The Eagles’ Achilles heal this season will be their cornerback position — which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
There are obvious question marks at a handful of other positions, most notably at quarterback. But calling the team’s cornerback situation a ‘question mark’ is putting it kindly. There is no question marks surrounding the Eagles cornerback position. They’re bad. Simple as that.
There’s been speculation all throughout the offseason on how the front office could address this glaring need. The draft felt like the most logical, given the high volume of talent at the position. But Howie Roseman elected to take DeVonta Smith in the first round and neglected the cornerback position until day three. Zech McPhearson certainly has potential, but asking a fourth round rookie corner to start from day one is a tall order.
At this point, the Eagles have two options. Sign free agent corner Steven Nelson, someone I’ve been clamoring for for months now. Or, package Zach Ertz and a draft pick to pry an established corner away from their current team.
Nelson would be a fine addition to the secondary, he’s an obvious upgrade over whomever is going to start opposite of Darius Slay. Trading for a veteran would probably upgrade the position even further, though, and provide the Eagles with a true playmaker on the outside.
Here are two veteran corner who the Eagles could potentially target in a trade before training camp gets underway.
Jimmy Smith, Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens have one of the best cornerbacks rooms in the NFL. Marlon Humphrey has become one of the best nickel corners in football, Marcus Peters is a perennial Pro Bowl level player, and veteran Jimmy Smith is as consistent as any corner in football. Not to mention the team selected Ohio State standout corner Shaun Wade in the fifth round of this year’s draft.
It’s possible that the front office wants to have Wade sit behind this trio of veteran corners for at least a year before he’s thrust into action, but if a team comes calling for someone like Smith, the oldest corner of the bunch, dealing Smith is certainly fathomable.
Smith, 32, is coming off his best year in recent history. He finished as the 23rd ranked corner in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. Quarterbacks targeted Smith 38 times last season, and he allowed a completion percentage of just 50 percent, while not surrendering a single touchdown.
Smith can play on the outside as well as the in the slot, but he’d probably slide in as the starting outside corner here in Philly if he were to join the Eagles.
As far as what the Eagles would have to give up for Smith, he shouldn’t cost a ton. He has just one year remaining on his current deal and is set to make $2.25 million this season. A late round pick could probably get it done, possibly a third or a fourth. Maybe they could include Ertz in a deal as well. Pairing Ertz with Mark Andrews would give the Ravens a very formidable tight end duo for opposing defenses to deal with.
Smith’s age and expiring contract is a bit of a concern, but he’s a better one-year band-aid option than Steven Nelson. If the team resigns him after this year, he could potentially shift into the slot as he gets older.
Bryce Callahan, Denver Broncos
A slot corner by trade, Denver’s Bryce Callahan played primarily on the outside last season due to the team’s lacking cornerback depth. But that depth won’t be a issue for the Broncos this season. They went out and acquired Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller in free agency this offseason, as well as selecting Patrick Surtain with their first round pick in this year’s draft.
Surtain figures to be a starter in Denver’s secondary this season, but as of right now, there isn’t much room for him. You’d think Surtain could start over Darby, but the former Eagles’ three-year, $30 million contract throws a wrench into that thought process.
Perhaps they’ll look to deal one of their corners before the start of the season to ensure Surtain gets optimal playing time in year one. Of all the corners fighting for starting time, Callahan feels like the most likely to get dealt. Both Darby and Fuller were signed this offseason, so they’re off the table. And of course the team isn’t going to trade Surtain.
Like Smith, Callahan has just one year remaining on his current deal and is set to have a cap hit of approximately $8.5 million. The Broncos would save $7.1 million and incur just a $1.3 million dead cap hit if they trade Callahan any time before the start of the season. The Eagles could make this deal work by including Ertz, since trading him will save Philly about $8.5 million in cap space. Adding Ertz to a Broncos offense with Noah Fant, Jerry Jeudy, and Courtland Sutton would give them a sneaky good crop of offensive weaponry.
Callahan proved last year that despite his short stature (5-foot-9), he can still hang in there with outside receivers. He earned a 86.7 pass coverage grade per PFF and was graded out as the third-best corner in football last season. He’d be able to fill either the nickel or the outside spot for the Eagles with ease.
Both of these corners would be great trade options for Philadelphia. They shouldn’t cost an astronomical amount and they’re proven players who will undoubtedly help the team this year.
One could argue that the only thing holding the Eagles back from being contenders in the NFC East is their cornerback position. Shoring up that second CB spot would go a long way in deciding how the 2021 season plays out for the Eagles.