Philadelphia Eagles: James Bradberry will make or break the secondary

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

To call the Philadelphia Eagles’ offseason anything other than a success would be disingenuous. Sure, they missed out on a few free agents folks were hoping to see end up in midnight green, more notably Tyran Mathieu, but there wasn’t a hole on the roster that Howie Roseman didn’t fill in one way or another.

Wide receiver? Check; A.J. Brown is a beast, and Zach Pascal is a wonderful upgrade as a fourth wide receiver.

Defensive line? Check there, too; Howie Roseman brought a gun to a knife fight on that one and brought in Jordan Davis and Haason Reddick to stack strength on top of strength.

And what about their linebacking corps? Oh goodness, where to even begin; in addition to Reddick, who will be pulling double-duty in the front seven, the Eagles also added Kyzir White in free agency, and the dynamic duo of Nakobe Dean and Kyron Johnson should give Roseman some real tough choices to make at the bottom of the roster (more on that here).

Certainly things are looking good for the Philadelphia Eagles heading into 2022, but is there one addition who rises above the rest on the “importantness scale” and deserves the status of being the make-or-break star? In this writer’s opinion, there is only one correct answer: James Bradberry.

James Bradberry’s play could define the Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary.

For years, the Philadelphia Eagles tried desperately to just find one good perimeter cornerback. They signed big-named free agents like Nnamdi Asomugha and Byron Maxwell, traded for players like Ronald Darby, and drafted everyone from Sidney Jones, to Jalen Mills, to Avonte Maddox in the hopes of just securing one premier performer who could match wits with an opposing team’s best wide receiver.

While the Eagles were largely able to overcome these issues during Jim Schwartz’s era as the Birds’ defensive coordinator, with Darby, Mills, and low-priced free agent slot star Patrick Robinson being a good enough trio to, ya know, win a darn Super Bowl, the units never quite had the staying power to hold things down for a prolonged period of time, or earned their title of the “No Fly Zone.”

And yet now, in a weird twist of fate, the Eagles might just have cracked the code and found two cornerbacks who rightfully fit that bill.

First came Darius Slay, the cornerback the Eagles were linked to at the 2019 trade deadline and was ultimately moved from South Detroit – which, according to Journey’s Steve Perry, doesn’t exist – to South Philadelphia, in the spring of 2020. He was acquired for a 2020 third-round pick and a 2020 fifth-round pick and proved to be worth the price of admission even in a slightly down year in 2020 versus his typical expectations. By 2021, Slay looked about as good as any other cornerback in the NFL under first-year defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and looked primed to be a strong contender for his second-straight and fifth-overall Pro Bowl.

Then came Avonte Maddox, who, after playing seemingly every other position across the defensive backfield, finally became a top-tier, dare I say elite-level performer coming out of the slot. He was the second-ranked slot cornerback in the NFL behind only Nate Hobbs, according to Pro Football Focus, and he really should have earned a Pro Bowl nod of his own for locking things down on the interior.

Really, the only obvious hole – if you can call it that – in the Eagles’ secondary last season was Steven Nelson, the team’s other outside cornerback who gave up five touchdowns on 72 targets versus just one interception and seven passes defensed. Had Nelson returned, the Eagles’ defense as a whole likely would have been considered an improved unit thanks to the added strength at linebacker and on the defensive line but swapping out the one-time Pittsburgh Steeler for a former Pro Bowler who was once the top cornerback on a division rival is an incredible piece of GM-ing by Howie Roseman, who secured his services for $12-ish million overall and $7.25 million in 2022, according to Spotrac.

If Bradberry can hold things down, the Eagles might really have something special.

Next. Roquan Smith is available? No need to even inquire. dark

Will it work? Will James Bradberry play at the same level as his 2020 high-water mark and provide Philly with a true “No Fly Zone?” Or will he end up getting exposed thanks to an extensive workload brought on by not being named Darius Slay? That question, as they say, will go a long way in defining the Philadelphie Eagles’ secondary in 2022.