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Examining the Eagles slot options in the wake of Avonte Maddox’s pec injury


Photo Credit by John McMullen/JAKIB Sports

ThrivePHILADELPHIA – Avonte Maddox suffered through an injury-plagued season in 2022-23 but the Eagles’ star slot cornerback made it back to play in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LVII despite needing offseason toe surgery.

Maddox was one of the few key Eagles players to suffer through some hard injury luck in what was a dream season both on the field and from a healthy standpoint.

Expecting the latter to continue this year is something GM Howie Roseman put the caution flag up on in the spring on a few occasions.

Entering Week 2 with shortened prep time Philadelphia was without three starters against Minnesota – cornerback James Bradberry (concussion), linebacker Nakobe Dean (foot), and safety Reed Blankenship (ribs) – but persevered in what turned into a 34-28 win to get to 2-0.

Maddox joined the injury list, however, and this time it’s likely a season-ender as the Pitt product suffered a torn pec, according to an NFL source.
While head coach Nick Sirianni won’t confirm that news until his scheduled Monday press conference Maddox alluded to the disappointing outcome on his Instagram account: “Seems as though I can never catch a break. But I know for sure I never quit!”

Already forgotten by some, the Eagles lost Maddox’s projected backup in the preseason when Zech McPhearson went down with a torn Achilles.

Against the Vikings, who have a talented group of receivers, the Eagles went with first-year cornerback Mario Goodrich, who spent most of last season on the practice and he is the early favorite to start on Sept. 25 at Tampa Bay.

Goodrich’s biggest issue was tackling, however, and that’s especially important inside where run fits are a much bigger part of the job description. There were also the expected communication issues that all young players seem to make in the Vic Fangio-inspired scheme the Eagles run on defense.

Philadelphia will no doubt be using the extra time the mini-bye affords to contemplate the path forward. If the Eagles were a run-of-the-mill or rebuilding team, the answer would be easy and you just try to develop the best young player you have for the position.

As a legitimate Super Bowl contender, however, the Eagles might want to consider the Linval Joseph/Ndamukong Suh template they used last year when injuries to Jordan Davis and Marlon Tuipulotu created a need at defensive tackle.

The obvious answer is that vein would be the 34-year-old Chris Harris, a four-time Pro Bowl player who was one of the league’s top slot corners for years with Denver. You wouldn’t be getting that Harris of course but he proved more than capable in 10 games he played with New Orleans last season and is on the record when it comes to his plan of ring shopping at this point in his career.

“I want to wait and see what team has a great chance to win a Super Bowl and then try to hop on with them,” Harris said back in May.

Presumably, that hasn’t changed and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Roseman has already started moving in that direction unless Harris has shifted his mindset.

The idea of using Bradberry, who is expected back against the Buccaneers, in the slot was all the rage over the summer when defensive coordinator Sean Desai cross-trained him a bit in the slot. A team source told JAKIB Sports at the time that was just preparing for the occasional rep where a bigger slot player would be needed and not indicative of a major sea change.

By moving Bradberry inside you would also be taking an All-Pro player out of his comfort zone and still weakening two positions so it would make a little sense.

Another path could be bringing Josiah Scott back from the Pittsburgh practice squad. Scott was the Eagles’ backup to Maddox last season and proved to be competent at times although then-DC Jonathan Gannon ultimately decided the moving pieces of C.J. Gardner-Johnson moving down to the slot and Reed Blankenship rotating in at safety was the better way to go late in the season.

Complicating matters further on that front is that Scott is currently on the Steelers’ PS/injured list with an unknown injury. If it’s not serious, Scott could be a consideration because he’s not the next man up in Pittsburgh in the secondary, according to a Pittsburgh source.

“I think the Steelers would [promote] Luq Barcoo before any other practice squad cornerback,” the source said. “He spent the summer with them and was a real competitor for the final roster spot.”

This season, Justin Evans is the starting safety with slot experience in New Orleans that could also be called upon. In that case, Evans would rotate down with Terrell Edmunds likely first up at safety.

As for Maddox, he played just nine games last year due to a litany of injuries, ultimately needing offseason toe surgery. He has one year left on a three-year extension he signed in 2021, but the Eagles also added the suspended Isaiah Rodgers in the offseason, who might be the long-term answer in the organization’s eyes.

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