One of the major story lines this offseason has been the controversial roster moves Chip Kelly has executed since seizing power over personnel. With LeSean McCoy already partying in Buffalo, Nick Foles taking snaps in St. Louis, and Trent Cole and Todd Herremans trying to revitalize their respective careers in Indianapolis, many wondered when the hammer might drop on Mychal Kendricks or Brandon Boykin. Well the hammer dropped, and it dropped hard on Boykin who was shipped out to Pittsburgh tonight in exchange for a 2016 conditional 5th round pick.
There’s little doubt that Boykin is one of the premiere slot corners in the league, and he will be missed both on the field and by the fan base, however, this move should come with little surprise.
Reports of the Eagles’ front office actively shopping Boykin ran rampant this offseason, and were substantiated by the staff’s reluctance to give Boykin a shot on the outside in spite of the Eagles horrific corner play. If it wasn’t obvious enough that the staff was low on Boykin’s starting potential, Billy Davis went on to take this thinly veiled shot at the nickel corner:
"“Has nothing to do (with height),” Davis said on why Boykin hasn’t started. “If you are good enough, you’re big enough. If you are good enough, you’re fast enough. Now we do look for and bring in taller corners? Yeah. But it doesn’t mean Boykin is at a disadvantage.”"
Simply put, although the fans and media frequently posited that Boykin’s height was the reason he couldn’t see snaps on the outside — and there is truth to that — Davis went out of his way to plainly state that Boykin simply wasn’t good enough.
All of the drama culminated in the swap made tonight, as Boykin will trade in his midnight green for black and yellow.
Regardless of your position on the trade and Boykin’s value — which is undoubtedly greater than a conditional 5th from a talent perspective — this is ultimately a win-win-win for the three parties involved.
Under no circumstances was Boykin getting a legitimate opportunity to start on the outside in Philadelphia. It just wasn’t happening. Now, he will likely be given every opportunity to start in Pittsburgh, whose corners have been a liability in recent years. I’m sure Boykin wanted nothing more than to start on the outside in Philly, but at least in Pittsburgh he’ll get his shot and have a chance to cash in on a starters salary following the season when his contract expires.
For the Steelers, they acquire what is — at the very least — one of the best nickel corners in the NFL. At best, Boykin could prove to be a very good starter for a team that has been searching for answers on the outside. Either way, this was a no-brainer for the Steelers, who get a valuable piece for a very small investment. Low risk, high reward.
Now, understanding the dynamics of this move from the Philadelphia Eagles‘ perspective is a little bit more tricky. Ignoring context, the team undoubtedly takes the hit for this one; Brandon Boykin is a cultural fit and a very good football player. However, as previously mentioned, the staff did not think very highly of Boykin as a starting option. He wasn’t going to get a fair shake, and there was no chance that he’d return following the end of the season when his contract expires. So, Kelly and co. decided that it was best to extract any value that they could from Boykin before he was allowed to walk for nothing. In the eyes of the staff, they got a solid return for an asset that they determined had very little long-term value to the organization. Additionally, Boykin is likely to play a much larger role in Pittsburgh than he did during his time in Philadelphia, so the odds of the conditional 5th rounder improving to a 4th are at least somewhat likely. Like it or not, it’s hard to argue with the logic behind the move.
Now, with Boykin out of the picture the Eagles have several options in filling the vacant slot position:
Jacorey Shepherd — who the staff is high on, according to Adam Caplan — by my calculation has the best shot at snatching up the nickel job. Shepherd worked in the slot with Boykin during minicamp and OTAs, so he is apparently viewed by the organization as a fit inside, and offers long-term upside at the position.
Walter Thurmond has been a successful slot corner in years past, and would be a good fit, but the staff seems intent on trying him at safety. This would be the prudent measure, as the starting safety job holds much more positional importance.
Meanwhile, Eric Rowe could be an appealing option giving his physical skill set, however, the team will likely opt to continue to put him through his paces on the outside, as they seem to view him as a potentially valuable long-term solution. Putting more on Rowe’s plate by having him learn another position could further complicate things and steepen his learning curve. Although, conversely, the staff might want to get him on the field more quickly and expand his repertoire to make him a more versatile piece down the rode. My guess would be the former, however, that is merely speculation and conjecture at this point.
Losing Boykin will undoubtedly hurt the Eagles in 2015. The secondary is woefully thin, and Chip Kelly just traded one of the team’s few appealing pieces. In addition, while Jacorey Shepherd, Eric Rowe, or whoever may prove a solid starting option, it’s highly unlikely that any replacement plays up to the standard set by Boykin. Still, this move helps the Eagles in the long term, and helps bring them another pick to help compensate for the 2nd rounder lost in the Bradford deal.
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