Could the Eagles trade a cornerback?

For the first time in years, the Eagles have a good group of cornerbacks. Gone are the days of Nnamdi Asomugha, Cary Williams, and Bradley Flecther. Eagles fans can now feel confident that their pass defense won’t get lit up on a weekly basis.

So naturally, here’s an article suggesting why they should subtract from that group.

As a disclaimer, there is no inside information in this post. It is all speculation and guessing for fun and for the sake of discussion.

Reasoning

As of this writing, the Eagles’ projected cornerbacks are Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, and Cre’Von LeBlanc. The oldest and most experienced of that group is Darby, who is only 25 and entering his fifth season. It is a deep, young, and talented group.

Of course, Mills and LeBlanc are currently injured and will most likely miss some games. Because of this, general manager Howie Roseman may very well opt to keep all of them, thus rendering all of the following moot. But, that just doesn’t scream Howie Roseman.

Roseman was officially given his general manager duties back on December 30th, 2015. He has made over twenty trades since then, including big trades during the preseason. Point being, Howie is not afraid to swing a trade and is always looking for ways to improve the roster.

For What?

The 2019 Eagles have one of the best rosters in the NFL. It is loaded with star players and depth almost across the board. However, two areas where depth is questionable are defensive line and linebacker.

Defensive Line

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s system is predicated on getting to the quarterback with a four man rush. Schwartz rarely, if at all, blitzes. The defensive line has to get home with their pass rush for the Eagles defense to be successful. 

The starters at d-line are set. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Malik Jackson will get the lion’s share of snaps, with Tim Jernigan being the first off the bench to give Cox or Jackson a rest. Vinny Curry is back and will be the first pass rusher off the bench.

It gets a little murky after that.

There’s no more Michael Bennett or Chris Long. After Curry, the Eagles’ pass rush depth consists of unproven, late round rookies and developmental projects. For Schwartz’s “fastballs” strategy to work, a lot is being pressed upon these young players.

The Eagles were able to win a Super Bowl by stopping the run and then getting to the quarterback with multiple defensive linemen. They need to have competent players who could step in and give the starters a rest while still causing trouble for the offense. Right now, there are a lot of question marks instead of veteran pass rushers as in years past.

Linebacker

It’s no secret that the Eagles do not value the linebacker position highly. The Eagles were ahead of the curve in realizing that most offenses utilize three receiver sets as their base now. And the best way to combat that is to have five defensive backs and only two linebackers. Therefore, the Eagles have not invested many resources into a position that is not as important as it once was.

However, their depth at this position is very thin. The starters are Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill. Zach Brown is listed as a starter on the depth chart, but he may be the one who comes off the field when the team goes into the nickel. After those three, the Eagles’ linebackers are Nate Gerry, Paul Worrilow, and L.J. Fort.

Grugier-Hill is already injured. Worrilow missed all of last year with an ACL injury. Fort is not even a lock to make the team. The Eagles could really use another steady backup, even if they don’t value the position.

For Whom?

On the Eagles’ end, the most likely corner to be on the trade block would have been LeBlanc. The team could have looked to flip him after he impressed late last season. But that is all on hold now after he suffered an injury in camp. The other candidates would be Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox, or Rasul Douglas, but they are much less likely.

The Eagles drafted Jones in the second round even while knowing he would miss most of his rookie season with an ACL injury. Obviously they were high on him, and that doesn’t seem to have changed. Douglas has been up and down in his career but is a prototypical Jim Schwartz defensive back. Maddox would be the most likely of the trio, but his versatility in the secondary makes him the perfect first man off the bench in case of injury.

With all that being said, you truly never know with Howie Roseman. So, let’s try and play matchmaker and look at some possible trade partners. 

Mario Addison, Carolina Panthers

Carolina had a middle of the road pass defense last year, but in a division with Drew Brees and Julio Jones, it couldn’t hurt to add cornerbacks, especially when the projected starters are James Bradberry, Donte Jackson, and Ross Cockrell.

Addison is 31 years old and is in the final year of his contract at an affordable rate of $6.5M. He had 9 sacks and 2 forced fumbles for the Panthers last season. 

Christian Jones, Detroit Lions

Jones is a linebacker with 5 seasons of NFL experience under his belt. He had 69 tackles last season and one sack in 16 games started for Matt Patricia’s defense. If Patricia is anything like his mentor Bill Belichick, he most likely values the cornerback position. 

Jones would give the Eagles an affordable (under contract in 2019 for $2.450M) option to start in Grugier-Hill’s absence or to provide enhanced depth at a thin position. 

Henry Anderson, New York Jets

The Jets have one of the worst overall rosters in the league. They need just about everything they can get. Cornerback would help, especially with the 24th ranked pass defense in a division with Tom Brady. 

Anderson would be a good fit with the Eagles. The 28 year old had 7 sacks last season and is only counting for $2M on the salary cap. However, that number jumps to $7M in 2020 and $8.2M in 2021. 

Arik Armstead, San Francisco 49ers

Armstead was the 17th overall pick in the 2015 draft but has under-performed to this point in his career. In four seasons since being drafted, he has just 9 sacks in 46 games. Armstead played in just 8 games in 2016 and 6 games in 2017 due to injury. 

2018 was his best statistical year, with 3 sacks and 48 combined tackles. Armstead would be a buy low candidate that you would hope would do better in a change of scenery. He is playing in the last year of his rookie contract at a salary a hair over $9M. 

Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals

Atkins would provide the Eagles with another veteran pass rusher to rotate into the game. Despite being in his 9th season, Atkins registered 10 sacks in 16 games last season. He is a 7 time Pro Bowler and 2 time first team all-pro. The Bengals are a team ripe for a rebuild and should be looking to move veteran players to get younger. They were also dead last in pass defense in 2018.

Atkins would provide additional pass rush, but he has almost exclusively been an interior defensive lineman his whole career. He would increase the overall pass rush depth, but would not improve the edge rush. Another issue is his contract. He is on the hook for $8M this season, $11.1M next season, $11.7M in 2021, and $12.95M in 2022. The thinking here is this will probably scare the Eagles off.