In the days leading up to the start of the 2015 NFL Draft, what are the biggest questions that need to be answered at each position? In our #EaglesDraft Position Preview series, we explore how each position changed since the start of free agency and how the draft could impact the shape of the roster. Today, we look closely at the cornerbacks ...
The Look Before Free Agency: Two years after signing a pair of starting cornerbacks in free agency, the Eagles said goodbye to Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, the duo who combined to start 59 games for the Eagles in 2013 and 2014. Fletcher, 28, was set to become a free agent, while the Eagles released the 30-year-old Williams. The goal was clear – to overhaul a secondary that allowed a league-high 72 passing plays over 20 yards in 2014.
With Fletcher and Williams gone, the top returning cornerbacks were Brandon Boykin, the slot man, and Nolan Carroll III, who started in Fletcher's place in Week 17. Jaylen Watkins, the team's fourth-round pick in 2014, prepared to enter his second season with questions about whether his position would ultimately be cornerback or safety.
But with cap room to spare, the Eagles were expected to make a big splash in the free-agent corner market. Seattle's Byron Maxwell, considered the top corner on the market, reportedly a primary target.
After Free Agency: The Eagles reeled in their big fish in Maxwell, signing the 27-year-old to a six-year deal, reportedly worth up to $63 million, with $23 million guaranteed over the first three seasons. With Seattle, Maxwell started 17 games over last two seasons as a member of the vaunted "Legion of Boom." There, Maxwell saw plenty of action as offenses looked to throw away from Sherman, but he impressed nonetheless, especially in Seattle's Week 10 win over the Eagles. Now, Maxwell will take over as the Eagles' top cornerback as the defense prepares to face a schedule that includes the likes of Dez Bryant (twice), Odell Beckham, Jr. (twice), DeSean Jackson (twice), Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson. Maxwell's performance will go a long way towards the Eagles' success in 2015.
Maxwell was not the only acquisition for the Eagles though, as the team also signed another former Seahawks cornerback in Walter Thurmond, the 27-year old who signed a one-year deal with the New York Giants last year, only to suffer a season-ending torn pectoral in the second game of the season. A former standout at Oregon, Thurmond's primary success in the NFL has been in the slot, but he'll compete with Boykin and Carroll to start opposite Maxwell.
Later in free agency, the Eagles also signed E.J. Biggers, a former intra-division rival with Washington. Like Watkins, Biggers can play both safety and cornerback, though he is expected to compete on the outside with the Eagles. He is also considered a standout special teams player.
But with those three additions, the Eagles are still keeping a very close eye on the incoming draft class. Their list of reported pre-draft visits includes at least five cornerbacks, from first-round caliber players like Byron Jones and Kevin Johnson to mid-to-late-round prospects like Daryl Roberts and Randall Evans. With vice president of player personnel Ed Marynowitz saying Thursday that one of the strengths of the draft is the cornerback position, it would be a surprise if the Eagles don't exit draft weekend with at least one new cornerback.
As we approach the NFL Draft, here's a look at the cornerbacks on the Eagles' roster ...
- READ: Position Preview: Quarterback
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- READ: Position Preview: Wide Receiver
- READ: Position Preview: Tight End
- READ: Position Preview: Offensive Line
- READ: Position Preview: Defensive Line
- READ: Position Preview: Outside Linebacker
- READ: Position Preview: Inside Linebacker