Eagles cornerback battle: Where does everyone stand at the moment?

Brandon Boykin is gone from Philadelphia. That’s something that people have been predicting would happen for months, but last night Chip Kelly finally pulled the trigger on the deal and sent him packing to western PA and the Steelers for a conditional fifth round pick. That pick turns into a fourth round pick if Boykin plays at least 60 percent of snaps next year.

It’s simple: this trade makes the Eagles’ secondary worse after they spent the whole offseason trying to make it better. This does not, however, mean they’ve reverted back to the level their secondary was last year. They have tons of depth now and really, if Boykin were still here, some deserving players may not have gotten very much playing time, or any time at all. Here’s the situation regrading the Eagles’ cornerback battle:

Byron Maxwell is locked in as a starting cornerback. But no one is even close to locking up the other starting spot. After OTAs and minicamp, Kelly spoke very highly of Nolan Carroll and said he was looking great, suggesting that he was the front-runner for the job. Carroll spent last season as the team’s fourth cornerback, playing as a “dime linebacker” which was essentially a hybrid position for defensive sets with lots of defensive backs. Now, he has a real chance at winning the starting job.

But, the Eagles did use a second round pick on Eric Rowe in the 2015 draft, and he’s another guy that could definitely win the starting job. With Boykin still here, it was a little less clear what Rowe’s role would be because of how many cornerbacks they had, but now Rowe should definitely get playing time regardless of where he ends up. He could still hypothetically end up at safety, but that has a much smaller probability of happening.

And then there’s JaCorey Shepherd, who the Eagles took in the sixth round this year. He spent the whole first day of training camp taking first team reps in the slot corner position, essentially taking over for Boykin. If he wins that job, which seems like it has less competition, it makes the situation a little stickier for the rest of the cornerbacks.

The big question: if Shepherd plays in the slot, where will the loser of Carroll/Rowe play?

That is my number one question right now after one day of training camp. Let’s break it down, assuming Shepherd does indeed win the job in the slot. If Carroll wins the starting job on the outside, he’ll be teamed up with Maxwell, and Rowe will be left in the limbo situation that Carroll was in last year. That seems like it could produce a bad situation. A guy you took in the sixth round would be consistently playing over the guy you took in the second round. Rowe would then only play in six defensive back sets, basically what Carroll had to do last year. In my opinion, that’s kind of a waste.

But if Rowe won the job on the outside, then Carroll would be stuck back in the position where he was last year. If Kelly thinks Carroll has improved that much though, would it be a waste to keep in the same situation as last year? Well, maybe, but looking at it long-term, it might make the most sense. Carroll only has one year left on his contract and probably wouldn’t be re-signed if he didn’t end up starting eventually. Rowe will hopefully be around for a while, so why waste your time with someone like Carroll unless he’s significantly better? So in a way, I’m hoping Rowe wins this battle.

Kelly does like to make rookies earn their time though, and starting Rowe would be an interesting move. But Shepherd is a rookie as well, so where do you draw the line? If these guys earn it, you have to put them in the game.

Also, hypothetically, if Rowe ended up playing safety and starting next to Malcolm Jenkins, that could just move Walter Thurmond back to cornerback and create another problem. Then Thurmond, who is definitely talented when healthy, would not play much, and it’d be a waste there. He does only has a one-year contract, so that wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it wouldn’t make a lot of sense.

A situation in which both Rowe and Thurmond play safety, splitting time at the other starting slot next to Jenkins is, I guess, another possibility. For certain situations they could put in a certain guy. But I’m not sure that’s really what they want to do. I truly think they want to just keep Rowe at cornerback if possible. He does have safety experience though, so anything could happen.

The bottom line, though, is that one of the following guys will not play very much next year: Walter Thurmond, Eric Rowe, Nolan Carroll, JaCorey Shepherd. Only so many guys can get playing time. But at this point I’m just rambling. It’s only been one day of training camp. There’s still a lot of time to answer all these questions, which should be answered within the next few weeks. And I can’t wait.

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