Grading Eagles moves: Nickell Robey-Coleman

Grading Eagles moves: Nickell Robey-Coleman

The Eagles need cornerbacks, sure, but did they really need another slot corner? A fair question to ask when assessing the free-agent addition of Nickell Robey-Coleman on Wednesday.

By my count, the Eagles have no fewer than six players who can line up in the slot. It’s Cre’Von LeBlanc’s natural position. Many project Avonte Maddox there, too. Sidney Jones saw time inside each of the past two seasons, for what it’s worth. Though listed as safeties on paper, Jalen Mills and Will Parks will cover slot receivers as well.

Now there’s Robey-Coleman. I’ll spare you the Nickell/nickel puns (for now at least), but that’s pretty much been his role for seven seasons in the NFL.

There’s a long line of potential candidates for that role, for sure, though Robey-Coleman might be the best of the bunch. At least, none have the track record, either in terms of performance or availability.

Robey-Coleman has missed just one game in his career, and despite being around for awhile, he’s only 28, so there’s reason to anticipate his body breaking down anytime soon. It’s a one-year deal, so no long-term risk for the Eagles regardless, and reportedly for only $1.3 million at that.

And of the other options, who is proven better than Robey-Coleman, or even particularly good in the slot? LeBlanc had a strong half-season two years ago after bouncing around the league. Maddox has been very inconsistent in his brief career. Jones has been consistently injured or bad. And Mills and Parks are still safeties by trade.

When you look at it like that, you can’t blame the Eagles for bringing in a corner who’s been productive year in, year out.

Plus, seeing as Robey-Coleman measures in at just 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, Mills and Parks are likely to still get plenty of work against bigger slot receivers.

Robey-Coleman spent a season with Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz when the pair was in Buffalo in 2014, and the last three years with the Los Angeles Rams, serving as the both the No. 1 Nickell AND nickel corner (there it is…) on a conference championship team in ’18. He may be unheralded, but you can’t argue his resume.

At the very least, he’s solid, which is an upgrade over what the Eagles had. The addition of Robey-Coleman also means, along with Slay, presumably only one starting cornerback job is left to fill.

You’d much rather have LeBlanc, Maddox, Jones and a draft pick competing over one spot than trying to figure out the top two.

Grade: A-

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Hassan Ridgeway was less than a couple hours away from hitting the free agent market for the first time in his NFL career when the Eagles announced they had agreed to bring him back on a one-year deal. It was their first signing of the week. 

So why didn’t he just wait a little longer and test free agency? 

Based on the year that I had with the Eagles defense, the people that I was around, the feeling I got, I felt like one of the best situations for me to be in was to go back,” Ridgeway said on a conference call Wednesday. 

“I mean, I like the the way the team was ran, I liked the people around and what I was able to do. They were a step ahead of everybody.

The Eagles traded a seventh-round pick to get Ridgeway during last year’s draft. He came from the Colts, who took him in the fourth round back in 2016, so last year was the final year on his rookie contract. This would have been his first chance to become a free agent and he chose to not even gauge interest around the league. 

He wanted to be in Philly. 

But after Ridgeway came back on a one-year deal, the Eagles went out and signed Javon Hargrave to a three-year, $39 million contract. So that means there are three defensive tackles ahead of Ridgeway on the depth chart: Fletcher Cox, Hargrave and Malik Jackson. 

Things are a little crowded, but he’s kind of in the same spot he was last year, so Ridgeway isn’t worried about his playing time. 

“Everybody is usually going to get a chance to get out there and perform and show what they can do,” Ridgeway said. “Obviously, some people are going to play a little bit more than others. But everybody knows what their job is on defense.” 

And based on last year, there’s still a chance he might need to play a lot. In 2019, Ridgeway began the season as the fourth-string defensive tackle but after injuries to Jackson and Tim Jernigan, Ridgeway was the starter next to Cox by Week 3. In seven total games in 2019, he had 2 sacks, 4 QB hits and 4 TFLs. He has some juice. 

One player we’ll see more of is DT Hassan Ridgeway. My biggest takeaway with his film? His get-off. Guy explodes upfield. Doesn’t always show up in the box score, but he’s been disruptive in backup snaps for the #Eagles DL. #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/K50WBC0xpq

— Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 17, 2019

But then Ridgeway suffered a season-ending high ankle sprain in Week 7. His first season with the Eagles lasted just 252 snaps. 

“I feel like when I was out there, I was able to show what I was capable of doing,” Ridgeway said. “I was disappointed by the injury but not disappointed by how I played.” 

The move to bring back Ridgeway wasn’t a splash. It didn’t move the needle. But bringing back a 25-year-old defensive tackle on a cheap deal to provide depth at a position that got decimated last season made plenty of sense. It was a quality signing. 

And with the four defensive tackles on the roster, the Eagles should have one of the best interior defensive lines in the NFL. 

“This interior is probably, as they always say every year, one of the best that’s out there if everybody can stay healthy,” Ridgeway said. “You got a lot of talented people all in the same room.”

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Jalen Mills is back with the Eagles on a one-year deal for 2020 but he isn’t coming back as a pure corner. He’s going to be more of a hybrid player this upcoming season. 

In an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark on Wednesday, Mills said his role will be “something similar” to the role Malcolm Jenkins had with the Eagles over the last several seasons. 

Mills knows those are enormous shoes to fill. 

That’s going to be big bro forever,” Mills said about Jenkins. “I think as far as expectations, his name holds the weight. He’s a Philly icon, Philly legend, I feel like his jersey should probably get retired there. As far as people saying that (replacing Jenkins), I know for sure it’s going to be a really, really big target on my back.

It’s hard to imagine the Eagles simply asking Mills to replace all that Jenkins did for the team in recent years. So while Mills’ role will be a more versatile one going forward, don’t expect a simple plug-and-play here. 

Mills said after the Eagles let Jenkins walk and re-signed him, he and Jenkins communicated through text messages. Mills thanked Jenkins, who is heading back to New Orleans, for teaching him how to be a leader. 

Mills, 25, first learned about the Eagles’ plan to play him at safety this offseason through his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. Howie Roseman relayed the information to Rosenhaus, who relayed it to Mills around the time of the Senior Bowl or NFL Combine. 

Then the Eagles and Mills agreed to a one-year contract worth $4 million. 

As Mills understands it, in his new role he’ll be a Swiss Army Knife of sorts. Jim Schwartz might play him at nickel corner or dime linebacker or corner or free safety or strong safety depending on the game plan for the upcoming week. 

“I see myself as a Charles Woodson type, a guy who can just play it all,” Mills said. “You can line me up from the left side of the field all the way to the right side of the field.”

For what it’s worth, Mills did play a bunch of different positions during his time at LSU but has been predominantly an outside cornerback since he was drafted in the seventh round back in 2016. He’s had his ups and downs in that role and in the last two seasons has missed nearly as many games as he’s played because of injury. 

In addition to bringing back Mills and Rodney McLeod, the Eagles also traded for Darius Slay and agreed to terms with free agents Will Parks and Nickell Roby-Coleman. It seems like the Eagles are stockpiling nickel corners but they have a bunch of guys with position versatility in their new-look secondary. 

That, in particular, has Mills excited. 

“I think our secondary is going to be very, very dynamic,” Mills said. “We got a lot of guys who can move in a lot of different places. I think that’s the key at this point. You can’t line up in the same looks, you can’t have guys in the same spot. Quarterbacks and offensive coordinators, they latch on and they see that and then you get predictable. I think as far as that goes, our secondary is going to be very, very dynamic.”

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