Avonte Maddox: An Eagles Gift and Curse

Avonte Maddox Philadelphia Eagles

If you are an Eagles fan, you have watched Avonte Maddox for years. His size has limited his ability to play outside on the boundary, but that hasn’t stopped him from playing well as a nickel back in Philadelphia. He ended up earning a multi-year extension prior to last season.

This extension is framed much like many other contracts on the team. The Eagles added dummy years to stretch out the prorated cap hit for Maddox’s guaranteed money. So while on the surface it looks like a three-year $22 million deal, with over $13 million guaranteed, it isn’t exactly. The true terms of the deal are six years, with three voidable seasons on the back half of the deal to spread out just under $8 million of his deal.

Avonte Maddox’s Versatility is a Gift and a Curse

How Does the Bradberry Move Affect Avonte Maddox?

Bringing in a true number two cornerback opposite of Darius Slay means we will not be playing Avonte Maddox out of position at outside cornerback. In 2020 Maddox had the worst year of his career. He was graded out at a 37.8 overall, with his worst grade coming in coverage. He posted just a 37.1 coverage grade.

This season preceded the addition of Steven Nelson and likely led to the thought that they couldn’t rely on Maddox as a number 2 cornerback. One might question how much of an improvement this warranted in 2021. The truth is, the level of improvement might be considered “jaw-dropping”.

After posting a 37.1 coverage grade in 2020 on just 290 snaps, Maddox rebounded in 2021 with a career-high 76.2 coverage grade on 481 snaps.  He nearly doubled the grade he had in coverage in 2020 despite playing nearly twice the snaps in coverage.

This solidified the belief that Maddox is one of the top nickel cornerbacks in the NFL and a guy that just needs to be used correctly to be a weapon on defense.
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Ideal Role for Avonte Maddox

So we have touched on the fact that Avonte Maddox needs to play primarily in the slot, and not out wide. However, we have not touched on Maddox’s ability to also play free safety. During Maddox’s rookie season Rodney McCleod suffered an injury and ended up missing time. Maddox had never before played free safety, and he was a rookie thrust into a different position mid-game.

You would think this is a recipe for disaster, the thing is, it wasn’t. Maddox held his own and impressed the coaching staff with his play. Ultimately, until last season, his rookie year was his best in the NFL.

  • 60.7 coverage grade
  • 70.6 pass-rush grade
  • 68.8 run defense grade

Maddox should be used as a primary nickel-back while still being used as a third safety. Obviously when calling formations with six defensive backs, Gannon will have to get creative with his third safety spot. However, that is a small price to pay to get a guy like Maddox on the field more in a position to succeed. It also would fill a glaring need in athleticism at the safety position following last season.

2022 Off-Season With the Secondary in the Hot Seat

Heading into the off-season it was clear to many that the Eagles needed to revamp its secondary. Outside of Darius Slay, and Avonte Maddox, there were no real locks as starters. The Eagles, however, slow-played the safety position. They brought back Anthony Harris to play the strong safety role, but watched as Rodney McCleod reunited with Frank Reich in Indy.

They also watched as Steven Nelson left in free agency to Houston. And then the 2022 NFL draft came and went. The Eagles did not select any defensive backs. Instead, they addressed the defensive line, linebacker, offensive line, and tight end position.

This left the Eagles relatively bare at cornerback two with a reluctance to move Maddox back outside and watch him struggle. That was until the New York Giants cap woes caught up to them and resulted in James Bradberry who was voted to the pro-bowl just a season ago being released.

This immediately became priority number 1 for Howie Roseman and company. In less than a week after he was released, the Eagles had signed former Giant James Bradberry to start opposite of Darius Slay. This was an instant upgrade over the younger guys on the roster behind Maddox. It is also an upgrade over Steven Nelson in 2021.

Allowing Avonte Maddox to Float

Bringing in Bradberry not only solidified the second cornerback spot, it also solidified two other positions due to Maddox’s versatility. Maddox will not be asked to play starter-level snap counts as the nickelback, but having him play safety when needed as well could be a best case scenario for this secondary.

Secondary Moves

  • Marcus Epps moving up to start at free safety
  • Anthony Harris returning to strong safety
  • Darius Slay returning to the number one cornerback role
  • James Bradberry signed to man number two cornerback role
  • Avonte Maddox signed extension in 2021 to play in the nickelback role

If they allow Maddox to float, you get the most value out of a guy who signed an extension just last offseason. This also allows you to fill another need at free safety rather than plugging in K’von Wallace who hasn’t inspired confidence as of yet, or a younger player like Reed Blankenship who isn’t ready to contribute at that level as a rookie quite yet.

Final Takeaways

The main thing needed to be addressed in terms of the secondary was a lack of athleticism at the free safety position. A reliable number-two cornerback would be a close second. Rather than spending big money at both positions, Roseman got creative. It makes sense from a financial stand point of view to use Maddox as much as possible to recoup as much on-field value by getting him on the field as much as possible in 2022.

It also saves them from having to go out and sign a man like, say, the Honey Badger. Tyrann Mathieu has always been noted for his versatility, and Maddox offers similar versatility, and size as the Honey Badger. Why not utilize him, and in turn get Marcus Epps a promising young player even more playing time without throwing him directly to the wolves as a starter?

This is a win-win proposition for the 2022 Eagles. The only question now becomes, what stopped them from utilizing Maddox back there last season? Especially consider the immense depth they have behind Maddox at cornerback? Truly this offseason has been a win for the Eagles. They solidified every position of need, and because of the move to bring in Bradberry, and extend Maddox, they have in turn solidified their last two needs of the offseason. Eagles fans should be cautiously optimistic about their chances to contend for the NFC East Division Title in 2022.