When Maxwell was with the Seahawks, he shut down Zach Ertz at the Linc in 2014.
By Barbara Harrison
Eagles Nation is in a tizzy.
So much turnover in so little time.
Is Chip Kelly crazy?
Like a fox.
One of the first moves he made in the offseason was pouncing on Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell.
Yes, I know the pundits like Reuben Frank are asking:
Is Maxwell really that good or was he just the beneficiary of a defense that ranked with the greatest in NFL history?
Kelly spent the offseason molding the Eagles into the group that fits his philosophy. He traded away All-Pro running backLeSean McCoy, swapped quarterback Nick Foles for the oft-injured Sam Bradford and failed to re-sign wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.
He made a series of splashes, whether it was signing ex-Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray to a $42 million deal, signing free-agent cornerback Byron Maxwell to a massive contract or even signing ESPN favorite Tim Tebow to compete for the No. 3 quarterback spot.
The big factor in the 2015 Eagles’ success will obviously be the play of Bradford, as Kelly is clearly relying on the former Heisman Trophy winner and 2010 top overall pick to shed his recent injury label. Bradford’s quick release and experience in a fast-paced offense may make him a prime candidate to run the Eagles offense; then again, if he gets hurt and the Eagles have to go with the turnover-prone Mark Sanchez again, that’s not good news.
Bradford is the obvious X-factor for the 2015 campaign, but other players will play pivotal roles in the Eagles’ success next season. All-Pro running back DeMarco Murray will be essential, as will top-flight left tackle Jason Peters and talented 5-technique end Fletcher Cox.
But those players are obvious, as they’ve established themselves among the league’s best. The most underrated X-factor on Philly’s roster is a player who has never been to a Pro Bowl, never played a snap for the Eagles and, in fact, never even been close to the best player in his own team’s secondary.
Maxwell fits everything Kelly wants in a cornerback—he’s tall, he’s long, he can play press coverage and he will be paid handsomely to match up against the NFC’s elite wide receivers in Odell Beckham Jr., DeSean Jackson and Dez Bryant.
Any Eagles fan knows the importance of a good secondary. The Andy Reid teams annually put out tremendous cornerback tandems featuring players like Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent, Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel. And Hall of Fame talent Brian Dawkins was a topnotch center fielder patrolling the defense.
That’s what makes the recent secondary struggles so alarming. The Nnamdi Asomugha signing of 2011 has haunted the fanbase, and halfhearted attempts at shuffling in either a drafted safety or a veteran free-agent signing have left the Eagles defensive backfield as a much-maligned unit.
Maxwell’s contract (six years, $63 million) makes him an obvious risk, as the Eagles are paying him elite money after just one year as a starter. And Maxwell wasn’t even that good for the 2014 Seahawks.According to Pro Football Focus, his 81.1 passer rating allowed was the 35th best in the National Football League among 108 qualifiers. That’s not bad, but to justify that kind of a contract, Maxwell will need to become a top-10 player at his position.
Maxwell had his rough spots last year. Per PFF, Jordy Nelson beat him for eight catches in Week 1, although Maxwell did record an interception. Peyton Manning lit him up two weeks later to the tune of 152 yards and a score, with Maxwell rotating between Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas and backup tight end Jacob Tamme, who scored the touchdown.
Maxwell gave up just one touchdown for the year, though, and none after Week 3. He shut down Dez Bryant in Week 6, holding the All-Pro to one catch. He held Rueben Randle to three receptions in Week 10. And he picked off Aaron Rodgers in the rematch in the NFC Championship Game.
There’s potential in Maxwell. His physical tools place him in the upper echelon of NFL cornerbacks. His tape breakdown, courtesy of Birds 24/7’s Sheil Kapadia, suggests he’s a better player than the numbers indicate, and Kelly is obviously counting on defensive coordinator Billy Davis to maximize Maxwell’s talents in 2015.
In Philadelphia, Maxwell won’t have Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor playing over the top, as he had in Seattle. He’ll have Malcolm Jenkins and any combination of Earl Wolff, Ed Reynolds or Jaylen Watkins, none of whom will frighten opposing NFC offensive coordinators.
Second-round rookie Eric Rowe will likely be starting at cornerback opposite Maxwell, although a camp competition could theoretically yield the job to Brandon Boykin or Nolan Carroll. That’s not an All-Pro secondary. To be blunt, it’s not a very good one, which means Kelly’s offense (and special teams units) will have to put points on the scoreboard to win football games.
And Kelly will need Maxwell to be the shutdown corner he thinks he can be. If Maxwell develops into that kind of player, it will toughen up the Eagles defense. If not, don’t expect a playoff win from Philadelphia.