Defensive roster evaluation: Eagles might have to replace entire secondary

Posted on March 13, 2023

The Eagles’ secondary? Thanks for stopping by. Been nice knowing you.

That’s the harsh reality the Eagles face two days before free agency begins. It’s quite unnerving for a team and fan base hoping to build off last season’s Super Bowl appearance.

Today, we’ll evaluate where the Eagles stand going into free agency, starting with the defensive position groups. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the offensive position groups.

We’ll assess the strengths and weaknesses of each group, who the Eagles might lose, who they might re-sign and the roster consequences. Seven of the 11 starters are free agents.

Oh my, the secondary.

Safeties C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps are free agents as is cornerback James Bradberry. They could be gone after free agency starts at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Plus, last week, cornerback Darius Slay’s agent was given permission to look for a trade partner.

That’s the entire starting secondary — and they’re moving in different directions.

CJGJ posted what looked like a farewell video last week. Over the weekend, Slay said on his podcast: “I do want to finish my career as an Eagle but we’ll see.”

Bradberry said he expects to be paid after a Pro Bowl season. The Eagles asked Bradberry for a chance to match any offer he receives, according to CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson.

In our evaluation, we will include The Athletic’s roster stability ranking of NFC East teams. The rankings are from 1 (most stable and strong) to 32.

Compared with their NFC East rivals, the Eagles are considered the most stable in four of the five position groups.

Starting Monday at noon, teams can negotiate with agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents.


This was a strong position group last season with Slay and Bradberry. The Eagles were the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense, the cornerbacks playing a huge part of that success.

The cornerback bench is thin — Josiah Scott, Josh Jobe and Zech McPhearson.

The snap counts are telling: Bradberry 97.4 percent; Slay, 90.6 percent; Scott, 35 percent, McPhearson, 8.9 percent; Jobe, 1.08 percent.

Avonte Maddox has developed into a quality nickel back. But he only played nine games because of injuries.

The Eagles need a starter— maybe two starters. Slay turns 33 in January — if he’s here. With the 10th overall pick, a quality cornerback will be available. They might have to draft him.

ROSTER STABILITY (before the Slay news):

  • Eagles 10
  • Cowboys 17
  • Giants 27
  • Commanders 10


This is another position that free agency might raze, depending what happens with Gardner-Johnson and Epps.

Undrafted rookie Reed Blankenship got his chance late in the season and was impressive. He liked to hit and his coverage skills were solid. He will be a factor moving forward.

In the division, the Eagles are lowly ranked, which presumes Gardner-Johnson signs with another team. The Eagles likely are going to need help in the draft or in free agency.


  • Eagles 26
  • Cowboys 1
  • Giants 13
  • Commanders 10


Both starters are free agents. T.J. Edwards became a force in the middle while Kyzir White provided excellent pass coverage and was a sure tackler.

This is the time for 2022 third-round pick Nakobe Dean to step up. Dean was considered “the steal of the draft” after he dropped to the third round. He had a brilliant career while winning a national championship at Georgia.

Eagles coaches complimented Dean all season when asked.

It is perplexing that Dean only had 34 defensive snaps (he did have 75 percent of special teams snaps). The Eagles had a great defense — ranked second in the league — but you gotta believe if Dean were so talented he would have seen more action.

The counter-argument is why tinker with a good thing. Edwards played 94 percent of the snaps and White played 76 percent. They were playing well, the Eagles were winning, so Dean could wait his turn.

Dean’s turn might be — and should be — 2023.


  • Eagles 11
  • Cowboys 23
  • Giants 30
  • Commanders 31


Brandon Graham re-signed with the Eagles on Friday, maintaining their impressive edge pass-rush personnel.

Haason Reddick might have been the defense’s best free-agent signing last season. He had 16 sacks and five forced fumbles. His hit and strip-sack of 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy all but ended the competitive nature of the NFC title game.

Reddick didn’t just get after quarterbacks. He played linebacker, too. He made 49 tackles and helped in pass coverage.

Josh Sweat remains on the edge. Sweat and Graham each had 11 sacks. Sweat played 53 percent of the snaps. Together, Graham and Sweat were a force on the left side, with Reddick charging from the right side. Another factor is Derek Barnett, who suffered an ACL team in the opener.

ROSTER STABILITY (before the Graham signing):

  • Eagles 2
  • Cowboys 4
  • Giants 30
  • Commanders 22


Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave are free agents. Hargrave had 11 sacks and was a run-game disruptor. He is expected to attract plenty of free-agent attention and money. The Eagles might have to dig deep to keep him — and that might not be enough.

Cox, 32, has played 11 seasons, all with the Eagles. He is a team leader and still must be accounted for by offenses. He played more snaps than any defensive lineman.

Jordan Davis begins his second season — still with a world of potential — and will be joined by Milton Williams and Marlon Tuipulotu. If the Eagles lose Hargrave and/or Cox, someone must replace their production and intimidating presence.

If the Eagles bring back Cox — maybe for less money than his current contract — and one of the young tackles steps up, this position strength will remain intact.


  • Eagles 7
  • Cowboys 19
  • Giants 25
  • Commanders 7
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Chuck Bausman

Chuck Bausman is an Eagles writer for Chuck formerly was the Executive Sports Editor of the Philadelphia Daily News and the Executive Sports Editor of the Courier-Post in South Jersey. He learned how to cuss by watching Philly sports.

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