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What Is Next Step For Nnamdi?

Posted Feb 21, 2013

We will know soon enough what the Eagles think of cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, how they want to proceed with or without him and what the grand plan is to improve a secondary that needs a lot of work ...

The Eagles have taken care of some of their dollars and sense business already, re-constructing the contract for quarterback Michael Vick, releasing the vastly disappointing Demetress Bell and tidying up their salary-cap situation to the point where they can be buyers in free agency, if they choose that route.

In a very short matter of time they will start talks with those players currently on the roster who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents whom the Eagles want to retain, and the others will be on the open market on March 12.

Then there is the case of Nnamdi Asomugha, the much-ballyhooed cornerback signed on the first day of free agency in 2011. He was the prize catch of free agency after the work stoppage and in the Eagles' frenzied activity in the market he was the player who, according to the blueprint, would perhaps make the greatest impact. The move to sign Asomugha was the big news of that brief, but powerful, free-agency period, and Asomugha made the cover of Sports Illustrated hailed as an impact player for Philadelphia.

Asomugha, a Pro Bowl cornerback in Oakland, was to come to Philadelphia to be the shutdown cover man the defense needed after a couple of lean years in coverage. A defense that was historically bad in the red zone in 2010 would benefit from Asomugha's rangy, intelligent presence. He was sound enough to cover every kind of receiver, and certainly would help the Eagles match up against the elite receivers the NFC East had to offer.

Two seasons later, the profile of Nnamdi Asomugha has changed, and his future with the Eagles is a big, giant question mark. Asomugha has not been a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback here. He's had his strong moments, true enough. He's been unfairly maligned, no doubt about it. But in the most objective perspective, Asomugha has been a disappointing player. He has not been a shutdown cornerback. Quarterbacks didn't stay away from Asomugha; instead, they challenged him and targeted him and, the reality is, went after Asomugha.

There are a lot of areas to address in a secondary that was part of a defense that allowed a whopping 33 touchdown passes in 2012, most in the league and most in Eagles history, and Asomugha's next step is right at the top of the list.

What are the Eagles going to do with Asomugha, who has a contract that reportedly pays him $15.5 million in 2013? They have options, of course, and which way they will go is something that only a few people know for sure. The Eagles can keep Asomugha and try to resurrect him with a new defensive scheme, and squeeze that very high cap number into the equation for this season. They can try to work out a new deal with Asomugha and reduce his cap charge and hope that the new coaching staff can put him in better position to do what he does best -- cover receivers one on one and forget the zone play that he just did not pick up well in 2011 or 2012.

The other option is to release Asomugha, gain more room within the salary cap and try to fill a starting job from within (Brandon Boykin? Curtis Marsh? Brandon Hughes?), via the draft or in free agency or a trade.

I'm sure many of you believe it is a foregone conclusion that the Eagles will separate themselves from Asomugha and that monster contract, and you could all be right. I'm leaving all options on the table, understanding that many also believed that the Eagles and Michael Vick would part ways early in this offseason. The lesson is that nothing in the NFL seems as it is on the surface, and that teams don't rush into decisions. They consider every option.

No doubt head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis and general manager Howie Roseman have discussed Asomugha at length in their short time together. Good cornerbacks are hard to find in the NFL. The Eagles clearly have to improve their secondary. Asomugha was the player a lot of critics pointed the finger at last season, and there is no denying that he didn't play very well, but nobody in the secondary played very well. The entire defense, for much of the season, was a mess, really.

What to do with Asomugha is a critical part of the team's offseason strategy. Keep him and the Eagles have a starting piece in place that, admittedly, they need to work with to improve. Releasing Asomugha means, no matter how you look at it, that the Eagles have to come up with a starting cornerback in a world that just doesn't produce many of a high caliber. The draft is said to be light on upper-echelon cornerbacks -- the top-rated corner, Alabama's Dee Milliner, for example, has a torn labrum and is a red-flagged injury question mark now -- and few teams in the league are willing to part with quality cover men.

Couple the decision on Asomugha with the call the Eagles must make on pending unrestricted free agent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and you have a sense of just how critical the picture is at cornerback.

Nobody expected the Asomugha story to play out the way it did. A tremendous civic-minded man off the field, Asomugha's skill set just didn't translate into the Eagles' mish-mash of a defensive scheme in 2011 and 2012. Now his Eagles career is at the crossroads, and whatever decision the team makes will have a deep, deep impact on the direction the Eagles must take to shore up the porous secondary for 2013 and seasons to come.

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