By taking him away not only are you losing a core member of the secondary but the pressure is now on for a pair of young, third-round draft picks: Phillip Gaines, entering his third season and coming off an ACL tear suffered in Week 2 and Steven Nelson, a second-year player who was primarily a special teamer last season.
Starting in his rookie season Gaines showed the ability to play the slot/nickel corner role well and I thought he was in line for a big year in 2015 before the injury. In theory Gaines should be ready for the start of the 2016 season but no one really knows how players will come back from ACL surgery until they get on the field. Jamaal Charles looked like he didn’t miss a beat the first time it happened to him, but there’s plenty of other players who didn’t recover their past success or reach future projections.
We also don’t know if the team sees Gaines strictly as an inside cornerback or someone who can play outside as well. The team went with Jamell Fleming opposite Cooper during Smith’s three-game suspension to start the season and the results were disastrous. Gaines injury occurred early in the Broncos game so we’ll never know if they would have switched him outside given that Manning targeted Fleming repeatedly and with great success in the second half.
It’ll be quite interesting where Andy Reid decides will be Gaines primary spot going forward.
Next: What about Nelson?