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.

'I Love You, Too'

Tim McManus, from the Michael Vick “V7” clothing line unveil:

Judging by the fan reception, the feeling is mutual. Almost everyone who approached Vick tried to push the envelope: Maybe I can get just one more thing signed? How about a handshake? A picture? A hug? This is the year, they’d say. I can just feel it. One lady was so overcome that she began hollering in Vick’s direction as soon as she got into earshot.

“I’m going to fall over, oh my goodness,” she cried. Vick played it up, and when he got an, “I love you Mike,” he responded, “I love you, too” to the entertainment of the crowd.

It was all love. And when you reflect on a time not too long gone by, that is astounding all in itself.

The headline seems a little far-reaching, but Vick has certainly come a long way. See also: Tom McAllister on Vick.

Luries Getting Divorced

Jeff and Christina Lurie:

"Please be assured that this decision will have no impact whatsoever on the ownership, the business and the operations of the Philadelphia Eagles football team. We are certain that our family’s future and our collective future as colleagues will be a bright one."

A strange offseason gets stranger. All I have to say on this is: easier said than done. Depending on their ownership structure and financial situation, this could easily result in the Luries having to sell the team.

Has Michael Vick Already Peaked?

Michael Vick

Last week, Ron Jaworski went on SportsCenter and talked about Michael Vick’s potential in 2012:

“Vick has shown he is capable of throwing the ball exceptionally well from the pocket,” said Jaworski. “His overall throwing skill set can be top five in the league. His objective in 2012 must be to play that way more often. It becomes an availability issue. You can’t be an elite NFL quarterback if you can’t be counted on every single week.

“I am really excited to see Michael Vick in 2012. A more disciplined player will result in fewer turnovers. I would not be surprised if we’re getting ready to see the best year of Vick’s ten-year career.”

While Jaws supposedly watched every 2011 snap of Vick, his conclusions seem half-baked, especially compared to Sheil Kapadia’s epic breakdown of Vick’s game for the Eagles Almanac (plug alert!). For example, Sheil noted all of Vick’s injuries came on hits in the pocket, not because he was running around. Availability seems to be less of an issue (an NFL team loses its starting QB, on average, for three games a season) than accuracy and decision-making.

Regardless, Jaws’ sentiments are those I think a lot of fans hold. Vick had an amazing season in 2010, then fell back to Earth in 2011. But, we are told, his first full offseason as the starter with Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid will push him back to the top. It’s not a crazy opinion, but it is an optimistic outlook, and one that I’m not sure there’s any more evidence for than that Vick has already peaked, and he’ll never again reach that height.

In the spirit of a series of posts I did about Donovan McNabb two years ago (yeesh, that long ago?), I put together a new graph showing where Vick ranked on key statistics, during the years he was the main starter. By focusing on the rankings, rather than the stats themselves, we can see how well Vick has done compared to his peers — since the last ten years has resulted in a better passing environment pretty much across the board. QB Rating is slightly bolded because it’s more of an aggregate indicator than a separate statistic.

Michael Vick Career Stats Ranks Graph

Obviously, Vick’s passing career has been less than stellar overall. Through 2006, he was below average across the board, and especially terrible in completion percentage. He went on his two year hiatus, came back as a wildcat threat in 2009, and resurrected triumphantly in 2010.

The question of “what’s next?” remains, though. There was a big drop off from 2010 to 2011, approximately from Aaron Rodgers-level to Jay Cutler-level. Was that a temporary bump in the road, soon to be righted after an offseason of hard work? That’s certainly the conventional wisdom right now.

The other answer, while not necessarily disastrous, is significantly less Super Bowl-worthy. That possibility suggests that Vick simply regressed to his career mean. His numbers were still up from 2006, but one might attribute that to slightly improved play and a much better supporting cast. Vick never had DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, and LeSean McCoy in Atlanta.

Ultimately, there’s no such thing as a prediction engine for player performance. Vick may really benefit from these months of personal tutoring, allowing him to overcome the blitz-happy adjustments many teams made against him last year. Or, at 32 years old, it may be too late for him to completely change his ways. Jaws’ statement about Vick’s talent and potential are the same things people have been saying about him for the last decade.

One’s personal expectation probably has a lot to do with your thoughts on Mornhinweg and Reid’s mentor skills. In my experience, you doubt their abilities to coach and gameplan at your own risk. But I also wonder how much this ballyhooed “first full offseason as a starter” will really make a difference. Vick has been playing at a more mediocre rate since the end of the 2010 season, and we’re supposed to believe the three of them haven’t had time until this offseason to go over that?

For now, among the cautiously optimistic analysts, consider me more cautious than than optimistic.

Photo from Getty.

Roll-A-Bout

Derrick Gunn:

According to a league source, Peters ruptured his Achilles tendon again after the Roll-A-Bout he was using malfunctioned. Peters was maneuvering in his kitchen when the device broke, and he fell on his face and re-injured the Achilles.

The five-time Pro Bowler needed a second surgery, and his recovery was set back three weeks. He is going to sue the manufacturer of the device.

Alright, so it’s official. The higher powers hate the Eagles. Despite the Roll-A-Bout Corporation’s assertions, I bet they never tested the crutch replacement device on a man of Peters’s size and power.

Brandon Graham, Bust?

Dave Spadaro:

Graham is back at square one, in a sense. The Eagles are counting on him to deliver the promise that made him a first-round draft pick. Is he that special player who the Eagles coveted so much that they traded up in the first round to acquire? Or is he just not the right fit in the league?

Or is Graham somewhere between the two extremes?

"Day by day," he says. "I’m just taking it day by day."

Maybe I’m the only one, but this was the first time I read a puff piece on the Eagles website and came away thinking the profiled player was more of a bust then when I started reading.

The Michael Vick Project

Greg Cosell, for NFL Films:

There’s a critical distinction in the development of NFL quarterbacks. It’s the difference between understanding defenses, and manipulating defenses, the divide between the concrete and the conceptual. Understanding defenses is the first step in the process. It allows you to register and process what you see. Manipulating defenses before the snap of the ball is the Ph.D of NFL quarterbacking. The great ones, like Brady, Brees, and now Rodgers and Manning, know where the defense will move after the snap. Their decisions are almost always made in the pre snap phase. Nothing that occurs after the snap surprises them. They play proactively, not reactively. As a Patriots offensive coach once told me, the magic with Brady occurs before the ball is snapped.

Vick must get to that point in his development. That comes from off-season work, something he has not had as a starter in 6 years. Vick needs to play the position as a disciplined craft, not as a spontaneous playmaker. That road will always lead to disappointment and frustration.

DeSean Jackson, the Franchise Tag, and Respect

DeSean Jackson

So, what did we miss? Just a few weeks ago Eagles fans were collectively doom and gloom about the DeSean Jackson situation. Many expected the Eagles to let him walk in free agency, others saw a long holdout in store. Instead, yesterday the team used its franchise tag on Jackson and immediate reports were that the wide receiver would sign the one-year tender as soon as possible.

I wrote a few weeks back why I thought Jackson would be wise not to fight the franchise tag, and I still think many of those reasons apply. Coming off a poor season both on and off the field, his leverage wasn’t as great as it once was. The Eagles could have eventually forced him to report unless he wanted to sit out the 2012 season.

However, there’s one factor I missed that both played a large role in Jackson’s decision to sign and gives me further hope that a long term deal can eventually be worked out. The factor deals with exactly why Jackson was angry last year. He wasn’t, I now believe, miffed because he didn’t have long term security. None of his statements suggested that he was hesitant to put his body on the line for the team because he thought that he could get hurt and never get that second payday.

Not to cherry-pick a single quote, but after the final game last season, Jackson told reporters, “I can’t really get frustrated over contract situations or if I’m not paid how I think I should be.”

For Jackson, it has always seemed to be about that perceived slight. He was mad because the Eagles went out and gave money to players like Steve Smith instead of to him. Jackson was one of the best players on the field and simultaneously one of the lowest-paid players off of it.

That’s why Jackson has never had a problem with the franchise tag. His immediate reaction after the season suggested that he would be happy with it, and so did his response to the tag actually being applied yesterday: “I am honored that the Philadelphia Eagles organization perceives me as a franchise player.” Jackson also said he is "Enjoyin My Life!!" and "Humbled moment!!"

Instead of being annoyed that he couldn’t seek a long term deal, DeSean seems happy — both in his offical PR and off-the-cuff tweets. Jackson’s happy because in his eyes he’s finally being recognized and paid like the player he knows he is. It may be only for one season, but that’s enough for now, and it gives me hope that the two sides will have an easier time coming together.

Insult is off the table, so hopefully real negotiations can now take place.

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.

Looking Backward, Forward for Asante Samuel

Asante Samuel Philadelphia Eagles

Since yesterday was Presidents Day, it seems like a good time to reflect on the Eagles own self-proclaimed president, Asante Samuel.

Samuel has had an up and down relationship with Philly fans since he arrived in 2008. First he was an overpaid slacker, then an interception machine with a fun and outsized personality, and then a few more missed tackles landed him back on the negative side of the ledger. Through it all, though, Samuel has been a one of the best coverage cornerbacks in the NFL.

Take a look at his stats with the Eagles:

Asante Samuel Coverage Stats

While 2011 was a down year for interceptions, Samuel really hasn’t shown any decline year over year. In some ways he was the best cornerback the Eagles had last season.

Did you know that Samuel has more interceptions before age 31 than any other cornerback in the last 20 years? And many of the guys just below him (Champ Bailey, Aeneas Williams, Ty Law, Deion Sanders) managed to play well through at least a few years of their thirties.

All in all, I’m relatively bullish on Samuel’s potential to remain a high value coverage corner in the next few years. If his game were built on speed and physicality, you might project more of a dropoff. But Asante has always been an interception artist, rather than a complete player.

However, it’s a near certainty that Samuel will get to play out the remainder of his career in a different jersey. The Eagles explored trade possibilities for him last year, but never pulled the trigger (even turning down a second round pick from Detroit). After a year of turmoil in the secondary, Howie Roseman has little choice but to ship Samuel out this time, probably for no more than a third round pick.

When that happens, Asante’s play and his personality will both be missed.

Photo from Getty.

Roseman: 'People Call and Your Phone Does Ring'

Howie Roseman on Asante Samuel’s situation:

"Whenever you have a surplus at a particular position there are talks around the league. People call and your phone does ring and that’s happened in the past couple years by our quarterback situation and so I think there are particular position on our team that maybe we had a surplus at and I expect the phone calls to be active. In terms of talking about a specific player or position obviously I stay away from that. But we’re always open to phone calls and to seeing if something works and really if there are win-win situations for particular teams and particular players we’ll look at that."

It was nice knowing you, Pres.

Extend LeSean McCoy’s Contract Already

LeSean McCoy

One of the most worrisome characteristics of Eagles front office in the last couple of years has been its seeming reluctance to hand out early contract extensions to their young players.

Now, there have been extenuating circumstances. For starters, the drafting has been poor overall, so there haven’t been many players since 2008 that have been worth extending. Additionally, the collective bargaining agreement drama delayed some contract talks.

However, the Eagles now have three young offensive stars who are/should have been prime candidates for extensions. DeSean Jackson, obviously, is the most urgent name. He’s scheduled to be a free agent in just a few weeks and the team is reportedly far apart in negotiations. Perhaps Jackson has been asking for a salary that’s too high, but in any case this could be a failure the Eagles front office hasn’t seen since Jeremiah Trotter left after the 2001 season.

On the flip side, Jeremy Maclin still has two years on his deal, so it’s not quite an emergency for him. If the Eagles are still operating with the same principles they did a few years back, though, he would be a prime candidate for a below-market value extension this offseason.

The middle case is LeSean McCoy, the Eagles All-Pro running back, who is about to enter the final year of his rookie contract. An extension with McCoy has to happen as soon as possible, lest the Eagles risk another DeSean situation. If an extension is worked out, we may be able to write off that problem as one special to, if not created by, Jackson.

Besides, McCoy has said publicly that he doesn’t want to end up like DeSean:

“Let me be honest with you, I never want to be in that situation,” McCoy said. “Everybody’s situation is different. [An extension] would be a blessing if that happened because I don’t want to go anywhere else or play anywhere else. I love it here. I’m a Pennsylvania guy – from high school to college to here.”

(Read what you will into McCoy twice firing and and re-hiring Drew Rosenhaus during the season.)

Still, the Eagles have already hurt themselves by failing to lock up McCoy a year ago. Back in October, I wrote about what that potential contract could look like. Here, again, are the most recent running back deals:

2011- Chris Johnson (25): 6 years, $55 million, $30 million guaranteed
2011- Adrian Peterson (26): 7 years, $96 million, $36 million guaranteed
2011- Frank Gore (28): 4 years, $26 million, $14 million guaranteed
2011- DeAngelo Williams (28): 5 years, $43 million, $21 million guaranteed
2010- Jamaal Charles (24): 6 years, $28 million, $10 million guaranteed
2009- Maurice Jones-Drew (24): 5 years, $31 million, $18 million guaranteed
2008- Steven Jackson (25): 6 years, $45 million, $21 million guaranteed
2008- Michael Turner (26): 6 years, $35 million, $15 million guaranteed

At the time I suggested McCoy’s production put him in line for a similar deal to the one signed by Jamaal Charles, who had comparable stats through his first three seasons. However, McCoy’s monster 2011 dwarfs Charles’s top production so far. That one year still doesn’t get him up to Peterson-Johnson stratosphere, but I’d be surprised if isn’t looking more at the Jones-Drew range.

A complicating factor is the pending free agency status of Ray Rice and Matt Forte. Both young, complete running backs are likely candidates for long term extensions in the coming weeks. The Eagles and McCoy may choose to wait until the running back market is set by those players before getting serious about negotiations.

It’s not ideal, given the opportunity the Eagles had to lock him up at a lower rate, but as long as a contract extension happens this offseason I don’t think any fans will complain.

Photo from Getty.

Michael Vick: Under Pressure

Michael Vick Scramble

I don’t think anyone (with the possible exception of Andy Reid) was shocked when Juan Castillo didn’t work out on defense. But nearly everyone was surprised at just how far Michael Vick regressed from his star season in 2010.

The big problem Vick had was simply turnovers. After posting zero interceptions through his first eight games the previous season, Vick was picked off 14 times in 13 games in 2011. That’s not nearly good enough if the Eagles want to rebound and make a run into the playoffs next year.

So let’s go a little deeper to try to understand some of Vick’s interception woes, using some stats from Pro Football Focus. Today I want to split Vick’s plays into two categories: regular and under pressure.

Let’s look at his non-pressured stats first. When not threatened by sacks or hits, Vick completed 69 percent of his passes, good enough for 8th-best among the 24 quarterbacks who took at least 50 percent of their team’s offensive snaps. That completion rate jumps to 76 percent and 6th-best when you don’t count drops against him.

As to interceptions, Vick was slightly below average, but not by much. He was 15th out of 24, with an interception rate of 2.5 percent. For reference, Eli Manning was 14th with 2.4 percent, and Drew Brees was 11th with 2.1 percent.

Overall, Vick showed room for improvement, but no big problems when he wasn’t pressured. When he had defenders in his face, however, Vick’s performance was more of a mixed bag.

On one hand, he had the 5th-highest touchdown rate and the 2nd-lowest sack rate among those 24 quarterbacks. With only 11.6 percent of all pressured dropbacks turned into sacks, Vick’s famed elusiveness served him well avoiding a big loss.

However, Vick completed only 42 percent his passes under pressure, which ranks 18th. Worse, 4.9 percent of his passes were intercepted, beating only Matt Hasselbeck, Tarvaris Jackson, Rex Grossman, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. (Matt Ryan scored about average, at 3.5 percent, while Andy Dalton, Aaron Rodgers, and Sam Bradford were blemish-free.)

There are two takeaways from this information. One is relatively straightforward: Vick needs to handle the pressure better, even take a few more sacks rather than expose himself to interceptions. The rookie Dalton, who threw zero interceptions under pressure, also threw the ball away in those situations more than anyone else in the league. Vick could learn something from that example.

But the second takeaway is more nuanced. For the last two seasons, Vick has been under pressure more than nearly any other quarterback. Last year he ranked first overall with pressure in 39.8 percent of his dropbacks. In 2010 he was second, with 41.8 percent.

Given the improvement along the offensive line year-over-year, it’s likely that this has more to do with Vick than his blockers. Football Outsiders sack timing stats show that more than half of his sacks take longer than three seconds, which partially can be attributed to avoiding defenders, but also results from his tendency to hold on to the ball too long.

Vick is a playmaker when he scrambles around — his touchdown rate is actually higher with pressure than without. But avoiding sacks and trying to score big also led him to turn the ball over far too much.

Perhaps Reid and Marty Mornhinweg should focus on teaching Vick to avoid more of those situations by making pre-snap reads and quick decisions about where to go with the football. If DeSean Jackson returns, there will still be plenty of opportunities to create big plays, even without dancing around in backfield. If he doesn’t become more consistent and less turnover-prone, Vick will continue to be a liablity going forward.

Photo from Getty.

Yes, Michael Vick can be ELIte

Les Bowen:

That last part was the most important; it was what separated the Giants from, say, the 49ers. Eli was sacked 11 times in the playoffs - more than any other quarterback. He still completed 65 percent of his passes, threw for nine touchdowns and was intercepted exactly once. His QB rating was 103.3. He averaged 304.8 passing yards per game.

Good luck copying that “blueprint,” NFL GMs. And Eagles fans, do you really see Michael Vick throwing for nine touchdowns and one interception?

To be fair, Vick had 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions through his first eight games last season. So yes, I have seen it happen. Not only that, but just a year ago Eli Manning threw for a league-leading 25 interceptions.

Vick has an important offseason ahead of him, but there’s no reason to think he can’t rebound from 2011.