In any big free-agent race, there's always one team you never expect. And in a race for former Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha that had the New York Jets as the primary suitors (to the point that the Jets had asked several veterans to re-structure their contracts) and other teams in the hunt, the Philadelphia Eagles jumped in at the last minute, just after the clock started for official free agency at 6:01 p.m. ET. In doing so, the Eagles plucked away the best and most prized free agent player in the game today.
Several sources confirmed the deal, and Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reports that the contract is for five years and $60 million, with $25 million guaranteed. Glazer also told the NFL Network that the reported Dallas Cowboys interest in Asomugha was a "smokescreen," perhaps intended to drive the price up for an NFC East rival.
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In the last few years, Asomugha has become the NFL's equivalent of the Old West gunfighter so revered by the competition that he rarely has to draw his weapon. According to any group of stats you'd care to mention, he's been among the lowest-targeted qualifying cornerbacks in the league in each of the last few years. In fact, at Football Outsiders, we've had to lower our baseline for targets just to get Asomugha in our regular starter stats.
When I recently asked Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt (who will replace Asomugha as the Raiders' primary pass defender) what the veteran taught him, Routt responded, "It's more like, what didn't he teach me?
"In the scheme we play, it really is more mental than anything. When you go out there on Sundays … I remember one of my college coaches telling me, 'Get to your technique quicker than your opponent,'" Routt told me. "That's where Nnamdi's success comes from; he's always the most prepared man on the field. He didn't teach me how to run a 40 [laughs], but that's about the only thing he didn't teach me. The main thing I learned from him is that when you step out on that field, everybody has their own ways of doing things, but you have to have confidence. If you don't believe that you can go out there and get it done, you've already lost before you even start."
Just Thursday, the Eagles traded quarterback Kevin Kolb for, among other assets, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. This may put veteran cornerback Asante Samuel on the market, which could be good news for teams that wind up losing the sweepstakes for Asomugha, Johnathan Joseph and Antonio Cromartie.
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"I think we all know about Nnamdi," Eagles head coach Andy Reid said in a Friday evening press conference announcing the signing. "He's one of the best, if not the best, cornerbacks in the National Football League. He'll be a great addition to our cornerback corps. Right now, we have three good cornerbacks … and we'll see how things go there."
If the Eagles keep Samuel and line him up on the other side of Asomugha, that combo could be nearly as frightening as the projected duo of Asomugha and Darrelle Revis that would have happened had the Jets won the race. After all, it wasn't Revis who finished first in Football Outsiders' Stop Rate and Yards per Play metrics in 2010 — it was Samuel. The Eagles have gone all in with their pass defense, and this could be the move that puts them over the top in the always-competitive NFC East.