Failed investments leave talent gap in Eagles secondary

Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

By the start of the 2013 NFL league year on March 12, the top two cornerbacks on the Eagles' depth chart aren't Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, but Brandon Boykin and Curtis Marsh.
It's safe to assume the Boykin-Marsh combination won't be the starters when the Eagles open training camp.
Rather than pay him $15.3 million for 2013, the Eagles are expected to cut their significant losses, spending about $4 million in guaranteed money to let Asomugha walk. Unrestricted free agent right cornerback Rodgers-Cromartie isn't expected to re-sign until first testing the market and, frankly, hasn't played to his first-round draft status since 2010.
Boykin, a feisty 5-9, 180-pound powderkeg could be tried at right cornerback and slide inside in nickel packages. Marsh, a third-round pick in 2011, hasn't proven ready for an expanded role.
With money freed up by releasing defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and Asomugha, the temptation will be to spend on one of the quality cornerbacks on the open market. But the Eagles should tread lightly. There's trouble everywhere in the secondary. Whether the root cause was poor evaluation and execution in the draft -- free safety Kurt Coleman, a second-rounder who was overdrafted, won't be a starter this season and Colt Anderson was over his skis in '12 when stretched beyond a special teams role -- will be evident soon.
Many have blamed former coach Andy Reid, who had personnel veto power. Reid admitted the mistake of drafting Jaiquawn Jarrett (54th overall, 2011) was his. Yet another second-round pick, Nate Allen, can be rated as a disappointment, too.
Conservatively, three of the top 10 or 12 quarterbacks in the NFL -- Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III -- are starters in a division in which the Eagles are the team most needing an identity makeover (depending on which side of the Romo debate you stand on, and whether you believe Monte Kiffin has lost the heat from his fastball at 72).
This isn't a hole the Eagles can easily spend their way out of, with at least three new starters -- LCB, FS and SS -- needed. They gave up a franchise-record 33 touchdown passes last season and their pass rush isn't what it was three years ago.
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis, leading the switch to a 3-4 scheme, might want to bring cornerback Dolphins unrestricted free agent Sean Smith on board, and if the Palm Beach Post report that he's seeking about $8 million per season over four years is accurate, it'd be a worthwhile investment. To contend with manchild Dez Bryant and Hakeem Nicks for 50-60 snaps a game, the Eagles need a big body with cover skills.
Smith is 25 years old and in 113 targets last season, gave up only 54.9 percent completions per Pro Football Focus.
When the free agency dust settles at the end of the March, Philadelphia can focus on a draft class deep at cornerback and solid at safety. Junior cornerback Dee Milliner of Alabama and Xavier Rhodes of Florida State are the most skilled, and NFL-ready, with the potential to be impact starters as rookies.
Along the second tier, Boise State's Jamar Taylor would be a fit. He's better than many are giving him credit for and at 5-11, 195, showed a combination of speed (4.39) and power (22 reps of 225, tops at position) at combine workouts to rise up draft boards when teams take a closer look at his body of work.

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