Now that it is out in the open, that cornerback Sheldon Brown wants a new contract or a trade, and that the Eagles have said no thanks, where does that leave the situation? Business is business and it is handled in these months, but we've been through the unhappy-cornerback story before and it ended with an unproductive player (Lito Sheppard) who was eventually traded.
It's clear through the statement they made that the Eagles have no plans to re-work a contract with Brown that has four years remaining. What isn't clear is how Brown will react to that and, the bigger picture, what the Eagles plan to do to make sure they are prepared for every scenario in the upcoming season.
Will the Eagles, then, just to be sure, use a high draft pick on a cornerback to groom? Are there any cornerbacks who can step right in and play well as rookies?
Let's examine the cornerback depth on this roster. Asante Samuel is a Pro Bowl player who delivered in his first year as an Eagle and should only be more productive as his comfort level grows in the defense. Samuel is the team's big-game cornerback, as he showed in last year's playoffs. He is the ace at left cornerback.
Brown has been a good, solid, reliable cornerback in his career here. He has been an ironman at right corner, playing in 124 games. He is a good football player and it is hard to imagine that Brown would carry the contract issue once the football side of things comes into focus. Brown is a respected player, a team leader and someone who has always answered the call to duty.
However, if Brown does not respond in a positive manner, the Eagles have to make sure they have themselves covered. Joselio Hanson is the team's third cornerback and he is an emerging player who is probably best suited to play as a nickel cornerback. Hanson would probably be OK as a starter, but he excels as a third cornerback as Brown slides into the slot and Hanson takes an outside position on the right side of the defense.
The Eagles have three cornerbacks who have it on the field in the NFL. That's good. It's also not enough, so even before Brown's dissatisfaction became public, the Eagles knew they had to find an answer to add to the depth at cornerback.
Second-year man Jack Ikegwuonu is the next man in line, but what do the Eagles really know about him? They know he had first-round talent before he tore up his knee prior to last year's draft. They know he rehabbed the knee and that he is physically ready to take the field in the post-draft mini-camp. They know he has had some off-the-field issues in college. They know that he has a lot to prove in terms of how he approaches the game to convince the coaching staff that he is mature enough to handle everything that goes with playing at this level.
Dimitri Patterson saw some time in Kansas City and was added to the Eagles' roster late in the 2008 season. I don't know a whole lot about him, other than he has NFL experience, has decent size and the Eagles are going to give him a long, long look. Trae Williams was a practice squad player for the Eagles last year and they liked him enough to sign him, so he will get a real chance to make this team, too.
Is it enough, though? With or without Brown's situation, I believe, the Eagles would probably be best served to see if there is a cornerback who can help the depth here. They would love Ikegwuonu to step up. The opportunity is there. Patterson is certainly here with some credentials. He has been in the league and he has hung around long enough to know what it takes to win a job.
But the Eagles have 10 draft picks, and they have some pretty narrow needs. Running back, yes. Tight end, of course. Wide receiver, maybe. Defensive line, always.
Why not a cornerback? Maybe not at 21, but why not package a couple of those fifth-round picks and add an extra fourth-round selection to take a cornerback? Or what about looking in the second or third round for a player who can challenge for playing time right away and who can be a starter in the not-too-distant future?
The Eagles value the position, as we've seen. They have dedicated a lot of resources to cornerback. Even before Brown's story broke, the need was there. It can't hurt to have more competition at the corner. The Eagles have the luxury of owning 10 draft picks and not having a lot of screaming-in-your-face needs.
So taking a cornerback wouldn't be a sign to Brown or a threat or any such nonsense. It would be a good football decision, and one that makes a lot of sense for the Eagles at some point in this draft.