McMullen: Eagles Have Decisions to Make at CB
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Winning can mask a lot of issues in the NFL and while the Eagles fended off the doomsday preppers with an unlikely checkmark in Green Bay Thursday night if the organization doesn't fix the cornerback position, a positive Lambeau Field battle may turn into a footnote in a lost war.
The summer narrative that the Eagles were all of a sudden good at a position which has been a weakness in recent years assumed too much: the health of Jalen Mills, the belief Ronald Darby would return seamlessly from a torn ACL, the light switch finally turning on for Sidney Jones, confidence in Cre'Von LeBlanc being far more than a waiver-wire pickup late last season, and the strange default setting that forced versatility equaled competency with Avonte Maddox.
Through the first quarter of the 2019 season, only one player has trended in a positive direction at the position and that's right corner Rasul Douglas, who has looked like a legitimate starting CB at times in Jim Schwartz's Cover-3 heavy scheme despite his reputation as a limited zone corner who needs to be schemed up.
Part of it is injuries.
Mills started training camp on the PUP list and that carried over to the regular season with the strange foot injury that has taken a full year to heal and he isn't eligible to be added to the mix until after Week 6 at the earliest. LeBlanc suffered his own foot injury in camp and is on IR and unable to return until after Week 8. Darby and Jones suffered hamstring injuries in back-to-back weeks leaving Douglas and the little-used Craig James as the only healthy corner to finish against the Packers, the latter of which saved the game with a PBU which probably should have been flagged but instead ended up in the arms of Nigel Bradham to clinch a 34-27 win.
"It's just great awareness to understand that, to know that he's got the target, the bullseye, so to speak," coach Doug Pederson said of James' essentially game-winning play. "It was just a great all-out effort. He knew that it was coming down to those last two or three plays of the game. Stepping in there and doing what he did late in that game is very commendable and he did a great job."
The mini-bye of a short week is important although it's hard to believe Darby or Jones will be back in 10 days for the New York Jets. The best hope is that Maddox can return with the extra time after suffering a concussion and neck injury in an ugly friendly-fire hit from Andrew Sendejo that had the stretcher out for the second-year corner.
If none of that trio can make it back for the Jets, the Eagles will have to add a CB with the only in-house option being Ajene Harris, the practice-squad corner who started as a rookie tryout player and stood by the phone long enough to get a PS life going.
"It’s challenging. It is challenging," Pederson admitted Monday. "Just like it was with the receivers, now it's affecting the defensive backs. So it's a challenging deal. Fortunately, we have some days here to get guys healthy."
Harris wouldn't be a sexy choice but "He's a viable option," according to Pederson.
"Been with us now for a while," the coach said. "So, yeah, those are all things we'll take a look at over the next few hours and this weekend and the next few days."
Outside the organization, the obvious answer would be Jalen Ramsey, the All-Pro corner doing everything he can to force his way out of Jacksonville.
Ramsey, however, will cost a bunch, both in assets heading back to the First Coast of Florida -- at least a first-round pick, another premium pick, and a player -- and money in the form of a monster extension that will have to be addressed. He also has a big personality.
While Pederson can't talk about players under contract to other organizations he did talk in vague terms about adding a high-profile target like Ramsey.
"I mean, it's been proven. We've done that before here," he said. "I feel like our locker room is strong enough. We have great leadership on the team with the players. I think where our culture is right now, we can embrace just about anything in that locker room."
In many ways making a run at Ramsey will highlight Howie Roseman's belief in what is a 2-2 team at the quarter pole. If the GM still believes the championship window is open, you solve the CB quandary in one fell swoop. If a four-game self-scout tells you the current roster was overvalued -- and it certainly was at CB -- it's probably a better idea to play it safe with an aging roster.
Was Green Bay a Band-Aid or a vaccine?
Buckle up because we're about to find out.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen