Didinger: Eagles cornerback prospects

Didinger: Eagles cornerback prospects
July 19, 2011, 9:54 pm
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For now, lets assume the suits the NFL owners, lawyers and union reps take care of business and settle on a new collective bargaining agreement in the next few days. Lets assume were finally able to put the litigation and mediation behind us.

Were able to talk football again isnt that refreshing? and focus our attention on what is sure to be a frenzied free-agent market. The Eagles' biggest need is a quality veteran to play right cornerback. At the moment they have, well, no one.

So lets take a look at the top five cornerback prospects and gauge the likelihood they could be coming to the Eagles.

Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland Raiders

This is the name Eagles fans have heard discussed and mispronounced for months. He is No. 1 on their wish list for good reason. Next to Darrelle Revis (Jets) he is probably the best all-around cornerback in football. He is 6-2, 210 pounds and a three-time Pro Bowler.

But, folks, here is the bad news: I dont think Asomugha will be signing with the Eagles.

Because he is so talented you could argue he is the best free agent available, regardless of position he will be in great demand. That means his price tag will be enormous and it isnt the Eagles' style to break the bank for veterans in their 30s. (Asomugha turned 30 on July 6).

To sign Asomugha, the Eagles would have to spend most of the money they will have available under the new salary cap and it would limit their ability to fill other needs. So my guess is the Eagles will look at Asomugha, sigh wistfully and move on to other less pricey options.

The Houston Texans are hot for Asomugha if you saw their pass defense last season, you know why but the Dallas Cowboys are also very interested and they might have an advantage with Rob Ryan as their new defensive coordinator. He was Asomughas coach in Oakland.

Johnathan Joseph, Cincinnati Bengals

Fans dont know him as well as Asomugha or Ike Taylor, but Joseph belongs in the discussion. It is not his fault he spent five seasons in Cincinnati where players have to change their names (Chad Ocho-whatever) to get noticed.

Joseph (5-11, 195) is the fastest of the cornerbacks on this list he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds and he is physical. He is a solid tackler, willing to come up and force the run. At 27, he is in his prime.

He was better in 2009 than he was last season, but the Bengals had no pass rush (27th in the league) and their safeties were lousy so Joseph and fellow cornerback Leon Hall were hung out to dry. Joseph is a very talented athlete who should flourish with a new team.

The last time the Eagles signed a free agent from Cincinnati it was Stacy Andrews and it proved to be a huge mistake. Rather than improve, Andrews brought all of his bad habits with him. The memory still sends a shudder through the Eagles' front office, but it should not discourage them from pursuing Joseph. He is a much better athlete and competitor.

The thing I like about Joseph is he has shown the ability to play both man coverage and zone. He is comfortable in every system. Even Asomugha as great as he is is a press cover corner, a straight up man defender, which means he would have to adjust his game playing opposite Asante Samuel, who plays the ball.

Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers

At 31, he is the oldest player in the group, but he is also the most physical. He is 6-2 and 195 pounds and he is a very good tackler. He fits the Steeler mold he likes to hit and thats something the Eagles have to establish in rebuilding their defense.

A secondary that once intimidated receivers with the likes of Brian Dawkins, Sheldon Brown and Troy Vincent has lost its edge. The only way to recapture it is to bring in a nasty player or two. Taylor fits the description and in that respect, he might be the best compliment to Samuel because, lets face it, it helps to have at least one cornerback who is willing to tackle.

The secondary was the Steelers' biggest weakness last season and it cost them in the Super Bowl but Taylor wasnt the problem. He was the only consistent player in the mix. Bryant McFadden and William Gay could not hold up one-on-one and even Troy Polamalu, who was slowed by injuries, was picked on and beaten. Taylor was fine.

He is not as quick as he once was, but he is fast enough. After nine seasons, he knows how to position himself and use his height to neutralize faster receivers. Hell never be accused of having great hands he probably drops more potential interceptions than any DB in the league but the bottom line is he does break up the play.

The Eagles may waffle over Taylors age, but given the short amount of time they have to get ready for the season, a veteran is probably better equipped to step right in and play. Also, Taylor has a ton of postseason experience (including three Super Bowls), which is a plus for a team with postseason ambitions of its own.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Arizona Cardinals

This is a different case because Rodgers-Cromartie is not a free agent. The Eagles would have to trade for him, but if they do intend to ship quarterback Kevin Kolb to Arizona, it is not out of the question that Rodgers-Cromartie could be coming here.

Would it be a fair exchange? It would depend on which Rodgers-Cromartie shows up. If it is the one who intercepted six passes two years ago and looked like one of the best young players in the game, yeah, it is a great trade for the Eagles. If it is the guy who spent last season getting spun around by run-of-the-mill receivers, then its not a great trade.

Andy Reid and Howie Roseman have to do their homework on this one. They have to decide which DRC is the real thing.

If they conclude Rodgers-Cromartie is a big-time talent who simply was dragged down by a bad situation last year and that a change of scenery is all he needs to get back on track, then a Kolb-for-DRC swap would be very tempting. It would work for the Cardinals, too, since they just drafted a blue-chip cornerback in Patrick Peterson of LSU.

On the plus side, Rodgers-Cromartie is only 25. He has size (6-2, 190), long arms and tremendous leaping ability. He is a superb athlete who was in the Pro Bowl just two years ago. The tools are still there.

On the negative side, what do you make of last season when he appeared to play in a daze and, oh yes, even on a good day, he doesnt like to tackle.
Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets

Cromartie is hot and cold. He had 10 interceptions with San Diego in 2007, but his play tailed off so sharply that just two years later the Chargers traded him to the New York Jets for a third-round pick.

Cromartie is coming off a so-so year. He made some big plays as a corner who loves to gamble, he will always make some big plays but he also made enough mistakes and committed enough dumb penalties to frustrate Jets coach Rex Ryan.

Then there is the off-the-field stuff. Cromartie has fathered seven children with six women living in five states. He was labeled a deadbeat dad after missing support payments. The Jets knew all that and still traded for him. (My guess is they will re-sign him because last years top draft pick, Kyle Wilson, did not show any signs of being ready to play cornerback at this level.)

If Cromartie does hit the free-agent market, here is the scouting report: he has good size (6-2, 210) but his speed is only average (4.52 in the 40). He is a long strider, which causes problems when he covers smaller, quicker receivers. He is better covering down the field.

He isnt fond of tackling either. In a playoff game against the Jets, he let Shonn Greene run right past him and a play that should have gained three or four yards instead went for a 53-yard touchdown. That whiff probably sealed his fate with the Chargers, but he is just 27 years old with a reputation as a playmaker so he wont have any trouble finding a job.

The free-agent market will open in a matter of days. Andy, times yours.
E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net

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