Starting Over? Eagles Have Big Decisions to Make on Cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Starting Over? Eagles Have Big Decisions to Make on Cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

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The Eagles were at one time thought to have an embarrassment
of riches at the cornerback position, so much so they traded four-time Pro
Bowler Asante Samuel for a seventh-round pick last offseason. Less than a year removed
from that laughable exchange, their cornerbacks are just plain embarrassing.

Nnamdi Asomugha arrived in Philadelphia during the summer of
2011 with a reputation for being one of the premier cover corners in the game,
but he often appeared confused and misused in whatever defense the Eagles
utilized, and thus was frequently abused by opposing wide receivers. Dominique
Rodgers-Cromartie came over from Arizona in the Kevin Kolb deal around the same
time Asomugha signed on, forcing DRC to the inside his first season here, which
was an abject failure to say the least – he wasn’t worlds better back home on
the outside in ’12, either.

The times, they are a changing.

Rodgers-Cromartie is almost certain to hit free agency when
the curtain is drawn on March 13. Reports indicate the Eagles will decline to
use the franchise tag on the soon-to-be 27 year old, and he hasn’t given the
front office much reason to negotiate an expensive, long-term extension. They
could theoretically re-sign DRC if the market is soft, but the fact that the organization
appears to be leaving him out in the open might speak volumes about their
feelings.

Asomugha on the other hand is under contract through 2015,
but there is no way the Eagles are bringing him back at his current salary, a
whopping $15 million in ’13. There is a cap hit of $4 million if he’s released,
but given how dreadful Nnamdi has been, that figure is hardly prohibitive. Turning
32 in July, his best days seemingly behind him, Asomugha’s best play could be
to renegotiate, although there is little to suggest one way or the other the
Eagles care to.

One thing is for certain: they can’t both return. Philadelphia
had one of the NFL’s worst secondaries last season, even though they surprisingly
were a top-10 unit in yards surrendered. However, opposing quarterbacks posted
the second-highest passer rating against the Eagles (99.6), and no defense allowed
more touchdown passes (33) while only two claimed fewer interceptions (8).

The problem is the Birds haven’t exactly demonstrated they
possess tremendous depth at the position. Brandon Boykin had a promising rookie
season, but he played largely in the slot where due to his diminutive stature
(5-9, 182) many believe the fourth-round pick is best suited. Curtis Marsh –
taken in the third round of the ’11 draft – has the size (6-1, 197) and
athleticism, but is still incredibly raw with just 75 snaps through two
seasons. Brandon Hughes doesn’t stand out in any way, shape, or form.

Obviously the personnel at cornerback is going to be a
priority this offseason, but there will be limitations on the front office as
well. There simply may be too many other needs across the board to replace both
Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie in one offseason, unless Chip Kelly is counting
on somebody from the current roster to step up.

Should they attempt move on from both, there are actually a
fair amount of quality, mid-level starters that will be available in free
agency. The draft would be the obvious place to address the problem, but no way
Howie Roseman is coming away with two who can start right away, and even one
that is ready from day one might be a stretch.

That Asmougha hasn’t been released already could be telling,
or it may just mean the Eagles are only now getting to him after spending a lot
of time settling their quarterback situation. This is the time for clubs to cut
veterans for cap reasons though, and for now he’s still around.

Nnamdi probably has at least a better chance of staying than
DRC does. There is no denying Rodgers-Cromartie has far greater upside, plus
the pure talent to play at an elite level as evidenced by the former 16th
overall pick’s selection to the Pro Bowl in ’09.

Yet if you had to choose between the two, Asomugha probably
makes more sense provided they can renegotiate his deal. For one thing, DRC is will
be out to maximize his earnings – money and more importantly years. From an
on-the-field standpoint, the difference between the two is while Asomugha has
struggled mightily to get the job done, whenever DRC falters he’s typically been
accused of giving lackluster effort.

The Eagles went from the instantly recognizable veteran duo
of Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, to growing up with young guns Lito Sheppard
and Sheldon Brown, and on to the addition of the brash ballhawk Samuel without
missing a beat. Asante even played at a high level with the combination of
Ellis Hobbs and Dimitri Patterson across from him for one year.

The Nnamdi-DRC duo was a far cry from what we became used to
during the Andy Reid era to say the least. Unfortunately, we may not be out of
the woods quite yet.

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Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

The Phillies’ decision to trade beloved catcher Carlos Ruiz to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday was ultimately made by Ruiz himself.

“This was about doing the right thing for Carlos because he has meant so much to this organization,” general manager Matt Klentak said Thursday night.

“Once Carlos cleared trade waivers last week, we started thinking about it. The Dodgers expressed some interest. Pete [Mackanin] and I talked to Carlos over the weekend. We discussed whether he wanted to finish the year with us or get the chance to chase another championship ring.

"He took a few days to discuss it with his family and got back to us Wednesday in Chicago and said that he'd be interested in exploring the opportunity and we finalized things with the Dodgers today.”

As a veteran of 10 seasons in the majors and five consecutive with the same team, Ruiz, 37, could have vetoed the deal. He chose to accept the deal because he wanted another chance to play in the postseason. He will serve as a backup to catcher Yasmani Grandal with the Dodgers, but is expected to get playing time. Ruiz's .368 on-base percentage from the right side of the plate could be a nice complement to the lefty-hitting Grandal.

The Phillies acquired the Dodgers’ backup catcher, veteran A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitching prospect Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later in the deal. The Phils will not decide on the player to be named until after the minor-league season ends in mid-September. The Phils also sent an undisclosed amount of cash to the Dodgers. Ruiz is owed about $2 million in the form of salary and a contract buyout for 2017. Ellis, 35, is finishing up a one-year deal that pays him $4.5 million.

"This deal was not motivated by cash,” Klentak said. “It was about doing the right thing for Carlos, giving him the chance to get another ring.”

Klentak said he was "adamant" about getting Ellis back in the deal. The Phillies have two catching prospects in the upper minors in Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, but the club would like to see them finish their minor-league seasons.

“Carlos has been such an important leader for so long, we knew we had to fill a role on and off the field,” Klentak said. “There is a reasonably good chance one of our young catching prospects will be in the big leagues before the season is over. Both our Double A and Triple A teams are in pennant races and we believe it's important for them to continue to get meaningful at-bats and play in meaningful games.”

Ellis is expected to join the Phillies in New York this weekend. It’s not easy going from a first-place team with legitimate World Series hopes to a rebuilding club.

“I talked to A.J. this afternoon,” Klentak said. “He is a true professional. It's never easy for a guy who has been in one place his whole career to be told out of the blue that it's time to go. A.J. is determined and excited about contributing to the Phillies.”

Bergjans, a 23-year-old right-hander, pitched at Haverford College. He was an eighth-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2015 and is 3-13 with a 4.98 ERA for Single A Rancho Cucamonga this season. He has 133 strikeouts and just 29 walks in 130 innings.

"Tommy was an excellent college performer,” Klentak said. “He has controlled the strike zone well in a tough league. We're always looking to add starting pitching and we had a chance to do it. He strikes out better than a batter an inning and limits walks which was appealing.”

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

The Phillies have undergone massive changes on the field and off over the last couple of seasons.
 
Those changes have reached the club’s amateur scouting department.
 
According to major league sources, the club recently fired three longtime members of that department, including Mike Ledna, a high-ranking coordinator and national cross-checker. Ledna was the No. 2 man under former scouting boss Marti Wolever, who was let go two years ago and replaced by Johnny Almaraz.
 
Almaraz has overseen the last two drafts with a staff of mostly holdover scouts. He has clearly begun to put his stamp on the department with his recent shakeup. Ledna’s firing was preceded by the club’s decision to part with Steve Cohen and Paul Scott. They covered the talent-rich state of Texas.
 
It is not clear whether more changes on the scouting staff are coming. Over the last year or so, the Phillies have hired a new club president (Andy MacPhail), general manager (Matt Klentak) and manager (Pete Mackanin). The playing roster has also been churned, most recently with Carlos Ruiz being traded to the Dodgers on Thursday (see story). His parting leaves Ryan Howard as the lone member of the 2008 World Series championship team still with the club.

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The postseason accolades and awards are nice, but Soul defensive back Tracy Belton has a much higher goal.

Named as the Arena League Football Defensive Player of the Year during an awards ceremony Friday, Belton, considered the passion and spirit of the Soul defense, is more than comfortable putting aside individual honors and pushing his teammates to greater heights.

Reaching the ArenaBowl against the Arizona Rattlers Friday in the Gila River Arena (7 p.m./ESPN) the prize is out there, and Belton has his blinders firmly affixed. The focus and concentration is not in question, so the task ahead remains paramount.

“I want that ring, I need that jewelry,” Belton said during media day Friday. “Oh yeah, it would definitely be nice to get that ring.”

To obtain that shiny piece of hardware, Belton and his defensive teammates have the task of trying to shut down the most potent offense in the league.

Guided by quarterback Nick Davila, the AFL’s Most Valuable Player, the Rattlers are averaging 80.3 points per game. From an offensive standpoint, Arizona led the AFL in many offensive categories, including scoring, total offense, rushing, third-down conversion and fourth-down conversion.

To complement the offense, the Arizona defense ranked first in the league in defensive scoring defense, rushing defense, interceptions, turnover ratio and sacks allowed.

In a league which glorifies offense, the task ahead for the Soul defense is considered a challenge. After all, these teams each finished with a 13-3 mark and each defeated the other team on their home turf.

“To win this game, we hope they make mistakes,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel said. “They are very explosive, but our secondary is playing at a high level. For us, we need to limit our mistakes.”

If Davila, who is the first player in AFL history to win the MVP award three times, is to be challenged, the Soul’s offense need to be proficient. Coming into the ArenaBowl, the Soul averaged 59.0 points per game. That was good enough for fourth in the league, but quarterback Dan Raudabaugh put up better numbers, in certain categories, than Davila.

In head-to-head competition, Raudabaugh tossed more touchdown passes (14 to 13), passed for more yards (541 to 431), completed more passes (48 to 32) and averaged more yards per game (270.5 to 215.5) through the air. Yet, the Rattlers’ offense is swift, quick, efficient and lethal.

“In this league, the quarterback is the most important position,” Davila said. “You have to make decisions quickly, and facing a defense like Philly, that’s the challenge for us. It’s about limiting mistakes. The team which makes fewer mistakes is the team that usually wins.”

Notes
Since the Phoenix Mercury are scheduled for a home game in Talking Stick Arena in downtown Phoenix Friday night, home site for the Rattlers, the title game was switched to home of the NHL's Arizona Coyotes. … Among league leaders this past season for the Soul, Belton was fourth in tackles, Jake Metz led in sacks, Darius Reynolds was sixth in receiving and Jeramie Richardson was second in rushing. … In comparison of QBs, Raudabaugh was second in the league in passing (101 TDs, 63.3 passing percentage) and Davila placed third (110 TD passes, 69.6 passing rating). … This is the third league title meeting between these two teams. The Soul dropped the previous two championship games, 72-54 in 2012 and 48-39 in 2013.