By every account, the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes was down to the New York Jets and the Dallas Cowboys. That was it. Then, with the six o'clock opening of free agency looming, reports surfaced that the Jets were out. By process of elimination, Asomugha was headed to "Big D." But no, reports then came that the Cowboys had also been informed that they'd missed out on the premier prize free agency, an in-his-prime All-Pro cornerback considered to be perhaps the league's best at his position. So where was Asomugha headed? Not New York, not Dallas, but rather to a team that had barely been mentioned as a possibility - the Philadelphia Eagles.
Always one to surprise the football universe - remember Michael Vick? - the Eagles swooped in completely under the radar and ponied up for the shock of free agency. The orchestrator of the deal, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, said that the opportunity to acquire one of the most valuable players in the entire league was far too tempting to pass up.
"He's a great player," Roseman said. "We've always had an interest in Nnamdi. He's never really had this opportunity to hit the free agent market. Because of the kind of player he was, Oakland really didn't give him that option. When we found out that there was an opportunity for us potentially to get him and that he really wanted to be here, we just thought it was a situation that we had to explore.
"He's got great size. He has great speed. He's very physical. He's an instinctive guy. Primarily in Oakland, they press, but he can play off. And he's a great character guy. He wants to win. He has a will to win and that's one of the reasons he's here is because he thinks we have a great chance to win. You put all that together and it's quite a package."
Asomugha is in Philadelphia for the long haul, as he's signed to a five-year deal, reportedly worth $60 million with $25 million guaranteed. His addition creates a crowd of Pro Bowlers in the Eagles' defensive secondary, as Asomugha joins the newly acquired Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel.
Cornerback has "always been a priority position for us," said Roseman. "Corners, pass rushers on defense and we felt like last year we were in a situation where maybe we got a little short-handed and we thought that it was a place that we wanted to go heavy in and have a lot of talent at because you can never have enough cover cornerbacks. That helps your pass rush and when you have an opportunity to have the players that we have, we just thought that we had to have those guys."
Roseman then addressed rumors that Samuel would be on the trade market.
"No, I think Andy's said before that we've had that before but really we spent a lot of time on this and making this move and there hasn't been a lot of time for other things," he said. "We've been pretty busy so we're excited to get this move and I think all those questions are for another day."
But for now, the focus is on Asomugha. The Eagles have added a player so feared around the league that he was only targeted 31 times in 14 games in 2010.
"I think we all know about Nnamdi," said head coach Andy Reid, thrilled about the acquisition. "He's one of, if not the best, cornerback in the National Football League. He'll be a great addition to our other two."
So how did the Eagles brass pull one over on the rest of the league?
"Well I think it's a great testament to not only our relationship with CAA and (Asomugha's agent Ben Dogra), but also the people that were in the loop," Roseman said. "It's been a lot of fun. When you put on ESPN at six o'clock and they're still trying to figure out where he is, and this is a big-time player, it's exciting. We had a lot of fun today and in the past few days.
"We've never been shy about exploring all our options whether it's free agents or in the draft, but we're really excited about our team and we'll go from there."
Now, the Eagles are set up for the 2011 season with an offense that has scored a franchise record in points for three straight years, sporting one of the league's best quarterbacks in Michael Vick, with a defense that all of a sudden is looking quite intimidating. The goal is clear; the Eagles are set up for a Super Bowl run.
"I think so," Roseman said when asked if this is a Super Bowl caliber team. "I think it is."