Anyone who saw Nnamdi Asomugha struggle last season understood that he was not close to the player the Eagles thought they were getting when they signed him as part of the 2011 free-agent haul. The Asomugha who played in Oakland and who was named as an All Pro four times and a member of the Pro Bowl team three times was a cover cornerback who quarterbacks left alone. He was, at the height of his career, the very definition of a "shutdown" cornerback.
But in the two seasons in Philadelphia, Asomugha didn't approach that level of performance. There is no need to go into great detail here, for we all saw the struggles of the 2011 and 2012 seasons for Asomugha and for the Eagles defense.
What's important now is to understand what Asomugha's release means as the Eagles look to build their roster and get back into Super Bowl contention. The team is, while not getting into specifics, in a healthy situation with regards to the salary cap. The Eagles have the flexibility to do as they wish in free agency, in the trade market, and during draft weekend. That's the good news.
The challenge, of course, is that the Eagles have a lot of work to do. Asomugha's release, along with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's venture into free agency means the team has a cornerback picture lacking a lot of experience. Among what you might consider "the next three up" on the depth chart, the cornerback position has a total of five NFL starts between Brandon Boykin (four starts as a rookie in the slot last season), Brandon Hughes (one start, in the season finale of 2011 against Dallas) and Curtis Marsh.
Five starts. A lot of questions.
Of course, it's entirely possible that the Eagles will go in a new direction at cornerback with some kind of combination of free agency, the draft, and even a trade or two. They know how difficult it would be with a rebuilding defense to have Boykin, Hughes and Marsh as the top players on the depth chart. There just isn't a lot of grizzled experience to hang your hat on with that trio – a promising threesome, but young, nonetheless.
So this story, and this team's focus, isn't about Asomugha and the decision to release him. It's about how the Eagles go about upgrading cornerback. What is coordinator Bill Davis looking for with his defense? Does he like big, rangy cornerbacks to match up physically with the rest of the wide receiver-deep NFC East, or are height and wingspan not as vital for Davis? In a league that makes it easier and easier for these freakishly talented wide receivers to get open down the field, how do the Eagles counter after a season in which opposing quarterbacks tossed 33 touchdown passes and compiled a passer rating of 99.6?
That's the story to follow, isn't it? We all kind of saw this coming, that the Eagles would part ways with Asomugha and allow Rodgers-Cromartie to test the free-agent waters. As high as the hopes were that they would team up for a great situation at cornerback last season, so was the tremendous disappointment in how the year unfolded. It was obvious that the Eagles needed change.
They still need change. They need more at cornerback, and the team understands that. How they do it, where the help comes from, that's what we're going to focus on moving forward.
So, free agency is here, and the rumor mill is churning. Nothing, however, is imminent. This is the time of year, though, when the winds change direction very quickly, and no news can become big news in a hurry.
What do the Eagles do next? They'll jump into free agency at some point, perhaps soon. They have the dollars to do as they please. The draft is around the corner. The roster is going to take a "Chip Kelly Look" soon enough, and the cornerback positions will certainly be top of mind for this team to rebuild.