What is Howie’s Plan with the Eagles Crowded Secondary?

Yesterday it was reported by multiple sources that Eagles’ wide receiver Torrey Smith will be traded to the Panthers for cornerback Darryl Worley once the new league year starts in five days.

Like the Michael Bennett trade, this seemed to come out of nowhere. I expected Howie to simply cut Smith to save some cap space. The fact that he even found a trade partner for Smith is shocking. It’s not like Smith is coming off a bounce back year either — for most of the regular season he was a liability at wideout, his hands were inconsistent, and it seemed like his world-class speed just wasn’t there anymore. Howie somehow managed to trade the aging receiver for a developmental corner who still has two years left on his rookie deal. I really don’t understand how he keeps pulling off these trades, but I’m not complaining.

With the addition of Darryl Worley, Howie just added another young corner to an already crowded secondary. The Eagles now have five quality corners under the age of 25 (Darby, Mills, Douglas, Jones, and now Worley). The only corner who is over the age of 25 is Patrick Robinson — who may walk once free agency starts. Reports surfaced just about a week ago that the Eagles were in talks with Robinson on a long-term deal. Does this trade throw a wrench into that? Maybe, but I doubt the Eagles want to lose the production that Robinson provided at the nickel spot, especially when you consider that Worley hasn’t played nickel in either of his first two seasons. I don’t think all these corners will be here once the season starts though. The Eagles cap space is too tight — it only makes sense for Howie to try and cut the surplus of depth he has at the position to generate some cap room.

For me, there’s three options for Howie when considering what to do with the cornerback position. First off, he could let Robinson walk and replace him with one of his young corners or someone from free agency. This is my least favorite option for the simple fact that we’re losing one of the best nickel corners in the NFL. Throughout his career, Robinson was primarily an outside corner. He struggled for the most part and bounced around a few teams until he found his niche with the Birds. This past season, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz moved Robinson to nickel during training camp and he flourished in his new role — accumulating 47 total tackles, 4 interceptions, 18 pass deflections, and 1 sack. You can’t ask for much more out of your nickel corner. Losing him would not bode well for the Eagles, especially considering they don’t have another corner on the roster who could step into Robinson’s role and play at that level.

The second option for Howie would be to find a trade partner for Ronald Darby. Fellow Full-Scale writer Ryan Haynes wrote on this earlier this week, so if you want a more in-depth look at this possibility, read up on his piece here. I’m just going to cover the basics. With last year’s second round pick Sidney Jones finally healthy, many are expecting him to start on the outside from day-1. I wouldn’t be surprised by this; Jones was considered the best corner in last year’s draft until he went down with a torn Achilles during his pro day workout. While Darby did play well last season, he didn’t do anything to guarantee his roster spot for the future. He’s a playmaker for sure, but he gets beat on double moves more often than not and he doesn’t match up well with big physical receivers. There’s also a viable market for Darby if he does go on the trade block — I wouldn’t be surprised if Howie gets a third or even more for him. I wouldn’t’ mind this move. I don’t think we’d lose that much production switching from Darby to Jones and I think Jones will turn out to be a very good corner for the Eagles down the road.

The third and final option is trading or cutting safety Rodney McLeod. I Haven’t heard many people talk about this possibility but I actually think this would be the best move for Howie to make. When McCleod signed with the Eagles two years ago his contract was designed to be back loaded – 2018 will be the first year that McLeod gets paid over $5 million (his cap hit is $8 million). On the other hand, Darby is going into the final year of his rookie deal and is set to make just over $1 million. If Howie resigns Robinson, Darby will most likely walk at the end of the year. That would be somewhat of a letdown, but I don’t see it effecting the Eagles long-term. In the short-term, moving McCleod would save $7 million more than trading Darby would. I also believe the Eagles already have the in-house replacement for McCleod, and that’s Rasul Douglas. Douglas currently plays corner, but with so much competition at the position it’ll be hard to find playing time for him. Douglas is by far our biggest corner at 6’2’’ and 209 lbs. so a transition to safety wouldn’t be that difficult. He was a ball hawk in college and showed a nose for the ball as a rookie in limited playing time (2 interceptions). Howie also loves his safety/corner hybrids, which is why I think this may be a real possibility.

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