021

2019 Salary Cap Rank among TEs: 36th

Even playing behind Zach Ertz, Goedert last year was one of just 13 NFL tight ends with 30 catches, 300 yards and four TDs. That’s pretty good production for a backup — especially one who is the 36th-highest-paid tight end in the league and under Eagles control for three more years.

Kamu Grugier-Hill

2019 Base      2019 Cap Figure      Avg. Salary          Signed Through
$720,000             $720,000                 $610,089                     2019

2019 Salary Cap Rank among LBs: 116th

Kamu was one of the Eagles’ bigger surprises last year as a first-time starter. He dispelled the notion that he can only be a special teamer in the NFL, starting 10 games and providing unspectacular but solid play at linebacker. The Eagles still have Grugier-Hill on the four-year, sixth-round rookie deal he signed with the Patriots in 2016.

Cameron Johnston      

2019 Base      2019 Cap Figure      Avg. Salary          Signed Through
$570,000             $577,500                 $532,500                     2019

2019 Salary Cap Rank among Punters: 24th

The Eagles took a risk going with an unknown, untested punter to replace record-setting (but pricier) Donnie Jones. But Johnston responded with the best punting season in Eagles history. His 48.2 average was 23rd-highest in NFL history, and his 42.7 net is a franchise record. Considering there are 14 punters who average at least $1.4 million per year, Johnston is a bargain. And the Eagles have his rights through 2021.

Cre’Von LeBlanc

2019 Base      2019 Cap Figure      Avg. Salary          Signed Through
$720,000             $720,000                 $675,000                   2019*

2019 Salary Cap Rank among CBs: 99th

One of four defensive backs on this list, LeBlanc, who had been released by three teams, blossomed late in the season, giving the Eagles solid playmaking out of the slot. His acrobatic interception of Drew Brees in the playoffs was a real statement early in that game, that this was a different Eagles team than the one the Saints blew out two months earlier. He’s signed through 2019 but belongs to the Eagles through 2021.

Avonte Maddox

2019 Base      2019 Cap Figure      Avg. Salary          Signed Through
$570,000             $726,478                 $771,479                     2021

2019 Salary Cap Rank among CBs: 96th

Maddox was a real find in the fourth round as a versatile, productive combo safety-corner, and that fourth-round rookie contract means several years of cheap labor for the Eagles, who get a solid starter at a bargain-basement price.

Tre’ Sullivan

2019 Base      2019 Cap Figure      Avg. Salary          Signed Through
$570,000             $570,000                  $525,000                    2019*

2019 Salary Cap Rank among Ss: 113th

The final d-back on the list, Sullivan is another one who the Eagles found on the street who improved so much during the season that by the playoffs he was a key component of an ever-changing secondary. Sullivan is under contract through 2019 but the Eagles hold his rights through 2021.

Carson Wentz

2019 Base      2019 Cap Figure      Avg. Salary          Signed Through
$720,000            $8,487,927              $6,669,085                   2019

2019 Salary Cap Rank among QBs: 24th

How is a $6.7 million average salary a bargain? Because there are 23 quarterbacks who are earning more than Carson Wentz. At some point, the Eagles will give Wentz a deal in the $30 million-per-year ballpark, but until that happens his cheap-o rookie QB deal gives the Eagles flexibility to add crucial parts around him so once he does sign that max deal the Eagles have a team capable of challenging for a championship.

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Looking at the wild, injury-plagued year for Eagles' secondary

Looking at the wild, injury-plagued year for Eagles' secondary

The Eagles overcame a ton of injuries during the 2017 season on their way to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, but the 2018 season was a lot different. 

For a while, all their injuries happened to the same position group. 

By the time the season ended in New Orleans on Sunday, the Eagles had incredibly used 15 defensive backs on defense during the season. No team in the NFL used more and the NFL average was 11.8. 

Of the five starting defensive backs this season, only Malcolm Jenkins remained by season’s end. Three of the five were on IR. 

So here’s a look at all 15 defensive backs the Eagles used this season with their snaps in the regular season and in the playoffs:

Malcolm Jenkins: 1039/141
Jenkins was clearly the glue this season. It’s scary to think about where this team would have been without his play and leadership. He played every single defensive snap in the regular season and playoffs. He was very deservingly named to his third-career Pro Bowl for his efforts this season. He’s under contract for two more seasons. 

Corey Graham: 656/141
Graham was close to retiring before this season, but ended up playing the second most snaps of everyone in this secondary. That was not ideal and Jim Schwartz admitted as much. But after Graham’s fatal error on 4th-and-15 in Nashville, he actually played better. Safe money is on the 33-year-old retiring this offseason. 

Rasul Douglas: 543/118
By the end of the season, Douglas had done enough to warrant serious consideration to be a starting cornerback next season. Sure, he had a shaky start to his season, but ended up leading the team with three interceptions and was a really good tackler. He dealt with some minor injuries too, but played in every game. The defense struggled when he was forced to leave in the divisional round. 

Ronald Darby: 542/0
One of the initial starters, Darby tore his ACL in Week 10 against the Cowboys. The Eagles have an interesting decision to make on Darby. He’s still just 25 and is a free agent, but is also coming off a serious injury. 

Avonte Maddox: 540/135
Maybe Maddox started to get picked on some late in the season, but he had a tremendous rookie season, especially for a fourth-round pick. He played in 13 games as a nickel corner, safety and outside corner. The Eagles missed him when Maddox was out for three games with a knee injury. It’s likely Maddox will be a big part of the secondary in Year 2; we just don’t know where yet. 

Jalen Mills: 457/0
Another starter when the 2018 season began, Mills hurt his foot in London against the Jaguars and was never able to return. In fact, it seemed like his foot kept getting worse and worse. Mills is entering Year 4 in 2019 and is still a Jim Schwartz favorite, so don’t count on him going to the bench. 

Cre’Von LeBlanc: 351/108
Strap was one of the greatest surprises of the 2018 season and the Eagles might have found a hidden gem. They claimed him off waivers on Nov. 5 and he eventually become the Eagles’ nickel corner. He played so well that he ought to be the frontrunner to win that job next season. His INT in the Saints playoff game was incredible. 

Sidney Jones: 322/0 
A really disappointing season for the former second-round pick. After missing most of his rookie season as he recovered from an Achilles tear, he played in just nine games this season because of hamstring injuries. The lasting image of his 2018 season will be from the first Saints game, when Drew Brees kept picking on the injured corner. But it’s too early to call him a bust. Jones is still just 22 and will be in the mix for a job next spring and summer. 

Tre Sullivan: 219/87
Sullivan ended up being another pleasant surprise. He was on the initial roster, but then spent a month on the practice squad before rejoining the 53. By the end of the season, the Eagles felt comfortable enough to use him frequently at safety while Jenkins slid into the box. Big strides from Sullivan this season. 

Rodney McLeod: 162/0
The Eagles lost McLeod to an ACL injury in the third game of the season and he was missed the rest of the year, but stayed as involved as he could. The Eagles might ask him to restructure his contract, but they could definitely use him back next season. 

De’Vante Bausby: 147/0
There was a time in the spring where Bausby was getting first-team nickel reps, but he didn’t make the Eagles’ initial roster and didn’t last long on the practice squad the first time. Eventually in November, the Eagles added him to the practice squad and called him up on Nov. 17. But he was waived on Dec. 24 after a few subpar performances. He started against the Giants along with Chandon Sullivan. That really happened. 

Dexter McDougle: 106/0
Remember this guy? He was actually on the team this season and was briefly the Eagles’ starting nickel corner. He was on the roster for just a month, though, and was released to make room for LeBlanc. McDougle’s performance in London was awful and he was released before the next game. 

Chandon Sullivan: 87/0
Thanks to other injuries, Sullivan was promoted from the practice squad on Oct. 25 and was on the roster until he was waived on Dec. 24. In those two months, he played in five games and had one start. Even Sullivan suffered an injury this season. 

Deiondre’ Hall: 6/0
The Eagles traded a seventh-round pick for Hall, who was primarily a special teams player for the Eagles. It was probably a little telling that the Eagles refused to play Hall at safety even when they had a need for healthy defensive backs. He seemed to be a pretty important teams player though. 

Josh Hawkins: 0/21  
Hawkins was signed to the practice squad on Dec. 11 and was promoted to the active roster on Dec. 24. His only playing time came in the divisional round game, when he was thrust into action against the Saints and Brees immediately threw to his side for a touchdown. Tough spot for the young defensive back. But that’s how things went all season. 

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