Howie Roseman

How Howie Roseman has rebuilt Eagles' hapless secondary

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It started with the return of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, a 26-year-old playmaking safety who was a huge piece of the 2022 Super Bowl defense.

It continued with the arrival of corner Isaiah Rodgers after his one-year suspension for violating the NFL’s gambling policy.

And then it got really good.

Toledo’s Quinyon Mitchell, the best cornerback in the draft, fell into the Eagles’ lap with the 22nd pick on Thursday, and another 1st-round prospect, Iowa’s Cooper DeJean, fell into their lap at No. 40 on Friday.

The Eagles have added receivers and a running back and an edge rusher and a few other things this offseason, but it’s no secret what Howie Roseman’s priority was.

The secondary.

Reshaping it. Rebuilding it. Remaking it.

After last year? He had no choice.

“Yeah, I think obviously the season didn't end the way that we wanted it to, and I think after the season, we sat down and we talked about what we wanted to do to the team and what we wanted to create,” Roseman said Saturday night. 

“We wanted to create incredible competition at all positions, and (secondary) was a position that we hadn't addressed a lot early in the draft. We felt like we still had some veteran guys on the roster … and we had a couple of young guys, but we wanted to add some youth. 

“It wasn't a position we were going to try to address in free agency. We wanted to kind of draft and develop those guys.”

By the end of last year, the Eagles’ pass defense was an abomination. The entire team was but the pass defense in particular was tough to watch.

The Eagles finished last year ranked 31st in pass defense, allowing an opposing passer rating of 97.6 – 3rd-worst in franchise history (behind 2012 and 2020, two seasons that got the Eagles’ head coach fired). They became only the eighth team in NFL history to allow at least 35 touchdown passes and intercept fewer than 10 passes in a season.

They looked old and slow. Because they were old and slow. And that’s the risk when you continually build the secondary with veterans.

Since 2010, Roseman’s first year as general manager, the Eagles have had 28 defensive backs start at least 10 games.

Only six of the 28 were Eagles draft picks (Nate Allen, Jalen Mills, Avonte Maddox, Kurt Coleman, Rasul Douglas).

And for every Malcolm Jenkins or Darius Slay, there were way too many Leodis McKelvins, Anthony Harrises, Marcus Eppses and Byron Maxwells.

Until Thursday, the Eagles hadn’t used a top-40 pick on a defensive back since Allen at No. 37 in 2010. With Mitchell at 22 and DeJean at 40, this is the first time in franchise history they took two DBs in the first 40 picks. They’re the 10th NFL team in the last 30 years to do that.

So the focus when the draft began was to finally load up on young, fast, versatile defensive backs.

Job accomplished.

“When you looked at the free agency list and maybe the strength of the early part of the draft, we thought that that was something we could do,” he said.

“Now, you go through the process, and things change. When you start with a list that you get in January and then you have the Senior Bowl and the Combine, sometimes the process thins things out. That's always a little bit risky, but I think the way that the draft fell allowed us to address those guys early, not force anything and hopefully add competition to that group.”

Slay is 33 and still playing well, but 30-year-olds Kevin Byard and James Bradberry were a far cry from their prime seasons, and the combination of three 30-year-old starters in the same secondary made the Eagles’ pass defense sitting ducks against speedy young receivers.

They were only the second NFC team in the last 20 years with three 30-year-old defensive backs starting at least 10 games.

Kevin Byard, Bradley Roby, Justin Evans and Terrell Edmunds, all starters at one point last year, are gone, replaced by younger, fast – and the Eagles hope – more effective players. Bradberry could be the next to leave.

Go back to opening day 2023. The only Eagles defensive back in the regular rotation who was 26 or younger was Blankenship.

In 2024, that number could go up to six - Mitchell, DeJean, Gardner-Johnson, Rodgers, Kelee Ringo and Eli Ricks. Seven once Sydney Brown is healthy.

If you’re trying to defend people like CeeDee Lamb, Justin Jefferson, Cooper Kupp and Deebo Samuel, Puka Nacua, JaMarr Chase and George Pickens, you better have a secondary full of guys who can fly.

The Eagles finally have a stable of those guys.

“Obviously really excited about the group that we have with the guys that are back from last year, the guys that we added in free agency, the guys that we've added during the draft,” Nick Sirianni said. 

“Really look forward to getting them out in the field and starting to work here within the next couple of weeks."

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