Darius Slay and Desmond King can be the Philadelphia Eagles’ future.
Obviously, that didn’t happen; the Eagles deemed the price too high, lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round, and eventually surrendered a pair of picks to add arguably the second-best cornerback in the game, Darius Slay, from the Detroit Lions.
And as for Harris? Well, he signed a three-year, $30 million dollar deal with the Los Angeles Chargers at the tender age of 30, where he’d pair up with fellow 80s kid Casey Hayward in Anthony Lynn’s secondary.
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Initially, many assumed that Harris would play outside for the Chargers on the outside opposite Hayward, but much like in his final season in Denver, the four-time Pro Bowler eventually kicked back to his natural position in the slot, leading to fourth-year cornerback Michael Davis finally getting a chance to start full time.
But you know what they say, when one player gets a chance, it has to come at the expense of someone else, and in this particular case, the player who suffered most from Harris’ addition and subsequent move into the slot was fourth-year defensive back, Desmond King.
A fifth-round pick out of Iowa in 2017, King rapidly found a consistent home on the field for the Chargers over his first three seasons with the club – playing an average of 699 defensive snaps per season. In 2018, the Chargers’ lone playoff appearance in the last half-decade, King had the second-highest rating of any cornerback in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus (90.4) en route to an appearance on the Associated Press’ first All-Pro team alongside Kyle Fuller and Stephon Gillmore. King finished out voting with 12 more votes than Harris (16 versus four) and earned more all-purpose DB votes than Jalen Ramsey, Kevin Byard, Jaire Alexander, Tyrann Mathieu, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Bryce Callahan combined.
King was also named a second-team All-Pro as a punt returner, earning the second most votes behind only Tarik Cohen.
Why is any of this relevant to the Philadelphia Eagles? Well, King and the Chargers’ relationship is fast deteriorating for the world to see on social media, with a midseason separation becoming more and more of a possibility.
You see, between Harris’ addition and Derwin James suffering a season-ending injury, King was moved from slot cornerback to free safety, where he started in Week 1 before falling out of the starting lineup in favor of Delaware second-round pick Nasir Adderley. King still played in each subsequent game, a day after the team’s Week 2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the 25-year-old shot off a pair of tweets that set this whole string of speculation into action (check them out here).
In Week 3, King’s playing time dropped even further, all the way down to 17 snaps.
Had it not been for a Week 3 foot injury to Harris, King would all but certainly be relegated to a dime DB role; a role he will all but surely return to when Harris comes back later this season.
With the Chargers now the not so proud owners of a 1-4 record in the devilishly competitive AFC West, general manager Tom Telesco may be willing to part with his ex-All Pro now over waiting to receive a compensatory pick for his services a few years down the line.
If that’s the case – which our sister site, Bolt Beat believes to be so – Howie Roseman needs to get on the phone right now and lock up King’s services for the rest of the season.
Now I know, I know, the idea of trading away a decent-to-good draft pick for a slot cornerback feels a bit like deja vu, but this case is a bit different than Harris in 2019. For one, King is five years younger than Harris was this time last year, and is coming off a down season in 2019. His abilities to impact a game in the defensive secondary are still there, as King has four picks, two pick-sixes, and 17 passes defensed over the course of his rookie season, but in a league as obsessed with ‘what have you done for me lately’ as the NFL, a position change and effective demotion in a contract year is never a good sign.
Factor in Kings’ Twitter war with Anthony Lynn, and there hasn’t been a worse time to be looking to trade an ex-promising young player who has rapidly outweighed his welcome.
With that being said, King is a really good football player who could truly excel if placed in the right position to succeed.
Measuring in at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, King came into the league as a polished coverage player with average athletic abilities. He finished out a storied career with the Hawkeyes with 14 interceptions, 33 passes defensed, and a pick-six in each of his final three seasons, all the while blanketing one side of the field.
Though King has seldom been asked to play on the outside over his three-plus seasons in LA, that doesn’t mean he can’t – he just needs to be placed in the right position to succeed.
You don’t just accidentally win the Jim Thorpe Award.
You see, while King is a smart, savvy cornerback who can totally rough up an opposing receiver in a press-man alignment, he really excels when lined up a few yards off the ball. This allows King to mitigate his lack of deep speed, all the while putting him in a better position to read opposing quarterbacks’ eyes when the ball is snapped to better make plays on the ball when it’s in the air.
Sidebar: If you want to hear King break down tape with Philly great Ron Jaworski, here is a great video brought to you by NFL Films that I would consider a must-watch.
If placed in a similar role to Jalen Mills‘ patented outside right outside cornerback role, King could excel as a number two cornerback opposite a legit moveable island like Slay.
Is King the perfect cornerback for Jim Schwartz‘s system? No, but honestly, there are maybe five cornerbacks who are. After watching players like Rasul Douglas, Sidney Jones, and even Ronald Darby play pretty well outside of Schwartz’s system, maybe the Eagles shouldn’t be one of the teams leading the league in man coverage snaps played when they at best have one legit main cornerback in their defense.
Make no mistake, outside of Slay, King would instantly be the best cornerback the Eagles have had this decade. If placed in a position to succeed, King’s addition would instantly transform the Eagles’ secondary from a weakness into a long-term strength; with two All-Pros instead of the typical zero. All Schwartz would have to do is tailor his notoriously rigid scheme to the strengths of his players.
What? NFL teams can build their scheme aroudn their players’ strengths? *gasp* what a novel concept.
Even with the Eagles underwater in 2021 financially, trading for King now would give the team optionality to ‘try him out’ for half a season, compete in an incredibly weak NFC East, and hope to finally find a pair of cornerbacks they can build around long-term. If it goes well, Roseman can extend King to a long-term deal with a smll cap hit in 2021, and if not, well surely someone will sign him to a contract extension that will land the Birds a compensatory pick in 2021.
In the spring of 2019, Desmond King looked like one of the NFL’s brightest young cornerbacks. His smart, agressive style of play led to many an offseason acolade, and his ability to play five different positons in addition to his punt return ability led many to assume he’d be a among the next crop of elite players the league had to offer. Obviously that didn’t happen and King now finds himself a part-time player desprate for a change of scenery. With that in mind, everything that made King an All-Pro in 2018 is still there to be built upon, he just needs to be in a system that will allow him to compete play-in and play-out while doing what he does best as a ballhawk. For my money, the Philadelphia Eagles should be first in line to give it a shot.