Heading into the 2022 NFL season, the Philadelphia Eagles‘ cornerbacks room is looking good.
They have a 2021 Pro Bowler on one side, a 2020 Pro Bowler on the other, and a premier slot performer in Avonte Maddox who really should have earned a spot in the Pro Bowl in 2021 too, if only the NFL actually cared enough to give a spot in the game to interior performers.
And yet, there’s another world – or, for Marvel fans, a split timeline – where James Bradberry isn’t the new CB2 opposite Darius Slay and the Eagles are instead heading into the 2022 NFL season with a bit more of a question mark on their depth chart.
Why? Well, because if Bradberry doesn’t get released, or at least doesn’t sign in South Philly, the Philadelphia Eagles would have then had to turn their attention to a player like Trae Waynes, who reportedly talked to the team before opting to soft retire ahead of the forthcoming season.
The Philadelphia Eagles defensive backs room could have looked very different in 2022.
Trae Waynes, when healthy, is a fine NFL cornerback. He’s fast, athletic, and, at 29 years old is a well-traveled pro fully in his NFL prime.
Has Waynes lived up to his draft status, going 11th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft as the top cornerback taken off the board? No; one could argue that Marcus Peters, Byron Jones, Eric Rowe, and even Steven Nelson should have been taken over the Michigan State product, as they’ve each had better individual seasons and overall careers but at this point, that’s long in the past.
What very much is relevant right now, or at least was relevant a month ago before James Bradberry was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, is Waynes’ on-field abilities in 2022. Had Bradberry’s situation gone differently, and had Howie Roseman been able to fend off Waynes’ retirement desires for just one more year, what would Jonathan Gannon’s defense look like this fall?
Honestly, it would have probably looked pretty similar, just not as good.
You see, on paper, Waynes and Bradberry aren’t that different. Theoretically, Waynes is a better athlete than Bradberry but both are long, tall corners who can operate in press coverage and run multiple coverages. The key difference is that Bradberry is more of a man-press cornerback capable of locking in with his opponent whereas Waynes is better deployed in the zone-press look, where he doesn’t have to be as precise in his mirror technique and can instead bounce from receiver to receiver depending on who is in his area.
Had the Birds ended up with Waynes opposite Slay instead of Bradberry, they still would have been able to run Gannon’s defense more or less to his liking, it just would have needed to feature more zone looks and maybe even some use of Slay as a traveling top corner.
Fortunately, the presence of Bradberry elevates those concerns, as he quite literally maximizes the team’s optionality both pre-snap and once the ball leaves the center’s hands.
Who knows, maybe this will all be for not. Maybe the Philadelphia Eagles will suffer an injury at one of their top corner spots and Trae Waynes will end up in a midnight green uniform after all via a very pricey pat on the back to give the game of football another shot. But for now, at least, it’s impossible to argue that things didn’t break in Philly’s way, as James Bradberry is the best possible case scenario opposite Darius Slay at CB2, outside of drafting a player like Sauce Gardner.