In the afterglow of the Eagles’ Super Bowl win, we offer a three-part series that examines the potential for the team’s defense to improve further with the growth of key young players. This is Part 3. Part 1 was on Derek Barnett. Part 2 was on Jordan Hicks.
MINNEAPOLIS — Howie Roseman invested wisely last spring.
He overspent to add Nick Foles as the backup quarterback, since he had to absorb the cost of cutting Chase Daniel. Foles turned out to be a $10 million bargain when he saved the season and won MVP of Super Bowl LII.
He gambled and won with Alshon Jeffery, who stayed healthy and caught 12 TD passes, including three in the playoffs.
And, in a year when he had to flip almost half the roster, Roseman spent a precious second-round pick on a one-legged cornerback. Sidney Jones essentially missed all of 2017 with a ruptured Achilles, but he might turn out to be Roseman’s best investment of all. The Eagles won the Super Bowl without a cornerback who looks like he’ll be their best in years. Rest assured, he’ll be their most motivated cornerback.
“It makes me real hungry, man. I’ve got some big shoes to fill next year,” Jones said, sitting in front of his locker at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Lombardi Trophy passed behind him in the arms of a teammate, and he noticed, and pointed at it.
“This is the culture. This is the standard,” Jones said. “I already had a championship mind-set, just me being me. We got the first one. Now we got to get the next one. Keep building this dynasty.”
The ‘D’ word
Dynasty? Considering all the talent the Eagles didn’t use this season, Jones has good reason to think “dynasty.”
Across the locker room, standout middle linebacker Jordan Hicks helped siphon cognac into an insulated water bottle. Hicks also ruptured an Achilles tendon and missed half the season, his third in the league.
A few feet away, rookie defensive end Derek Barnett, the Eagles’ first-round pick, was still in his full uniform. It was 90 minutes after the Super Bowl ended. Barnett recovered the clinching fumble. Blocked by productive veterans, Barnett didn’t start a single game this season, but he still managed six sacks, counting playoffs.
The talent pool was not nearly as deep at corner as at end. Jones would have started every game had he been healthy. But he wasn’t, and somehow he doesn’t seem to mind; that is, all things considered.
“Getting injured was all destined to happen to me. Falling in the draft. I’m just grateful to be here,” Jones said. “I mean, winning a Super Bowl? I feel like it’s the best possible circumstance that could have happened for me.”
If nothing else, Jones was able to watch the NFL game before he plunged in. He didn’t redshirt at the University of Washington and left a year early, so he’ll be only 22 when he plays in 2018. The Eagles gave him a headset for parts of several games so he could process what unfolded in front of him, and they quizzed him as he watched practices. He attended all the meetings.
The Eagles treated him like the Sixers treated Ben Simmons as he sat out last season. The Eagles would be delighted if Jones has the kind of first year that Simmons is having now.
“I was watching everything,” Jones said. “Watching those guys work, and learning how to work.”
The two aren’t identical. Simmons was a consensus No. 1 overall pick, a rare freak of size and athleticism, but Jones isn’t expected to be an MVP one day. Just a Pro Bowl player.
Head of his class?
Jones wouldn’t have gone No. 1 in the NFL draft, but he would have been a top-15 pick, or maybe even top-10, which would have made him the first corner taken in a corner-rich class. As it was, Marshon Lattimore was the first of five corners from picks 11 to 27. Lattimore intercepted five passes for the Saints and made it to the Pro Bowl. TreDavious White, who went to the Bills at No. 27, intercepted four passes. It was a good corner class.
Some experts put Jones at the head of it.
If you saw him play in the meaningless Eagles finale against the Cowboys, you saw why.
As soon as he stepped on the field, the Archimedes principle took effect: The talent level rose like water in a bathtub. He moves predatorily. He might be the best they’ve had since Troy Vincent, but not identical. Vincent, at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, was an inch taller and 15 pounds heavier, and Vincent was more of a gliding, linear angle-eater whose speed was his strength.
By contrast, Jones floats. He covers like he’s riding hoverboard without wheels, without effort, and without fear. At Washington, he started as a freshman and had nine interceptions by the time he finished his junior season in 2016. He would have had more but opposing teams simply stopped throwing his way.
Dak Prescott avoided him, too, before Jones left Game 16 with a hamstring strain. He didn’t play in the postseason.
He gave you just a taste. It was a tantalizing taste.
Granted, there is no more impressive player than one who hasn’t played. He has yet to betray his weaknesses … but Jones doesn’t seem to have much to betray. Roseman realized this. That’s why he ignored more pressing needs at cornerback and running back. Roseman needed long-term depth at linebacker, at receiver and all along the offensive line, but he delayed on those fronts, too. He couldn’t resist drafting Jones.
It was like getting a 30 percent discount on a brand-new Benz that got into a fender-bender on the way to the dealership; a Benz like the model the Chiefs have in cornerback Marcus Peters, the player with whom Jones is often compared. Peters has 19 interceptions in his first three seasons.
Peters is on his way to being as good as any corner the Eagles ever had. Eric Allen had 16 picks in his first three seasons and went to six Pro Bowls in his career. Troy Vincent had 17 in his first five seasons and went to five Pro Bowls.
If Jones really does play like Peters, then Howie got another bargain.