It was obvious that the Philadelphia Eagles had to improve their secondary this offseason. Once head coach Chip Kelly gained control of all personnel decisions, he wasted little time addressing the team’s biggest need. Right at the start of free agency, Kelly and the Eagles signed arguably the best cornerback available on the market, Byron Maxwell, to a controversial six-year, $63 million contract.
While many Eagles’ fans were excited about the move and even expected it to happen, some believed that they overpaid. Honestly, the Eagles didn’t really have a choice this offseason. Their secondary was so awful that something drastic had to be done, if they didn’t land Maxwell, they would have be in the position as they were in the previous two seasons or so. Kelly believed Maxwell was a perfect fit for the team’s defensive scheme and threw a huge offer at him.
But is Maxwell really that good and worth that much money? It’s debatable. I personally believe Maxwell is worth it because of his size, play-style and schematic fit regarding what the Eagles’ specifically look for. If Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis could create a cornerback for their system from scratch, he’d look a whole lot like Maxwell. But the problem many have with Maxwell is that he has a limited amount of starting experience and was helped by the elite talent he was surrounded by with the Seattle Seahawks.
Was Maxwell helped by having cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor around him? Absolutely, but that doesn’t make him a bad cornerback. Over the past two seasons in Seattle, Maxwell played 1,211 total snaps and started 22 games, getting his first chance to start during the team’s Super Bowl run in 2013 after starting cornerback Brandon Browner was suspended. Maxwell was thrown into the fire, as they say, but more than held his own and helped Seattle win their first Super Bowl…hopefully he can do the same in Philadelphia.
Despite being surrounded by such talent, Maxwell was still targeted quite a bit in coverage. Although he was targeted 116 times over the past two seasons, Maxwell only allowed 68 receptions for 841 yards, 12.3 yards per catch. For comparison’s sake, Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis each allowed 13.6 yards per catch in 2014. Maxwell also only allowed 3 touchdowns in that span, while grabbing 6 interceptions and 14 passes defended, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
One argument that irks me the most regarding Maxwell and his ability to be a top cornerback is when people say “he always had help, he never went against top wide receivers.” That couldn’t be more wrong, in fact, Maxwell usually saw the opposing team’s best receiver more often because they would try and move that player away from Sherman’s side. So despite being labeled a “#2 cornerback,” Maxwell often went against the opponent’s best wide receiver.
In fact, let’s take a look at how Maxwell matched up against Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant during the team’s week 6 match-up in Seattle. Before leaving the game with an injury suffered while defending a pass to Bryant, Maxwell more than held his own against one of the league’s best players. In 32 snaps, Maxwell was targeted 5 times, 4 against Bryant and allowed just a single catch for 11 yards. Here are some videos of Maxwell going one-on-one against Bryant:
1) Here’s Maxwell against Bryant at the bottom of the screen, stays with him the entire way down the sideline, Bryant falls coming back to the ball and the pass is incomplete:
2) This time Maxwell is against Bryant at the top of the screen, doesn’t bite on the move at the line and stays with him the entire time down the sideline. Incomplete pass.
3) Here’s the only completion Maxwell gave up against Dallas. He gives too much of a cushion to Bryant and he gets an 11-yard catch but doesn’t allow him to gain anything after the catch either.
4) Here’s the most impressive play of them all, but unfortunately where Maxwell gets hurt. He matches up against Bryant in the slot, initially gets beat but uses his length and athleticism to get back in the play and break up the pass.
As you can see, Maxwell more than held his own against Bryant. He was also called for a 5-yard penalty but that’s going to happen given Maxwell’s aggressive style and ability to jam at the line of scrimmage. Maxwell also had an equally impressive showing against some of league’s other top receivers including Jordy Nelson, who he faced twice in 2014. Despite allowing quite a few catches and yards, he didn’t allow a single touchdown and picked off star quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice, once in each meeting.
It’s clear that Maxwell has the talent to be one of the league’s top cornerbacks but now he just has to prove to everyone that he can get it done without the rest of the “Legion of Boom” by his side. He’ll also have to stay on the field to prove how good he is, having suffered minor injuries here and there throughout his career that hampered his playing time.
But with a new opportunity on the horizon with the Eagles in the City of Brotherly Love, Maxwell finally gets the opportunity to be a #1 cornerback on a team that badly needs his help. He has the skills and the paycheck of an elite cornerback, now it’s just up to him to get the job done and prove to the world that the Eagles didn’t overpay for his services, that he truly is one of the league’s best cornerbacks.
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