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Byron Maxwell's deal brings Eagles risk

3/8/2015
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Eagles To Sign Byron Maxwell

ESPN Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan breaks down what corenrback Byron Maxwell brings to Philadelphia.

PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Eagles got the makeover of their defensive secondary Sunday, when they agreed to contract terms with Seattle Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell, according to a report by ESPN's Josina Anderson.

Jason La Canfora of CBS reported the deal is worth $63 million over six years, which would make it the third-largest contract for a cornerback. The deal reportedly includes about $25 million guaranteed.

The contract, which can be signed when free agency formally begins at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, comes with some risk. The Eagles are banking on Maxwell's being an elite, shut-down corner. In Seattle, the 27-year-old Maxwell was opposite superstar Richard Sherman. Because some teams refused to throw at Sherman’s side of the field, Maxwell got tested quite a bit.

Pro Football Focus, which grades every NFL player on every play, gave Maxwell a minus-0.2 grade for the 2014 season, which tied for 22nd among free-agent cornerbacks.

But the Eagles see Maxwell as the prototypical cornerback in their defense. In Seattle, he played press, man-to-man coverage with a safety deep in the middle of the field. At 6-foot, 202 pounds, Maxwell has the size the Eagles prefer in their outside cornerbacks.

However, Maxwell has started only 17 regular-season games in four NFL seasons. It is worth noting his former defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn, is now head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons did not pursue Maxwell.

The Eagles were forced to take a risk on Maxwell. Two years ago, they signed Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, their starters at cornerback the past two seasons. The duo had the worst pass defense in the NFL in 2013 and the second-worst, as measured in passing yardage allowed in 2014 (265 yards per game).

Fletcher’s two-year contract expires Tuesday; Williams was released with one season left on his three-year contract. The Eagles were left without a starting cornerback on their roster.

Meanwhile, the market for free agents is shrinking. San Diego agreed to a new four-year contract with starting cornerback Brandon Flowers. Houston did the same with Kareem Jackson, in signing the former first-round pick to a new, four-year deal.

Jackson was set to become the No. 1 cornerback in free agency, according to PFF. Flowers was ranked fifth.

Maxwell was Seattle’s sixth-round draft choice out of Clemson in 2011. He was a reserve for his first two seasons. In his third year, he moved into the starting lineup. He wound up starting five games, intercepting four passes and establishing himself as a member of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom.” In 2014, Maxwell started 12 regular-season games and three playoff games. He intercepted two passes and was credited with 13 passes defensed.

In the Seattle defense, Sherman was often matched up on the left side of the field, with Maxwell on the right. For the past two years, the Eagles have played their corners on one side of the field too, with Williams typically on the right and Bradley the left, regardless of where the wide receivers lined up.

It will be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Bill Davis will continue lining his corners up on particular sides or if he’ll assign Maxwell to follow top receivers. That might be decided by the other moves the Eagles make in free agency.

They are expected to try to sign another cornerback. The Eagles also have shown interest in New England safety Devin McCourty, according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano.