Anytime you win a Super Bowl, you know there are going to be some tough decisions to follow. Rosters and coaching staffs that reach football's ultimate glory are often in for pay and play raises, and there comes a point to where you just can't give those to everyone you want to.
Some of that has already happened for the Philadelphia Eagles, with the losses of Beau Allen and Vinny Curry on the player side, as well as John DeFilippo on the coaching side. Those are the tough decisions that end in a loss somewhere, via talent and/or roster spot. But there's a different kind of tough decision that the Eagles' coaching staff is currently having to think long and hard about, and that is the starting slot cornerback position on their team for 2018.
The expected starter coming into training camp was Sidney Jones. Jones was considered one of the best cornerbacks in the 2017 NFL Draft before a torn achilles injury suffered on his pro day knocked him to the second round despite his pre-draft season first round hype. After a long road to recovery, Jones was activated to the 53-man roster late in December last year. He was inactive for the playoff run, but was still part of the team that won the Super Bowl this past year.
With Jones' injury now more than a calendar year old, most thought it was his time to step into the spotlight. At 6-foot, 185 pounds, Jones' skillset made him a good candidate to be the team's starting slot cornerback. But, just when fans thought that position was all but penciled in, another young player has stepped up, giving Jones a run for his money for that starting spot.
That player is former Pittsburgh cornerback and fourth round (no. 125 overall) pick Avonte Maddox.
"I like him a lot," said veteran safety Rodney McLeod of Maddox. "He's not very big, height or size-wise, but he's a fighter. He competes his butt off. He's very coachable. The guy has amazing speed. We tell him all the time 'not too many people are going to run past you.' "
Reports are that the 5-foot-9, 185-pound former Shrine Game standout Maddox has been "turning heads" this training camp. As the Eagles approached their third preseason game, the one that is usually labeled a "dress rehearsal" for the starters going into the regular season, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said the competition was close between Jones and Maddox, and the third game would hold a lot of weight in that final decision.
“We're still a work in progress,” Schwartz said. “Nothing has been settled there. Each guy brings a little bit different skillset, a little bit different strengths and weaknesses to the position. I think the competition is good.
“This game will go a long way to deciding who is going to be out there in the opener.”
Jones got the start and played all the reps with the first team defense against the Cleveland Browns in that deciding game on Thursday night. That was a good sign for Jones. He had the opportunity to prove himself against one of the best slot receivers in the game in Cleveland's Jarvis Landry, and when his night was over, Jones covered him well.
But, as for the play of the night, that went to Maddox, who then came in during the second half and had what should have been a pick-6.
"They ran a switch route and cut up underneath, and (the receiver) kind of got rubbed off by the linebacker, and (Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield) threw it," Maddox said. "I caught it. I was trying to get to the end zone, but (the defender) laid out and caught my back heel."
Maddox knows he's the one who has to really impress to make up the ground he needs to against the incumbent Jones to get that starting spot. But, if you ask Maddox himself, he doesn't seem too worried about how he'll find his impact on this team.
"Either you're starting or you're a backup or you're on special teams," Maddox said. "At the same time, you've got to make sure you do everything hard and give a great effort. That's something I'll do. I came in here to compete. Whatever happens, happens."
Jones seems to agree.
"Whatever they want me to do, I'm there to do it," Jones said. "Whatever is in the media, I don't really pay attention to it. I just show up and do my job."
Both players sound like they're ready and willing to do whatever job the staff determines they will do come Week 1. When you step back and look at it, though, the fact that Maddox is as close as he is to overtaking a player like Jones for a starting spot already is very encouraging of his future in the NFL.