With the draft behind us, all eyes are turning again to free agency (whenever it happens). For months some Eagles fans have been lusting for Nnamdi Asomugha, the most high-profile free agent on the market and one who would fill a glaring need: a cornerback to start opposite Asante Samuel.
But while the Eagles are expected to have money to spend, the question that has to be asked is this: is an All Pro cornerback the right way to spend it when you already have a Pro Bowler in the fold? Do you need two top level corners, or is one star and a strong complement enough, provided you also have talent elsewhere?
Let’s look at the top 10 scoring defenses from the 2010-11 regular season. Here were the starting corner tandems:
1. Steelers: Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden
2. Packers: Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams
3. Ravens: Chris Carr, Josh Wilson/Fabian Washington
4. Bears: Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman
5. Falcons: Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes
6. Jets: Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie
7. Saints: Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter
8. Patriots: Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington
9. Buccaneers: Aqib Talib, Ronde Barber
10. Chargers: Quentin Jammer, Antoine Cason
Only one team – the Packers – had two big-time corners. Some of them (Bears, Ravens, Steelers) had virtual no-names manning both spots (yes, the Ravens just drafted there, but they managed to do well in 2010 anyway). Others (Jets, Falcons, Bucs) have one great corner, and one pretty good one. The point is, they’ve been able to be strong without two stars.
The Packers, of course, are a pretty big exception, considering they won the Super Bowl. But even here, Woodson is less renowned at this point in his career for his shutdown ability and more for his contributions as a blitzer and extra run stuffer. The Packers still start just one lock-down cover guy. And, Woodson and Williams make about $18 million a year combined, on average. Asomugha might get $15 million himself, in addition to Samuel, who has a roughly $6 million base for 2011 (with a couple million in bonuses possible) and a salary that goes up to more than $8 million in 2012.
The point is that while the Eagles absolutely need a better option at right cornerback, it doesn’t have to be one on the level of Asomugha – as exciting as his signing would be. The defense can be strong if Samuel remains at Pro Bowl level and they get a solid complement, and find a way to upgrade the pass rush -- something that would be far harder to do if they tie up big money in Asomugha.
Which doesn’t rule out an Asomugha signing. Maybe the Eagles, who have been known to go in their own direction, think that with two shutdown corners they can have a unique defense that gets the job done differently than those other top teams above. The Jets have been a rumored Asomugha suitor, so maybe they think the same way. Maybe the Eagles have a creative way to get a pass rushing defensive end (Kolb trade?) and still go strong after Asomugha. And, as Domo pointed out yesterday, there might be very few other options in free agency - it might be Asomugha or nothing, unless a corner comes through a trade.
But I think it’s more likely that the Eagles want to both get a corner (or promote Trevard Lindley) and have money left over to improve their front seven, giving Juan Castillo and Jim Washburn the horses they need to get pressure on the quarterback with just four men.
Yes, in a fantasy world, every team would love to have a pair of star corners shutting down any receiver they face – they’d love to have Pro Bowlers at every position. But in a salary cap world, teams have to weigh the benefits of any one signing against what it might prevent them from doing elsewhere.
If signing Asomugha means failing to fix the pass rush, is it worth it? Sitting here in early May, before we know the free agency rules or salary cap structure, I would say no. If that's how the Eagles front office sees it, the question becomes what’s their back up plan? It could make or break their chances in 2011.