The Eagles’ plan to rebuild their secondary so far has consisted of having Rodney McLeod sign with the Colts, having Steven Nelson sign with the Texans and bringing Anthony Harris back as he did not get any free agency offers with big money.
There’s still 4½ months to the opening day and a draft is coming in two weeks, but it’s been a surprisingly low season when it comes to the Eagles’ secondary.
Conventional wisdom that came out of last season was that the Eagles were more likely to bring McLeod back for a seventh season than Harris for another season, especially after McLeod’s strong second half that Nelson had played well enough in the corner against Darius Slay to return. and finding a startup security was a big priority for a free agency as it is a position where the draft may not need to be filled out.
READ: Former Eagles starting CB Steven Nelson leaves in free agency
So much for conventional wisdom.
While we sit here today, a month in free agency, Slay and Harris are expected to start, and Avonte Maddox is your nickel.
Zech McPherson, a 4th round pick from Texas Tech last year, would likely be the best man right now on CB2, and Marcus Epps, a 2019 Vikings 6th round, is the leading contender against Harris.
But can they really be the answer?
McPhearson got just 179 shots in defense as a rookie, 56 of them in the pointless regular season finale against the Cowboys. He was not terrible. Did not make plays. Did not make much of an impression in any way as a young rookie.
Subscribe to the Eagle Eye podcast
Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | Watch YouTube
Epps has started eight games over the last couple of years and was quite active in the spot service behind Harris and McLeod – he played about half of the defensive snaps and did OK. But it’s a big leap from that role to full-time starter.
The only other collateral on the list are K’Von Wallace from the 4th round in 2020, who has played 386 snaps in the last two years, and street free agent Jared Mayden, who has played 38 career snaps.
And the only other corners on the list are a bunch of youngsters with lots of speed but limited experience: Josiah Scott, Tay Gowan, Mac McCain, Kary Vincent, Andre Chachere. If you remove their snaps in that Dallas game, the entire group has amassed 193 defensive snaps in their careers. So who knows.
Now the Eagle has a history of bringing in skilled defensive backs later in the offseason.
The first week of training camp in August 2017, they signed Corey Graham and bought Ronald Darby in a trade with the Bills, and both were a big part of the Super Bowl defense. They got Cre’Von LeBlanc free of waivers in the middle of the 2018 season and he played very well down the stretch. Epps was a demand for exemption in the mid-season in 2019, and Nelson did not sign here last summer until the end of July.
They have been linked with veteran-free agent safety Tyrann Mathieu, and the first round of the draft has several exciting cornerback options that should be available, including LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr., Washington’s Trent McDuffie, Clemson’s Andrew Booth and probably in a trade-on scenario Cincinnati’s Sauce Gardner.
MORE: Another team could stand between the Eagles, Tyrann Mathieu
So there are opportunities out there.
It may be more difficult to find a startup security in the draft. Without a major trade-off for Kyle Hamilton, which is unlikely, the Eagles would have to take their chances with a Day 2 pick, and there are some good prospects there – Penn States Jaquan Brisker, Baylors Jalen Pitre – but your odds of landing one plug-and-play starters are not great.
Slay has started 124 career games, Harris 61 and Maddox 28. The nine other DBs on the list have started a total of 17 games – four of them in the Dallas game.
Upgrading the pass rush that the Eagles have done with Haason Reddick and could continue to do in the draft will certainly help a secondary who allowed the 13th-highest resistance completion rate in NFL history last year – even though they were 11th in passing yards allowed.
But the Eagles finished last year with one elite defensive back and a very good nickel corner, and sitting here in mid-April, they still have one elite defensive back and a very good nickel. And much less experience.
And there is still a lot of work to be done.