WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Asante Samuel trade talk isn't expected to heat up until closer to the draft, but with several prominent teams in need of a starting cornerback it's become clear that there will be a market for the four-time Pro Bowler.
While Howie Roseman stopped short of saying that Samuel was on the trading block, the general manager hinted on Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings that the Eagles' depth at the position has cornerback-needy teams sniffing around.
"We [feel] like corner is a position of strength right now," Roseman said. "But at the same time when you talk to teams around the league, you’re talking about maybe some positions that you have a strength and maybe that they have a weakness. You try to see if that’s a match whether that’s cornerback or anywhere else.”
No one expects the Eagles to deal Nnamdi Asomugha or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, though. Both prefer to press at the line of scrimmage, and the Eagles seem destined to favor this method because of their light-blitzing defensive scheme. The Eagles also still owe Asomugha a large chunk of guaranteed money while Rodgers-Cromartie will make around $7 million less than Samuel is slated to earn.
Samuel's $9.5 million base salary for next season would appear to be a giant obstacle, but the 31-year-old corner would not let a possible restructuring of his contract impede a deal from getting done, a souce close to the situation said.
The Eagles took a number of calls last August from teams interested in acquiring Samuel after the Eagles dealt for Rodgers-Cromartie and signed Asomugha. They even had a trade on the table with the Lions that fell apart late in negotiations. But Roseman declined to say if Samuel had received any recent attention from teams.
“We’ve promised Asante - or really all of our players - that we're going to make sure that we’re giving them all the information and they know about it," Roseman said. "We’ve been in constant communication with him and have apprised him of things that have been going on.”
The Lions still need a corner. The Buccaneers, Chargers, Titans and Browns are some other teams that could be interested in Samuel.
Roseman, in a wide-ranging interview, touched on a number of subjects with free agency slowing down and the draft nearing. Other than re-signing guard Evan Mathis, the Eagles have done very little in free agency. Their big acquisition was trading for linebacker DeMeco Ryans. But they still have a few holes, mostly behind the starters. The could use some depth at running back, safety, linebacker and on both lines.
“Our first goal coming into this off-season was making sure that we re-signed our own players, and then to see if we could get an opportunity to get a difference-maker," Roseman said. "We’re excited about what we’ve done here. That doesn’t mean that we don’t feel like we have other areas that we’re going to look to improve. You talk about specifics examples, some of these areas we’re hoping are addressed with our young players."
Roseman said that second-year running back Dion Lewis could back up LeSean McCoy.
“There’s no question," Roseman said. "This is a heck of a player, really productive in college. ... Every time he touched the ball [last year] you felt like there was a chance for something really positive to happen. You are talking about a position there that you’d like to have more players because obviously running back is a position that you want to have depth at."
Former Colts running back Joseph Addai has been mentioned as a possibility because he ran behind Howard Mudd lines for several seasons in Indianapolis. The Eagles, though, have nine draft picks and could be looking to use a number of late-round selections to address depth.
Here are some other topics Roseman covered during his interview:
-- Roseman didn't come out and say that Mike Kafka was Michael Vick's backup, but it sounded like the third-year quarterback will be given every opportunity to be the guy even with Trent Edwards entering the fold. "I think Andy [Reid] said ... we have high hopes for Mike Kafka to come in and step up. This is his first off-season as a player in Philadelphia. He’s a guy we really liked when we drafted him and we have high expectations for him.”
-- Still, some believe this will be the draft the Eagles expend a high pick on a quarterback so they can start grooming Vick's replacement. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are expected to be the top two picks in the draft. Ryan Tannehill is widely considered the next best and could go in the top ten. The Eagles have the 15th overall pick. After those three there is a group that includes Brandon Weeden, Kirk Cousins, Brock Osweiler, Russell Wilson, Ryan Lindley, B.J. Coleman and Nick Foles.
“It’s a good group after the first two," Roseman said. "What you’ll find is that everyone is going to have them rated differently because all these guys have different skill sets. Some guys are big with strong arms and not real mobile, and then you got some really good athletes, and you got some really tall guys and some really short guys. Very diverse group cast of characters here. I think teams like every other year they’re going to find ones they want and they’re going to want to make sure they get them.”
-- Some mock drafts have the Eagles taking a defensive tackle in the first round. It is considered by many experts to be a position of strength in this year's draft. Roseman agreed. "You might not see the run in the top of the draft like you normally do ... but there are players that we like throughout,” Roseman said.
-- Roseman agreed with the notion that more teams are looking to convert big cornerbacks into safeties. He said the Eagles came to the conclusion that there aren't as many NFL-ready safeties as there were a few years ago. The Eagles have one in Jaiquawn Jarrett, a 2011 second-round pick that struggled to get on the field last season. The lockout didn't help matters.
The Eagles have invested two second round picks at the safety position the last two years (Nate Allen in 2010). Roseman said that wouldn't preclude the team from drafting a safety early. Still, he said that the Eagles believe Jarrett should benefit from a full off-season.
"Obviously we think that guys that haven’t had an off-season are going to take a jump," Roseman said. "It’s hard to play fast and be physical if you’re not fully ingrained in what’s going on on either side of the ball."
-- The Eagles appear set at defensive end with Trent Cole and Jason Babin as the starters and Darryl Tapp, Brandon Graham and Phillip Hunt as the guys off the bench. Graham, coming off knee surgery, is the wild card. “I think we have a good set of defensive ends," Roseman said. "We’re trying to build up depth with good players. I think that’s a separate question than anything about Brandon Graham. We’ve talked about this in the off-season here, we have high expectations for Brandon.”
-- With the acquisition of Ryans, Jamar Chaney is no longer the middle linebacker. Roseman was asked if that meant that he was moving back to strong-side. "He’s a versatile guy," he said. "He really can play all three positions. I don’t think we’ve gotten to that because right now we’re in the talent acquisition phase of the off-season.”
-- Joselio Hanson ended last season as the nickel cornerback after Samuel injured his ankle and Rodgers-Cromartie moved outside. Hanson is still under contract, but Roseman was asked if either Brandon Hughes or Curtis Marsh could play in the slot. "I think Brandon has some experience playing nickel. He got a lot of experience last year in training camp," Roseman said. "Curtis not as much because he was a rookie coming into a quick off-season and I think that you want to make sure that you’re playing to his strengths."