What Would a New Contract For DRC Look Like?

I’ve opined before on giving Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie a contract extension, going as far as to call it an offseason priority. With Nnamdi Asomugha aging and only unproven recent draftees behind him, locking up Rodgers-Cromartie would go a long way to preserve continuity in the defensive backfield. Obviously, whether you want to extend him also stems from your impression of him as a player. If you’ve been following along, you know that I think DRC’s stellar play on the outside at the end of 2011 after he languished in the slot for most of the year suggests big things could be in store for him. (And reports out of training camp are stellar so far.)

But unless Howie Roseman is discussing things behind the scenes during training camp, it doesn’t look like he agrees, with either Rodgers-Cromartie’s value or his skill. Let’s go deeper and see what the difference in money might be based on letting DRC play out this contract year. Here’s a table of recent top cornerback contracts given out for players in his age range. Financial details are on the right and on the field stats are on the left (Pro Bowl appearances, games started, yards per attempt, interceptions):

Looking at the finances first, you can see there are different measures for large contracts. The total millions is a nice overall number, although it tends to overstate the “real” value of the deal (with fake years at the end). The yearly figure and guarantee may give a more accurate accounting of the contract.

It’s interesting to look at how the deals were structured and how they turned out. DeAngelo Hall and Dunta Robinson got massive contracts that turned out to be bad for their teams—although you can see why the Redskins and Falcons, respectively, were willing to dish out that kind of dough. For example, Hall was young, even for this group, and already had two Pro Bowl appearances and 22 interceptions.

The following year, Antonio “Headcase” Cromartie received a smaller contract than his number stats warranted because of his off the field problems. Leon Hall got a slightly larger and slightly longer deal. Johnathan Joseph made out like a bandit, with nearly $10 million a year and $24 million guaranteed.

This offseason, Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan both just bested Joseph’s contract. Eric Wright has had an up-and-down career, most recently in Detroit, and he signed a more modest five-year free agent deal. Meanwhile, Lardarius Webb, who had a stellar 2011 season with the Ravens, got the largest total amount. That figure is inflated by an extra year though; as you can see the guarantee is less than some of his peers.

So, where does Rodgers-Cromartie fit in? At 26 years old, he has fewer games started than anyone other than Webb, although his other stats are better than average. He has a low yards per attempt figure and a high interception rate. Even with his atrocious play in the slot last season, 2011 was much more in line with his first two seasons in the league. DRC’s 2010 letdown that prompted him to be traded might have been an outlier.

The question becomes what Rodgers-Cromartie would command in today’s market. Given his perceived inconsistency, lack of physicality, and a deficit of experience compare to his peers, DRC probably wouldn’t be in line for a Carr or Cortland-sized contract. Wright’s deal this year and Hall’s in 2011 look like better comparables: perhaps 5 years, $40 million, $16 million guaranteed.

Let’s say though, that Rodgers-Cromartie plays out this season, putting up his career averages, and enters the market in 2012. At that point, with 60 games started, 7.2 yards per attempt against, and 16 or so interceptions, he could make the case that he’s better than Carr or Finnegan. DRC would probably received $25 million guaranteed and upwards of $10 million per year on the open market—a substantial upgrade from his current value.

By not re-signing his second cornerback now, Roseman risks the price going up next year. He may be making one of a few calculated bets, though. Perhaps he thinks DRC simply isn’t worth a long term contract. He’s betting that Rodger-Cromartie will show that he’s not worth top money. Or Howie’s looking at the other backups and assuming that someone like Curtis Marsh will be able to slide in a year from now. Or maybe Roseman is willing to use the franchise tag (at enormous one-year cost) as necessary to keep DRC on hand in 2013.

Looking at the state of the defensive backfield and the market for cornerbacks as it stands now, I would buy into DRC long term. The potential rewards, both financially and on the field, are great, and the downside to not paying him could be severe next offseason. Get it done.

Photo from Getty.

Anticipating the Impact of Todd Bowles

Todd Bowles is 6’2”, 203 lbs. Well, at least he was that big when he played in the NFL as a free safety for eight years.

Normally, the height and weight of a coach wouldn’t matter much. But in the case of Bowles, we can draw a clear line between his frame and his personnel preferences as a secondary coach.

As you can see at right, teams where Bowles has been the secondary coach consistently draft tall defensive backs (the same way Jim Washburn only picked tall defensive ends). In fact, he’s only drafted one defensive back under six feet since 2003, and that was in the seventh round. Clearly, Bowles’s preference is for bigger, more physical players. He probably would not, for example, have endorsed the selections of Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard, two 5’10” corners.

More relevant: Asante Samuel is not the type of cornerback Bowles had in mind as his prototypical starter. As I’ve mentioned before, the Samuel trade was about ego, a broken locker room, and justifying the 2011 personnel decisions — not on-the-field performance or the salary cap. But I doubt Bowles was campaigning for Samuel to stick around.

Instead, he’s probably quite content with his starters at cornerback for 2012. Nnamdi Asomugha is 6’2”, 210 lbs and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is 6’2”, 182 lbs. Hopefully Bowles can help mold a solid defensive backfield around the two of them. Curtis Marsh also stands to gain quite a lot from the Bowles hire, since his athletic 6’1”, 197 lbs frame would be perfect for his new coach’s system.

On the other hand, Kurt Coleman probably shouldn’t get too comfortable as a starter. I’ve discussed his athletic limitations before, but Bowles may be particularly keen to find someone with a higher ceiling. The counter-example of course, is 5’9” Brandon Boykin, whose selection Bowles must have approved. But perhaps he is willing to make an exception for the physical slot corner, regardless of his size, given the value he presented in the fourth round.

Alright, you’re probably saying, this is fun roster speculation and all, but what does it really mean? I’ll admit, not much right now. We already knew who the likely starters were and presumably Bowles will play whomever is the best in practice, not go simply by their official measurements. The more important question remains: is Bowles really a great coach? Every reporter hailed the addition as brilliant, but I’m less impressed by the fossil record:

Photo from Getty.

Relive Victor Cruz Torching Nnamdi Asomugha

Matt Bowen identifies the offensive concepts and corresponding coverage in Victor Cruz’s 28-yard touchdown reception in the Giants’ week three win over the Eagles. It’s informative, although he oddly doesn’t come to any real conclusions besides that it was a great play by Cruz:

The way I see it, Giants QB Eli Manning puts this ball up for his WR to go make the play. As I said above, this is the right call from a defensive perspective and the Eagles are in the proper position to steal one. However, Cruz attacks the ball and plays the pass at the highest point.

It might be the right defensive call in the abstract. But when you have Nnamdi Asomugha, one of the best man-cover corners in the NFL, and you put him in zone coverage (sharing responsibility with walking liability Jarrad Page), it seems suboptimal. Of course, Asomugha sure didn’t show that he understands the concept of “ball skills” either.

Post-Draft Position Breakdown: Cornerback

Nnamdi Asomugha

What the Eagles did: Cornerback was a mess last year. We’ve been over that. You can’t just throw three Pro Bowlers with different styles together and expect things to work out of the box. Thus, the inevitable happened: Asante Samuel was shipped out of town.

What the loss of Samuel means to this defense is tough to gauge. On one hand, he’s still a great cornerback. While his interceptions were down in 2011, other stats showed that Asante was as good as ever. On the other hand, his limited style of play clearly forced running mates Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie into suboptimal positions. Asomugha has historically shined when he locks on one of the opposing wide receivers, and Rodgers-Cromartie’s closing speed makes him a better fit on the outside.

Now they can play the way they want, and it’s up to new secondary coach Todd Bowles to make them comfortable. So far the talk has been that the coverages are simpler, which should be a relief to fans. The numbers (re-posted below) show that Nnamdi and DRC can both be very effective starters — as long as they’re playing in the right spots.

Nnamdi Asomugha Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie 2011 Coverage Stats

Another downside to losing Samuel, however, is that the depth behind the Eagles two starters is relatively murky. Who are the backups on the outside if either player gets hurt? Curtis Marsh, second-year player out of Utah State, is athletically gifted, but is a relative newcomer to the cornerback position. He played a grand total of 13 snaps last season, and still needs to shed the “project” label. Brandon Hughes is entering his fourth year, but hasn’t proven he can even be Dimitri Patterson yet. Then you have a wasted 2010 fourth-round pick in Trevard Lindley, as well as undrafted free agent and apparent head case Cliff Harris.

Inside, in the slot, we have an interesting battle shaping up. Joselio Hanson, the designated nickel corner in this defense since 2007, I believe, was cut last year before being re-signed at a lower price. Clearly the Eagles think he’s replaceable. And they brought in his replacement, or at least heir apparant, in Brandon Boykin, the fourth-round pick. Boykin has all the physical skills except height going for him, and he already gained some experience in the slot at Georgia.

What I would have done: The way Howie Roseman handled the Samuel trade situation was appalling. A player of that caliber should have been worth more than a seventh-round pick, but by the time he pulled the trigger the Eagles had no leverage. That said, he had backed himself into a corner (haha). Trading Samuel was the only possible solution to a problem Roseman created in the first place.

Way-too-early prediction: Based on Rodgers-Cromartie’s stats above, I’m optimisic that he will be a solid outside cornerback this year. Actually, it seems prudent to lock up DRC at this point in order to grab a little bit of discount. And I’m only slightly worried about Asomugha losing a step in 2012. He should still have at least another good year or two left in the tank.

The slot battle is Boykin’s to lose, and I doubt he will. After that, it would be nice to see one of the other young corners step up. Bowles coached bigger, athletic corners in Miami. Hopefully he can use that experience to mold Marsh into an NFL player.

Photo from Getty.

Asante Samuel, Secondary Coach

Les Bowen:

Asomugha said he isn’t sure the corners will play strictly man, but he does think that if they play zone, it will be a type of zone most players are familiar with.

"There were more unique types of coverages that we were doing last year," Asomugha said, struggling to put it diplomatically. Remember, he is the guy who told us toward the end of last season that one of the struggles the Eagles went through was Castillo learning what could actually work in the NFL. Now, Asomugha said, "even if you came from college or from a different team, there are similarities with the stuff we’re doing now that you might have done there, whereas last year, there weren’t many."

Just how screwed up were the coverages last year that a three-time Pro Bowler had trouble mastering them?

On a related note, from Jeff McLane:

"And Asante would basically be my coach and Dominique [Rodgers-Cromartie’s] coach throughout the week," Asomugha said. "There were certain things that I would be like, ‘Oh, OK, so we’re going to play this way,’ and it was the way that he would play it, which is a softer-type of reading game. And he’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s not easy.’ "

Is Trading Asante Samuel the Right Move?

Asante Samuel

Everyone knows an Asante Samuel trade will happen some time in the next few weeks, if not days. Andy Reid and Howie Roseman barely even provide us real denials any more. But let’s not kid ourselves here. The Samuel trade was inevitable as soon as the Eagles signed Nnamdi Asomugha last August.

With two massive salaries at the cornerback position, and another starting-caliber player in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, this was never fated to last. In fact, it’s amazing the three players lasted this long. If not for some stubbornness on Howie Roseman’s behalf regarding compensation for Samuel, the live-wire cornerback could easily have watched the Eagles founder in 2011 from a safe distance.

That said, there has been a significant undercurrent of opinion since last summer that argues that the Eagles shouldn’t trade Samuel. That cause got a boost yesterday, when Aaron Schatz at Football Outsiders released their 2011 cornerback charting stats, including the numbers for the Eagles top four corners:

Football Outsiders Eagles Cornerback Data

If you read the entire post, you can see that Asante not only ranks at the top of Eagles corners, but one of the best in the NFL last season. Passes that go his way just don’t end up with a lot of yardage, something that was also true last year.

But statistics are never that simple; the matter of targets complicated things. The Football Outsiders data also shows that Samuel was targeted nearly twice as much as Asomugha. As Sheil Kapdia wrote today, Pro Football Focus has similar findings. Clearly, opponents would rather pick on Samuel than his counterpart.

At this point, you’re looking at statistics that come to opposite conclusions: do you want the guy who is rarely targeted but gives up more yardage, or the guy who’s targeted often but doesn’t give up big plays?

Regardless, keeping both certainly didn’t work. It made everyone worse, because Roseman and company didn’t see realize how different each of the three players are, and how much Juan Castillo was incapable of finding any arrangement that made them all happy. It was a mess.

The right move was probably to not sign Asomugha in the first place, but that’s over with now. At this point, trading Samuel isn’t necessary the right move, but it is the only move. It’s unclear which corner — Nnamdi or Asante — is the better player, but they can’t coexist (at least with Castillo as coordinator). Time to get what you can for Samuel and hope that Asomugha can stave off his decline, and DRC can live up to his potential playing on the outside.

We’ll miss the self-proclaimed Pres, but there’s really no other choice.

Photo from Getty.

Priority: Lock Up Rodgers-Cromartie Long Term

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Looking at the Eagles roster as it stands now, cornerback sticks out as a position in flux.

There are eight players signed. Three of those — Nnamdi Asomugha, Joselio Hanson, and Asante Samuel — have crossed the 30-year-old mark, so their football clocks are ticking. Samuel, as discussed yesterday, likely won’t be around in a few months anyway. There’s also a quartet of unproven youngsters who Eagles fans have varying degrees of hope for — Brandon Hughes, Curtis Marsh, Trevard Lindley, and DJ Johnson.

Then there’s DRC. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is the soon-to-be 26-year-old cornerback whom the Eagles received as part of the Kevin Kolb trade. A former first round pick and one-time Pro Bowl selection, Rodgers-Cromartie was supposed to pair with Asomugha and Samuel to make a fearsome trio of starting corners. Things didn’t work out as planned, partially because the young newcomer struggled in his new role as nickel corner.

I posted Rodgers-Cromartie’s 2011 outside/slot split before, but it’s worth another look:

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie 2011 Coverage Stats

Once again, Rodgers-Cromartie was one of the worst cornerbacks in the NFL when playing in the slot, and one of the best when playing his natural position outside. That was part of the problem in 2011, but with Samuel headed out the door, DRC has the potential to be one of the best players on the Eagles defense. That’s only potential, of course, and his inconsistent play was one of the major reasons the Cardinals were willing to part with him a year ago.

More important, however, are two factors: his age and contract status. Rodgers-Cromartie is the only proven cornerback on the Eagles roster who still has at least half a decade of NFL playing time ahead of him. If he can maintain a high level of play as a starter, he could be not only an answer for 2012, but also a long term solution to pick up the slack when Asomugha begins to fade.

The problem is, Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t signed past this upcoming season. If the Eagles let him play out his contract and he does well, they will have to franchise tag him or compete with other teams on the open market. The alternative, of course, is that they could extend him this offseason — and perhaps pick up a discount in the aftermath of DRC’s sub par 2011.

There’s a long list on Howie Roseman’s desk of Eagles players deserving new contracts and Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t at the top. Still, for the sake of the vital cornerback position, extending him this offseason should be a priority.

Photo from Getty.

The Mess of Pro Bowl Cornerbacks

Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

It’s quite a feat to turn a strength into a weakness. That’s what Juan Castillo and Johnnie Lynn managed to do to the Eagles’ elite trio of cornerbacks.

Coming into the season, the three Pro Bowlers were supposed to be an asset that covered up the Eagles inexperience at safety and linebacker. Instead, we were frequently left to wonder if the coaches had any plan to use them effectively at all. The biggest problem was that through most of the season no one figured out how to play Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie all in the same lineup.

After they decided not to trade Samuel, the Eagles assumed that Rodgers-Cromartie could man the slot, a position he was uncomfortable with from the start. In yet another example of poor self-scouting, that turned out to be an awful idea.

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus, here are Asomugha’s and Rodgers-Cromartie’s stats at the two positions (Samuel played almost exclusively outside):

Nnamdi Asomugha Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie 2011 Coverage Stats

Starting with Asomugha, it’s worth noting that by these metrics he was stellar. Among cornerbacks with at least 25 percent of snaps, Nnamdi ranked first overall in coverage snaps per target, sixth in yards per snap, and second in snaps per reception. Each figure was down from 2010, as he was targeted more often, but they were all still elite.

Regardless, Asomugha provided similar performance no matter where he lined up. He had slightly more targets in the slot, but didn’t allow anything big.

Contrast that with Rodgers-Cromartie, who posted a massive split playing in two different positions. Out of the 44 corners last year with 25 percent or more slot snaps, he ranked 39th in snaps per target, 44th in yards per snap, and 41st in snaps per reception. That is awful. He was arguably the worst slot corner in the NFL.

Put Rodgers-Cromartie outside, and everything changes. In fact, DRC’s numbers on the outside were even better than Asomugha’s. As bad as he was on the inside, Rodgers-Cromartie was one of the best corners in the league when he was playing at his natural position.

Toward the end of the season Rodgers-Cromartie began to get more snaps outside. Partially that was to replace an injured Samuel, but even before that Asomugha would often play the slot in nickel and dime. Clearly, that was a much better defensive formation than what they had going on earlier — and that it took so long to implement is another black mark against Castillo.

Looking forward, I expect Samuel to be traded, freeing up space for DRC to play outside all the time. While Asante is still a great cornerback, playing to everyone’s strengths will be easier next year. The cornerbacks might actually be the fool-proof strength we all expected six months ago.

Photo from Getty.

Mirror Image in Houston

Sheil Kapadia, with a great counter-example to the Eagles lockout/offseason change excuse:

It’s hard to look at the Texans’ defense and not think of the Eagles. Both teams brought on new defensive coordinators in the offseason. The Eagles went with Juan Castillo, who had never done it before. The Texans went with Wade Phillips, who had been a head coach or defensive coordinator for the previous 29 seasons. Both teams added free-agent cornerbacks. The Eagles signed Nnamdi Asomugha, who didn’t meet expectations in his first season here. And the Texans added Johnathan Joseph, who was named a second-team All Pro. But maybe most importantly, Houston got immediate contributions from rookies J.J. Watt (1st round, 11th overall) and Brooks Reed (2nd round, 42nd overall). The pair combined for 11.5 sacks. The Eagles have drafted 14 defensive players in the past two seasons, and I wouldn’t be comfortable saying any of them (except maybe Briain Rolle) played at an above-average level in 2011. New coordinator, new personnel, shortened offseason, young contributors, and the Texans improved dramatically on defense.

Roseman Rejected 2nd Round Pick for Samuel

Jeff McLane wrote a massive 2,000 word blog post that highlights all the poor moves Howie Roseman has made over the last two years, while still maintaining Roseman should get more time to prove himself. It’s a convoluted bit of logic, but buried deep within is this scoop:

And tick off Asante Samuel the Eagles did. They should have just traded Samuel when they had the chance during training camp. Roseman, at one point, had a deal to send Samuel to the Lions for a second-round pick, two sources close to the situation said. Roseman even went so far as to have the Lions call Samuel. But he wanted a first round pick instead and called off the deal.

If true, this is rather damning for Roseman. By all accounts he spearheaded the trade for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and the free agent signing of Nnamdi Asomugha. Then in one fell swoop Roseman torpedoed any chance the Eagles had for harmonious secondary and rejected what would have been great compensation for Samuel, a year before he ends up trading the cornerback anyway for pennies on the dollar.

(Via Noah Becker)

Video: From the Eagles Locker Room

Pieced together some of the best quotes and strangest responses from the Eagles locker room after yesterday’s 34-10 victory over the Redskins. Enjoy responsibly.

Asomugha: We're Teaching Castillo

Ryan Messick, at Philly Sports Report:

“We talk to [Castillo] a lot because we, especially the older guys, like myself and Asante, we’ve been in the league, you know, and we kind of know what goes on with defenses and what call is good and not good at any particular time,” said Asomugha. “So we talk to him a lot but he goes out there and he still has his game plan and he makes all the calls and he’s got a better feel of when to call what.

“Obviously we’re going to keep talking to him, because this is his first year, so you’ve got to keep talking to him, but he’s doing a good job, he’s getting it on his own.”

That is the most damning, condescending praise I’ve ever heard.

What’s Wrong With Nnamdi Asomugha?

Nnamdi Asomugha Eagles

While re-watching the Eagles win over the Dolphins, it was hard to miss another poor showing by Nnamdi Asomugha. The $60 million cornerback isn’t shutting down many wide receivers these days.

On Sunday, Brandon Marshall got by Asomugha for an early touchdown, and later Brian Hartline (!) beat him for a 24-yard gain. Those two plays were the only ones where Asomugha’s receiver was targeted, but they were both successful.

It’s tough to tell exactly what’s wrong with Asomugha. While adjusting to Juan Castillo’s questionable schemes, he deserved the benefit of the doubt. But at this point it’s clear that something else is going on. He’s 30 years old and may have lost a step or two. But I rarely see Asomugha getting simply outrun or otherwise beaten physically. In fact, he stuck with Larry Fitzgerald as well as anyone during the Cardinals game.

Instead, I have a new theory, one that I arrived at after replaying the Marshall touchdown nearly a dozen times.

On that play, Asomugha actually had solid coverage. Nate Allen provided help over the top, and Asomugha kept pace with Marshall, mirroring his movements underneath as he broke outside in the end zone. Then the ball arrived, and… nothing.

It was a great pass by Matt Moore, but Asomugha was in fair position to break it up. Instead, he seemed surprised that the ball arrived. He gave a half-hearted flail and the ball sailed right into Marshall’s arms.

Asomugha’s cross-field running mate, Asante Samuel, gets beat more often than Eagles fans would like. He stares into the backfield and tries to jump pass routes. But regardless of Samuel’s deficiencies, one gets the sense that he expects the ball to come his way. Not only that, but he welcomes it, he wants it. Sometimes Samuel will make a mistake and allow a needless big play, but he’s confident that if the quarterback looks his way enough, he’ll make him pay.

Watching the Marshall touchdown again, and reflecting on Asomugha’s performance this season, I think Nnamdi’s biggest problem might be that he has the opposite attitude. He doesn’t expect passes to come his way, and he doesn’t really want them.

The most effective tool Asomugha had was his aura of invincibility. Other than the 2006 season, he never had more than one interception in any of his first eight years in the league — not because he was bad, but because quarterbacks never threw at him. In the last three seasons combined Asomugha only allowed one touchdown, while never being targeted more than 30 times a year.

This year, he’s on pace for 43 targets, a 45 percent bump from 2010. This wasn’t unexpected, considering Samuel is better than any of the corners Asomugha played with in Oakland. But Asomguha’s corresponding decline was surprising.

In short, I don’t think Asomugha has suddenly become a bad cornerback. Although his advancing age and new responsibilities don’t help matters, perhaps his biggest obstacle is mental. In the last few years with Oakland, Nnamdi surely realized that as long as he gave reasonably good coverage, his reputation will keep quarterbacks from testing him.

That’s simply no longer the case. And until Asomugha adjusts to the new reality, both expecting and welcoming the challenge of passes thrown his way, he’ll continue to be a coverage liability.

Photo from Getty.

Who Would Have Thought

Sheil Kapadia, at Moving the Chains:

The Eagles have given up 22 passing touchdowns, tied for second-most. And opposing QBs have a 91.4 rating. That’s a worse mark than last year (80.8). Who would have thought that they would replace Dimitri Patterson with Nnamdi Asomugha, add Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, improve the defensive line, blitz less and still be an easier team to pass against than they were in 2010?

That pretty much sums it up.