The Philadelphia Eagles have been searching for a standout cornerback for what seems like forever. Philly signed Darius Slay last offseason to become the top dog on the outside, but they entered this summer with a looming question mark the size of Independence Hall surrounding the No. 2 CB spot on the opposite side of the field.
General manager Howie Roseman knew he couldn’t enter the 2021 season without first addressing the second corner spot, and that’s exactly what he did on Sunday by signing veteran Steven Nelson.
The second cornerback position was the biggest Eagles question mark this offseason
The Eagles entered the 2021 offseason with more than a few question marks. How will they help Jalen Hurts by giving him more weapons on the outside? What will the team do with Zach Ertz? Who in the world is going to start at cornerback opposite of Slay?
Philadelphia answered the first question by drafting DeVonta Smith in the first round of the NFL draft. The Ertz situation hasn’t been completely resolved, but there’s still time to find a trade suitor before Week 1. But the cornerback question was the most complicated of the bunch.
As of this week, the second starting corner was looking like fourth-round rookie Zech McPhearson, the 23-year-old out of Texas Tech. McPhearson has high upside as a young player, but he would be targeted early and often this season if he entered the year as the starter.
The only other CBs on the roster with a chance to start were Michael Jacquet and Craig James, but the Eagles don’t see either of them as go-to guys. Avonte Maddox was probably the second-best cornerback on the roster, but he plays primarily in the nickel spot because of his underwhelming size.
Slay badly needed a Robin to his Batman, and he got one just in time.
Eagles sign Steven Nelson
Roseman has been undoubtedly scowering the free agent market for a serviceable cornerback for much of the last few months, and he finally found his guy. On Sunday, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN reported the Eagles signed free agent Steven Nelson to a one-year contract worth more than $4 million.
Nelson spent the last two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers after four years with the Kansas City Chiefs. He recorded seven interceptions and 22 passes defended over the last three seasons. Since 2019, Nelson ranks among the top 10 cornerbacks in the NFL in both completion percentage allowed (53.9%) and passer rating allowed (75.1) among those who saw at least 100 targets, per PFF.
That’s production from the CB position that Eagles fans aren’t exactly used to seeing, so this signing is a home run for Roseman and company.
Could the Eagles finally have a competent secondary in 2021?
Philadelphia’s rotating circle of cornerbacks and safeties over the last few seasons has been one of the most troubling weak spots on the roster. The Eagles have been consistently burned by star wide receivers of late, and they barey even need to break a sweat to do so.
But this could finally be the year they turn it around.
Slay and Nelson immediately become one of the sturdiest cornerback duos in the NFL. Behind them, veteran Rodney McLeod is back for another season at strong safety, while free agent signing Anthony Harris jumps in at free safety after six seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.
On paper, it’s an impressive group that’s going to be suiting up in midnight green this fall. But backing up the hype on the field is another story.