Eagles face questions at cornerback

Nnamdi Asomugha, left, and Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie late in fourth quarter against the Redskins Nov. 18. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

Here is the eighth in a series of looks at the Eagles roster:

Today: Cornerbacks

On the roster: Besides quarterback, cornerback will be the position that receives the most offseason debate for the Eagles. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are big names, but both were inconsistent in their two years in Philadelphia. They’re talented, though, and the decision on their future will have major cap ramifications.

Rodgers-Cromartie is an unrestricted free agent. In order to keep him, the Eagles will need to pay big money. Despite Rodgers-Cromartie’s shortcomings, he’s big, fast, has ball skills and will be 27 next season. There’s more demand than supply for players with that profile. The Eagles could also place the franchise tag on him, which will keep him for more than $10 million. That won’t require a long-term commitment, but it’s a significant salary commitment.

Asomugha is more perplexing. Two years ago, he had the reputation for being one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks. That hasn’t been the case. He’s due $15 million next season, with $4 million guaranteed. So the Eagles could keep him — perhaps even at a reduced figure — or eat $4 million and release him. That would only happen if they don’t think they can salvage Asomugha, who will be 32 next season.

If the coaching staff believes both players just need a scheme change or a fresh start in Philadelphia and could play to their reputation, the Eagles won’t need to shake up the position. But it’s also conceivable to let both walk and restart.

Brandon Boykin is promising but likely will remain a nickel cornerback. The trend in the NFL is for taller cornerbacks on the outside, and Boykin will not get taller. But he’s a valuable player who has good coverage skills. Brandon Hughes is a good special teams player but is likely not an answer on defense. Curtis Marsh offers size and athleticism, and the Eagles would like him to fulfill the promise they saw when they invested a third-round pick. That hasn’t happened yet.

Chris Hawkins, Trevard Lindley and Eddie Whitley are roster bodies that will try to impress the new coaches.

Not on the roster: This could go in a handful of directions based on whether the Eagles need starters. Start with the draft, where at No. 4, the Eagles could go with Alabama’s Dee Milliner. He’s the type of rare prospect at that position who has size and strong coverage skills.
Mississippi State’s Jonathan Banks and Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes will also be early picks with the type of size on the outside that has become a trend in the NFL. If the Eagles go with a project later in the draft, former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu has outstanding return skills — and also significant off-the-field baggage.

In free agency, New England’s Aqib Talib and Miami’s Sean Smith will be names to watch if the Eagles go in that direction. Darrelle Revis will be a big name via trade, although the Eagles would be wise to go younger at this position.

Coming tomorrow: Safties