The top free agent on the Eagles is Dominqiue Rodgers-Cromartie. The Eagles did not use the franchise tag on Rodgers-Cromartie, and there's a wideheld perception that the team will move on from Rodgers-Cromartie. If that's the case, few will question the decision. Rodgers-Cromartie has been wildly inconsistent in his two seasons in Philadelphia, and as part of the high-profile acquisitions of 2011, he's one of the faces of the team's recent struggles.
But consider the very nature of free agency. It's rare that an elite player hits the market. In most cases, a free agent has some type of shortcoming that prompts a change in teams (production, system fit, age, money, etc.) -- and his current team is willing to live without him for a different player at a different price.
While there are solid cornerbacks on the market -- Sean Smith and Aqib Talib will be two of the top targets -- there is no unquestioned Pro Bowl-caliber player. And frankly, the last time one hit the market at that position (Nnamdi Asomugha), it did not work out so well.
With that said, it's worth reconsidering Rodgers-Cromartie. There will undoubtedly be a market for him. He's 6-foot-2 and 182 pounds with top-end speed that included a 4.33 40-yard dash at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine. In terms of size/speed, it's hard to find many players who fit the prototype better than Rodgers-Cromartie.
Then look at production. He was a Pro Bowler in 2009 who has 16 career interceptions, including four touchdowns. He only had three interceptions during his two seasons with the Eagles, and two came in the same game (Sept. 9), which should be a concern. But there's also film of demonstrated production.
That's where the inconsistency comes into play. Depending upon which game one watches, you can see a prototype Pro Bowl cornerback, or a head-scratching underachiever. Of course, the same could be said other players on the market.
Then look at age. Rodgers-Cromartie will be 27 next season. That's a fertle age for a football player, right amid his prime. You can sign him to a four or five year deal, and get three strong years out of him. He has only missed three games in his career, so he does not have an injury history that raises an alarm. He enjoys Philadelphia and the Eagles organization, which is another plus.
The key for the team is to determine whether the past two seasons was an indication of the type of player Rodgers-Cromartie truly is, or whether that potential can still be maximized. He has warts, no doubts, but so do the other cornerbacks on the market. If he's going to flash his potential for a few games each season and struggle during the other games, that's not worth the price tag. But if the whole package can come together, then it is.
The Eagles can move on him from him and aggressively pursue Smith or Talib or Keenan Lewis or Derek Cox or Antoine Cason, but it's entirely conceivable that Rodgers-Cromartie can become the best cornerback from this class. In that respect, it's worth determining whether a new coaching staff and scheme -- a fresh start without a new address -- can benefit him. In fact, Rodgers-Cromartie's defensive coordinator during his Pro Bowl was Bill Davis, who is now the Eagles defensive coordinator. Perhaps Davis can maximize Rodgers-Cromartie's talent and find a way to rediscover that 2009 form.
When I was discussing Rodgers-Cromartie with the other cornerbacks on the Eagles roster, one thing Brandon Hughes told me really stuck out:
"He can be a Hall of Famer. I tell him that every day," Hughes said. "You don't get too many guys that can cut, break, quick as a cat, with ball skills. He can press you, he can play off. . . . He really doesn't lack a skill that you need to be successful at corner."
Those skills are not always applied, which is the trickiest issue. But someone who has those skills will be in demand.Maybe another team offers a Rodgers-Cromartie a deal that is too rich for the Eagles, or maybe the Eagles simply want to move on. Both would make sense. But if Rodgers-Cromartie fulfills his potential elsewhere, the Eagles will be left wondering what might have been.