Like all general managers, Howie Roseman’s best-laid plans don’t always work out. See the Eagles’ wide receiver position in 2020 (or 2019) as a prime example.
Unlike most general managers, however, Roseman doesn’t often leave his team entering a season with a huge, obvious hole at one position like they have at cornerback right now.
Which is why Roseman pretty much promised Eagles fans at the conclusion of the 2021 NFL Draft that at a much-needed move is coming at cornerback.
“Well, I know in 2017 that we needed a corner too. And we got to August and we had a preseason game in Green Bay, Wisconsin and we made a trade with the Buffalo Bills and got a corner that helped us win a Super Bowl,” Roseman said. “We’ve had experiences about getting guys late in the process. And in that same year we needed a running back at the trade deadline, we made a trade at the trade deadline. I promise you and the fans we'll do whatever it takes at any time of the year to improve the roster.”
While there is still time for the team to make a move at cornerback, there is no question they need a somewhat significant addition to the position.
The team does have Darius Slay as a No. 1 cornerback on one side, but they have huge holes at the other two spots. If the team had to play a game right now they would likely start some combination of Craig James and Avonte Maddox on the outside/nickel cornerback opposite Slay. Rookie Zech McPhearson is a possibility as well, but the bottom line is that even in the zone-scheme that they are projected to run, the team needs help at the position.
While a trade is certainly possible, there are a few intriguing options still left in free agency. In fact, the team very well could sign a cornerback and still make a trade at one point to further try to strengthen the position.
So who could they sign?
Here are three options that make sense for the Eagles.
Steven Nelson: It isn’t often that a cornerback of Nelson’s skill level is available this deep into free agency, and now that the draft is over, he likely won’t be available much longer. Nelson, 28-years old, has 68 games of starting experience in his career, batting away 35 passes and picking off seven. Nelson dropped back into coverage more than any other Steelers player last season, allowing only four touchdowns in 567 coverage snaps, and allowing a passer rating of 82.3 when targeted. To put that in perspective, Slay allowed a passer rating of 115.6, according to Pro Football Focus.
Nelson isn’t the kind of young, up-and-coming player the Eagles should be targeting at this point in their rebuild, but he isn’t exactly old either, as he will be 28 during the entire 2021 season. The Eagles could sign Nelson to a one-year deal with the possibility of bringing him back on a multi-year deal next offseason, much like they are doing with safety Anthony Harris.
Of all the players left on the open market, there is zero question Nelson is the best option, and would turn the Eagles’ second cornerback back spot from a weakness into a strength.
Gareon Conley: Conley might be the Eagles best option if they are looking for a young cornerback with upside — but he comes with plenty of risk as well.
Eagles have been linked to Conley before, as he was viewed a possibility for them at No. 12 overall heading into the 2017 NFL Draft. The Eagles passed on Conley, taking Derek Barnett instead, and it was probably the right call considering how Conley’s career has played out. Conley has played in 31 games since being drafted, starting 26, knocking down 29 passes and picking off four — numbers that aren’t that terrible overall on paper.
It is very possible, however, the last three seasons have soured the Eagles on Conley. He was so bad in Oakland that they traded him after only two seasons, and then he wasn’t exactly outstanding in Houston last season either. The fact he is still sitting on the free agency market at his age and as a former first-round pick is very telling.
Still, Conley is just 25-years old with starting experience, and for an Eagles’ team that is rebuilding, the upside of the former first-round pick might be what matters most.
Bashaud Breeland: Breeland isn’t the exciting name that Stevens is, or the young, upside player that Conley is — but he would certainly be an upgrade over what the team has right now.
Breeland has 88 games of starting experience in the NFL, batting away 81 passes and picking off 14 during his time with Washington, Green Bay and Kansas City. Breeland is a very consistent player, starting at least double-digit games and picking off at least two passes in six of his seven seasons in the NFL.
Breeland, however, is 29-years old and doesn’t offer the same kind of high-level play that Stevens would bring. He would be an upgrade, but would feel more like a one-year, veteran stop gap than the other two would — and ideally that isn't the path the Eagles should be taking right now.
You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at email@example.com!