The free agency signing period is scheduled to get under way on March 4. But it's probably going to be delayed a bit, maybe a long bit, by a lockout as the players and owners continue to stick out their tongues at each other.
When it eventually does commence, there are likely to be as many as 500 unrestricted free agents on the market, including a lot of really, really good ones.
Right at or near the top of the list of most coveted players will be Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Asomugha, a four-time Pro Bowler, is considered one of the league's top two or three corners. He signed a 3-year, $45.3 million contract with the Raiders before the 2009 season, $28.5 million of which he already has pocketed.
This week, the final year of his contract was voided because he didn't reach "likely to be met" incentives. There also was a stipulation in Asomugha's contract that the Raiders can't use the franchise tag on him if the contract is voided.
So, one of the best corners in the league is going to be completely free to sign with whoever he damn well pleases, and there figures to be quite a few suitors lining up to bid for his services.
Which brings us to the Eagles.
With the likelihood that they're going to be franchising Michael Vick and writing him a check for $20-plus million this season, and with the likelihood that they're going to be writing another hefty check to make DeSean Jackson happy, and with Asante Samuel already one of the highest-paid corners in the game, can they afford to empty the Brinks truck to bring the 29-year-old Asomugha to town?
Perhaps a better question might be, can they afford not to?
In case you didn't notice, the Eagles had some major problems defending the pass this year. OK, and last year, too.
They gave up a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes. Their pass rush faded into oblivion in the second half of the season, as they registered just 15 sacks in the last eight games. Andy Reid is considering putting Trent Cole's and Juqua Parker's pictures on milk cartons.
They had the league's worst red-zone defense in nearly a quarter century, mainly because opponents made mincemeat of them through the air inside the 20, completing 65 percent of their passes and throwing 22 touchdowns. In Sunday's loss to the Packers, Aaron Rodgers was 5-for-5 with three TD tosses in the red zone.
And this was with Samuel, a four-time Pro Bowler, at one of the corners. This was despite 23 interceptions, including seven by Samuel.
Asomugha would cost the Eagles a fortune. Add the amount it would take to sign him to what Samuel already makes and you could ... well, you could buy a newspaper. Two of them, actually.
You also would have the best damn cornerback tandem in the league, even if one of the two doesn't like to tackle much.
Samuel is the league's best ballhawk. Has 36 interceptions in the last 5 years.
Asomugha only has 11 career interceptions in eight seasons. But that's mainly because quarterbacks stay away from his side of the field. He is a true shutdown corner. He was targeted just 33 times this season and gave up only 13 completions for 205 yards. I repeat, 13 completions.
Asomugha also happens to be 6-2, which would give the Eagles' undersized corps a guy to match up with against the league's taller wideouts.
Samuel was targeted just 45 times and gave up 20 completions for 194 yards and only one touchdown. Nickel corner Joselio Hanson also played pretty well. He was targeted 53 times and gave up 30 completions, but held opponents to 7.5 yards per catch.
The main problem was at right corner. Before suffering a season-ending neck injury in Week 11, Ellis Hobbs was targeted 41 times and gave up 19 completions for 283 yards (14.9 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. His replacement, Dimitri Patterson, was targeted 77 times and gave up 44 completions for 620 yards (14.1) and five touchdowns.
Now, obviously, right cornerback wasn't the only problem with the Eagles' pass defense this year. Eleven of those 31 touchdown passes they gave up this season were to tight ends, which generally are covered by either a linebacker or a safety.
Still, the prospect of opening next season with Samuel at one corner and Asomugha at the other has got to be pretty enticing to Reid and Sean McDermott. And pretty scary to the rest of the NFC East.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
-- Job 1 for Pat Shurmur, now that he's been hired as the Browns' new head coach, is putting together a staff. One name that has been mentioned as a possible offensive coordinator candidate is Eagles offensive line coach Juan Castillo. Castillo and Shurmur worked together for 10 years on Andy Reid's staff. Reid has a "hands-off" rule with former assistants who get hired as head coaches. Neither Brad Childress nor John Harbaugh was allowed to take Eagles assistants with them when they got head jobs in Minnesota and Baltimore. But Shurmur has spent the last 2 years in St. Louis. So, the "hands-off" rule probably wouldn't apply. Plus, while Reid would hate to lose a guy who may be the most indispensable assistant on his staff aside from his coordinators, it's not likely he'd stand in the way of Castillo getting an opportunity to be a coordinator. That said, two Eagles sources said yesterday that neither Shurmur nor the Browns have yet called to request permission to talk with Castillo.
-- This is why Bill Belichick is the smartest man in football. Not only has he won three Super Bowls, not only is his team favored to win a fourth this year, but the Patriots also are absolutely stacked going into the April draft. They've got six picks in the first three rounds, including - are you ready for this? - three of the first 33 picks in the draft. They've got two first-round picks - theirs and the Raiders' (No. 17), which they got in the Richard Seymour deal, as well as Carolina's second-round pick, which is the first one in that round. Giving Bill Belichick three of the first 33 picks should be illegal.
-- Shurmur's hiring in Cleveland, along with Ron Rivera's hiring in Carolina, expands Reid's coaching tree to five branches. Four of those branches, though - Rivera, John Harbaugh (Baltimore), Steve Spagnuolo (St. Louis) and Leslie Frazier (Minnesota) - were defensive guys who studied under the late Jim Johnson.
-- If there's a lockout, everything in the NFL will stop. Everything, that is, except the April draft, which will be held regardless of the labor situation. But while teams would be able to draft players, they wouldn't be able to sign them. They also wouldn't be able to sign undrafted players. If the lockout lingers well into the summer, there is going to be absolute chaos when a deal finally is reached. "Just think about it," said one NFL club executive. "You'd have all the players you drafted who still wouldn't have contracts. And you may have a new rookie system, so you'd have to adapt to that. Then there's all the undrafted players you'd have to run out and sign. Then, you'd essentially have two classes of free agents - this year's and the guys who were stuck in limbo as restricted free agents last year because of the uncapped year. On top of all that, you've got players on rosters who think they deserve an extension and really don't want to go and risk their health until they get it [paging DeSean Jackson, paging DeSean Jackson]. It will be a crazy few weeks if it does go that way."
FROM THE LIP
-- "I've been called worse. [Bill] Belichick has called me that, our offensive coordinator has called me that. I know that they like me, so maybe he really likes me, too."
- Patriots QB Tom Brady, on being called an a-hole by Jets CB Antonio Cromartie
-- "We're not apologizing for anything. Did we vote him to be the starting quarterback in the Pro Bowl? Yes we did. Did we vote him to win the NFL player of the year? Yeah, we did. So, there's plenty of respect. But we don't have to be all lovey-dovey and say he's the greatest thing since sliced bread. We have a right to our opinion and a comment like that. It's no big deal. It's a guy [making] a comment, no big deal."
- Jets coach Rex Ryan, on Cromartie calling Brady an a-hole
-- "I don't really ever make any comparisons between myself and other coaches, or really comparing anything, but I hope to be very underestimated. I've always found that to be a wonderful competitive advantage and try to cling to that advantage as long as I can."
- New 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, on the difficulty many other college coaches have had making the transition to the NFL
BY THE NUMBERS
-- The Eagles scored on their first possession just twice in their last eight games (including Sunday's playoff loss), after doing it five times in the first nine games. They averaged 11.3 yards per play on their first possession in the first nine games, just 5.3 in the last eight.
-- Seven of the eight teams still alive in the playoffs finished in the top eight in points allowed this season. The only survivor that didn't is Seattle (25th with 407 points allowed).
-- Since the NFL went to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, the NFC's No. 1 seed is 18-2 in the divisional round of the playoffs. The AFC's top seed is 12-8.
-- Ex-Eagles Jason Babin and Chris Clemons had 7 1/2 more sacks (23 1/2) this season than Trent Cole and Juqua Parker (16).
-- This is the sixth time since 1970 that all four divisional playoff games are rematches of regular-season contests. The other five times: 1991, 1997, 2004, 2005 and 2008.
-- Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has seven TD passes in his first two career postseason starts, including three last week vs. the Eagles. It's the most in league history.
-- The Saints' Drew Brees became the 12th quarterback with a 400-yard passing performance last week when he threw for 404 yards in his team's 41-36 loss to Seattle. The collective record of those 12 quarterbacks when they threw for 400: 3-9.
To former Eagles assistant Pat Shurmur, who was hired yesterday as the Browns' new head coach. Shurmur, 45, is a smart guy who is deserving of the opportunity to run his own ship. He did an excellent job as Andy Reid's quarterbacks coach. Did an excellent job as the Rams' offensive coordinator developing NFL offensive rookie of the year Sam Bradford. With club president Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert and now Shurmur, the Browns are headed in the right direction and have a chance to be a playoff team in '11.
To Raiders owner Al Davis, not so much for firing Tom Cable, but for doing it in the wrong year. Last year, Cable broke an assistant coach's jaw and teeth in an unprovoked attack. Then, two women - his ex-wife and his ex-girlfriend - both accused him of physically abusing them. Yet, Davis wasn't inclined to show him the door. Then, this year, Cable goes out and does the best coaching job of his life, guiding the Raiders to an 8-8 record that included a six-game sweep of the rest of the AFC West, and outscoring the rest of the division by 108 points, and Davis decides to can him. Makes perfect sense to me. I don't know why everybody else thinks the guy has lost his mind.