- Phil Sheridan, ESPN Staff Writer
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles were much better off at cornerback than at safety last year, and a million times better there than they were for the Nnamdi Asomugha/Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie jogathon of 2012.
Still, cornerback is such a premium position, you can expect general manager Howie Roseman to look to upgrade there if he can. It is not an A-1 priority, not compared to safety, but it should always be a priority.
In many ways, Chip Kelly inherited an Eagles team much like the one Andy Reid did 14 years earlier, only in reverse. The 1998 Eagles were 3-13 but had the defensive personnel in place for a quick turnaround: Brian Dawkins, Troy Vincent, Hugh Douglas, Jeremiah Trotter and others.
The offense was another matter, especially at wide receiver. Saying the "cupboard was bare," Reid quickly added solid veterans Charles Johnson and Torrance Small just to get some inventory at the position.
For Kelly, it was the offense that was stocked and the defense that required the most attention. Roseman signed cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, along with safeties Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips, just to stock that mostly empty cupboard.
Williams and Fletcher turned out to be better performers at cornerback than Johnson and Small were at wide receiver. They also have a better chance to stick around while their side of the ball develops. Their presence gives Roseman a little breathing room. If he can upgrade the position, he should. But he can address more pressing needs, especially safety, because Williams, Fletcher and Brandon Boykin represent a solid group of corners.
Aside: These corners would be that much more effective with an improved pass rush. So that becomes an even higher priority.
As the oldest of the three, Williams would appear most vulnerable to being replaced. But his value to the chemistry and personality of the Eagles defense in 2013 cannot be overstated. The Eagles were soft with DRC and Asomugha at the corners. Williams wasn't having any of that.
Fletcher was the polar opposite, personality-wise. He's as soft-spoken as Williams is outspoken. But he played a solid, reliable cornerback pretty much all season. Fletcher is 27 and another year removed from the ACL tear that cost him most of the 2011 season and made him expendable to the St. Louis Rams after the 2012 season.
Williams is 6-foot-1, Fletcher 6-0. They give the Eagles decent size and tackling ability (and willingness to tackle, which is not the same thing) on the outside. Each was also able to remain on one side, regardless of which receivers were matched up there. That allowed Davis the freedom to draw up schemes without having to move one shutdown corner around to compensate for a less competent player.
As for Boykin, he simply had a terrific season as the Eagles' nickel cornerback. Maybe too terrific, since he gave Davis a good reason to leave him where he excels rather than allow him to play outside. It's a win-win situation for the Eagles, though. If Boykin does develop into an outside corner, that gives them depth and flexibility. If he stays put, they have a nickel corner who was tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions despite limited playing time.
With so much work going into gradually improving the defense, there wasn't time to bring along young cornerback Roc Carmichael. He played almost exclusively when Fletcher or Williams was out because of injury or, in one case, Williams' temper tantrum in Minnesota. When Carmichael was in, he was targeted. He should benefit from a full offseason and training camp with Davis.
Curtis Marsh, a 2011 draft pick who spent part of the season with Cincinnati, was active for only one game after being resigned by the Eagles in early November. It's hard to see a role for Marsh in 2014.