You can complain about the quality of play at cornerback for the Eagles, but not about how much they're paying these guys. In fact, as it stands right now, the player at the position who they have the most salary cap space committed to for 2017, Eric Rowe, isn't even on the team.
Seriously. The leftover dead money from Rowe's contract, which was dealt to the Patriots back in September, is more than that of any Eagles corner under contract COMBINED.
While that can be viewed as sad commentary about the state of the Eagles cornerbacks - and in fairness, it is - that also means the club has a lot of flexibility at the position. Nolan Carroll is a free agent. Leodis McKelvin and/or Ron Brooks could be dropped for peanuts. The next highest salary on the books: Dwayne Gratz, at six figures.
So if the Eagles really wanted to, they could cut everybody on the roster and complete start over, and it would only create about $800,000 in new dead money. Rowe will count for about $900,000 in '17.
Of course, releasing all of those players would only save somewhere around $6-7 million while leaving the Eagles with literally zero cornerbacks on the roster. Seeing as that's not a realistic path to restocking the talent pool, some combination of Carroll, McKelvin and Brooks likely needs to be retained.
On the bright side, the Eagles can walk away from any of the three veterans, essentially without consequence. Given how mediocre Carroll and McKelvin performed in 2016, replacing at least one of them would seem optimal.
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Going that route may cost the Eagles more money, although they could hardly have less invested. Or, they could allow Carroll's contract to expire, keep everybody, and attempt to replace from within and through the draft, which might save a few dollars.
Regardless, the Eagles cornerbacks probably aren't going to be a tremendous strength once again in '17 - but at least they won't be expensive, either.
CORNERBACKS UNDER CONTRACT
Cap Number: $3,450,000
McKelvin is on the wrong side of 30 and played like it for much of last season. An injured hamstring might be partly to blame, but no matter how you want to look at it, the nine-year veteran charted as one of the worst defensive backs in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, McKelvin ranked 75th out of 79 qualifying corners in opponents' passer rating when targeted in coverage, and tied with four others for most touchdowns allowed. He was never very consistent for the Bills, and now he's about to be another year older. Meanwhile, the Eagles would save all but $250,000 of McKelvin's cap hit on the final year of his contract can be spared if he's released by the new league year. Even if all of that money goes toward his replacement, they should strongly consider it.
Cap Number: $2,100,000
Brooks sustained a season-ending injury in Week 1, so it's sort of impossible to say what the Eagles have here. He played only sparingly in four seasons with the Bills, too, so it's not like there is a body of work to fall back on. At best, Brooks is probably a nickel corner and special-teams contributor, which is fine for the money, assuming he's good at either of those things. We'll probably find out. The Eagles could save all but $500,000 of his prorated signing bonus for the next two years, but would just be creating another roster spot to fill in doing so. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz vouches for the guy, and unlike McKelvin, he hasn't proven his coach wrong yet, so we might as well see what he's got.
Cap Number: $775,000
A third-round draft pick of the Jaguars in 2013, Gratz was released by the team midway through this past season, then caught on briefly with the Rams before landing with the Eagles in December. He's actually an intriguing, experienced prospect with 25 NFL starts prior to 2016. Nobody is saying Gratz would be a star or anything, but sometimes it's hard to judge whether players in places like Jacksonville didn't succeed because they just can't hack it or were a product of their environment. He has yet to suit up for the Eagles, and is far from a lock to make the team in '17, but if the club starts dumping corners, Gratz might be in line for a serious look during training camp.
Cap Number: $559,214
Arguably one of the most unfairly criticized Eagles in recent memory, Mills' rookie season was not nearly as bad as a lot of people tried to make it sound. Taking into account he was a seventh-round draft pick who was unexpectedly thrust into a regular role from Week 1 on, Mills was tied for 53rd out of 79 qualifying corners in opponents' passer rating when targeted in coverage. That's far better than McKelvin, and he slightly out-performed Carroll, too. Mills may have been beaten his share of times, but proved to be a willing and capable tackler who limited yards after the catch and kept receivers out of the end zone. It was a campaign to build on anyway, and given this crew the Eagles have, he should probably get a shot to start next season.
Cap Number: $540,000
An undrafted rookie out of North Dakota State, Smith suited up for 10 games, but only appeared on special teams, finishing with one tackle. It seemed he might have caught the eye of coaches during the preseason after he earned a start during one of the exhibition games and acquitted himself nicely, but that was the end of his push. Smith will be battling for a roster spot in '17.
Cap Number: $540,000
Grymes was having a strong preseason as well and looking like he had a shot to make the team until injury struck. He wound up being waived, then bouncing back and forth between the 53-man roster and practice squad before signing a futures contract in the offseason. A Canadian Football League star, Grymes might be a long shot, but others have made the jump to the NFL before. The lack of talent on the depth chart gives him a legitimate chance with the Eagles, so don't count him out just yet.
2016 Cap Number: $2,047,500
If the decision is between Carroll and McKelvin, then the Eagles should cut McKelvin and give that money to Carroll. He's the younger, bigger, seemingly more reliable of the two, and it's difficult to imagine the seven-year veteran is looking at a large raise this season. There were reports the front office already began negotiating with Carroll, although those were no doubt extremely preliminary discussions, if they could be considered negotiations at all. No matter what happens with these two, the Eagles need to draft their replacement, so whether it's McKelvin or Carroll sticking around, they're merely a placeholder. Still, the choice seems obvious. Now, if only there were another option.
Cap Number: $904,496
Schwartz put vice president of football operations Howie Roseman in an impossible position by burying Rowe on the depth chart. Either the Eagles' second-round pick from 2015 could spend large portions of last season inactive or playing only sparingly, or they could turn that into a 2018 fourth-round draft pick that will likely become a third. From that standpoint, the trade was a no-brainer, as the coaching staff had no intention of playing Rowe and his value would only plummet further. Of course, it's easy to look at this and say Schwartz was wrong, and Rowe easily would've been a better option than Carroll, McKelvin, Brooks or Mills. True though that might be, this is the sort of thing that happens when there are regime changes. Rowe is gone, and an extra third-rounder isn't a terrible swap - but the roster would be in much better shape for 2017 had that never happened.
* Ages as of 12/31/17