Is this pairing, with Avonte Maddox in the slot, elite? Well, if you check out our Twitter account, the digital consensus appears to be no, but it’s certainly a tighter unit than in seasons past, with some intriguing depth pieces that simply weren’t there previously.
But even if the Eagles are able to cobble together a serviceable secondary around trade acquisitions, late free agent signings, and Day 3 draft picks, it’s hard to argue that the team has a truly elite option that strikes fear in the hearts of opposing offensive coordinators.
While one could argue that Slay should still fall into that camp, as the 30-year-old is just a season removed from three straight trips to the Pro Bowl, if 2020 is of any indication, that ceiling may no longer be realistic. At best, Slay is a good number one cornerback capable of playing that role well but not the sort of athletic dynamo capable of blanketing top receivers and changing the pace of games with consistent turnovers.
Remember how Slay faired against D.K. Metcalf in Week 12? That’s going to happen more often with each passing season, not less.
So naturally, when news breaks that a 28-year-old All-Pro coming off of a 10(!) interception season demands a trade via social media, Howie Roseman should be all-in on making a deal happen, right? Especially with their impressive chest of future first-round picks acquired earlier this year? *sigh* not so fast, my friends, that’s the sort of “win-now” move that teams in contention make, and unfortunately, the Philadelphia Eagles just don’t fall into that category, not anymore anyway.
Xavien Howard is the right player at the wrong time for the Philadelphia Eagles.
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Imagine, if you will, a world where the Philadelphia Eagles actually do want to acquire Xavien Howard. What would that trade actually look like?
Would the Birds have to ship out a first-round pick? Or how about two? Surely the Dolphins demand back the first-round pick they shipped to Philadelphia to move from 12 to six in the 2020 NFL Draft, but what about the deal owed to the Eagles from the Colts from the Carson Wentz trade?
Let’s just say for the sake of argument that the asking price for Howard is just that, the Dolphins’ 2022 first-round pick and whatever pick is ultimately conveyed from the Colts in the Wentz trade, either a 2022 first or second-round pick; is that a deal that makes the Eagles better long-term?
Well, I guess that depends on the pieces that are already in place.
If Jalen Hurts is able to put things together paired up with his favorite fellow former Crimson Tide receiver and the Eagles’ offense ranks in the top half league-wide, then yeah, adding Howard, even at $12.1 million in 2021, makes the team a whole lot better. His presence would make Slay the most overly qualified number two cornerback in the league, allow first-year DC Jonathan Gannon to have optionality with how he deploys Steven Nelson and Avonte Maddox, all the while giving the Eagles the sort of playmaking defensive back we haven’t seen around these parts since Asante Samuel Jr’s father wore midnight green.
But, just hear me out, what if that isn’t the case? What if Nick Sirianni’s transition from non-playcalling offensive coordinator to first-time head coach is a marathon, not a sprint, and the Birds truly do use the forthcoming season for player development over immediate contention for a playoff spot in the not-so-good NFC East? Or worse, what if Hurts proves ill-equipped to be a top-15 quarterback and the Eagles have to turn to the 2022 NFL Draft for their next bite at the franchise quarterback apple?
If that happens, what is Howard really but a really good player on a not-so-good team, a position he knows well from his second, third, and fourth seasons with the Dolphins. Even if the Eagles can get things together and pull off a Doug Pederson-esque one-year soft reboot, Howard will be 29 at the start of the 2022 NFL season and will only have three years left on a contract he clearly wants reworked heading into the forthcoming season to more adequately financially compensate him for his on-field efforts.
The Eagles could barely afford to sign Steven Nelson for $2.5 million this season; how on earth could they absorb Howard in the $12 million range, let alone at a hit of, say, $18 million if he receives the sort of reworked contract he craves?
Considering the 2022 NFL Draft is already being lauded for its strength at the cornerback position, it might just be too risky to trade a king’s ransom of picks and potentially players – for monetary purposes – to land a player like Howard when they could have their pick of youngsters like Derek Stingley Jr., Kaiir Elam, or Ahmad Gardner for the next five year for pennies on the dollar?
Simple answer, they probably wouldn’t, much to the chagrin of a fanbase – and front office – looking to avoid the typical trappings of a traditional rebuild.
If Xavien Howard had requested a trade at this time last year, Howie Roseman would have surely placed a call to his counterparts down in Miami, and for good reason, The Philadelphia Eagles had a Super Bowl-winning head coach, a franchise quarterback on a nine-figure contract, and a world of potential in a division featuring three relatively new head coaches. But now? Now the Eagles are the team looking to retool before they can make another playoff push, and thus, would be wise to use their assets on young players on the same timeframe as their best players, as opposed to a number one cornerback in his prime who surely doesn’t want to waste it on a bad team.