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How Avonte Maddox is dealing with new role with no guarantees

Being released by the Eagles didn't bother Maddox, who now has a different challenge in his return

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He could have pouted. He could have sulked. He could have vowed to sign somewhere else to spite the Eagles.

Instead, Avonte Maddox did the only thing that made sense to him.

He came back.

The Eagles released the veteran defensive back on March 7. After playing in 64 games with 38 starts and being a part of five playoff teams, Maddox was on the street for the first time in his career.

Must have been quite a blow to his ego, it was suggested to Maddox.

“What do you mean? Blow to my ego?” he said. “I know who I am. I know what I can do. I know how I can play and nothing ever is a blow to my ego. You know what I mean? Like that just makes me work harder. So it's never a blow to my ego. I know who I am, I know who I will be, and there's never been ego shame to that.”

The Eagles re-signed Maddox on April 4, ending his brief foray into free agency.

“I wasn't really sweating it too much,” he said. “I talk to (GM Howie Roseman) all the time. Me and Howie have a great relationship. And he told me if nothing works out, you're always welcome back here. 

"And I felt comfortable being here. I've been here for the last, what, seven years now going into. So Philly is my home, and I'm definitely comfortable being inside this building and being on the field with the players and the coaches and you know just being around this organization.”

So why did the Eagles release Maddox in the first place? It’s a fair question.

They did reduce his salary — he was due $6.85 million in 2024 on the final year of the three-year, $22.5 million extension he signed in November 2021 and had a $9.6 million cap hit. He’s now due just $1.125 million in base salary with a $1.618 million cap hit, although the Eagles are on the hook for $7.72 million in dead money. So Maddox’s combined cap hit is slightly smaller but the Eagles save nearly $6 million in cash.

For the first time since the Eagles drafted Maddox in the fourth round in 2018, he’s got nothing guaranteed. He’s no longer a lock to be the starting slot. He’s no longer a lock to even make the 53-man roster.

In the minicamp practices that were open to the media we saw Maddox taking reps in the slot but also at safety. If he sticks, it will be as a jack-of-all trades. Rookie Cooper DeJean probably has the inside track to the slot, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Reed Blankenship are the starting safeties. But if Maddox can stay healthy and back up both spots — and even be an emergency outside corner — he’ll add great value to the defense.

“I'm learning,” said Maddox, one of only six position players left from the 2018 season. “I know the nickel spot really well, and I feel like something that helped me in my career is to learn the safety spot. As you get older, you get a little bit slower.  

“Right now I'm kind of mostly just working on my footwork because it's a little bit different. And vision wise, you’ve got a lot more vision in the back end than inside with the nickel spot. And you just have different techniques and footwork you have to use back there at safety than I would have used in nickel. 

“But I'm definitely comfortable and definitely confident. I know all the calls, I know what to do, I know what to say, I know where everybody's at on the field.”

This is all well and good, but if Maddox can’t stay on the field none of it will matter.

Injuries have limited him to just 13 games the last two years, and he’s missed 36 games in six NFL seasons. He had surgery on his left foot in February 2023 and then surgery to repair a torn pec in September 2023.

He hasn’t played more than three games in a row since the end of the 2021 season.

“Yeah that’s definitely a mental thing (with) a great amount of injuries so I've been working this offseason on attacking my body, making sure I come back as healthy as possible," he said. 

“Just getting stronger, lifting heavier and doing all the little things, running more, and doing all the little things that can get the tweaks out of the areas that are weak. I feel like that could have been a reason for the injuries. So eating better, sleeping more. I'm doing all the little things that I can.”

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