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Billy Davis, by all accounts, is an excellent defensive mind.
Is he a miracle worker, too?
Davis, the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator, has already heard the scuttlebutt about fans wondering if he holds the key to unlock the harnessed potential of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
It was with Davis as his defensive coordinator in 2008 that Rodgers-Cromartie made the Pro Bowl as a rookie after the Cardinals drafted him 16th overall. He had picked off four passes, racked up 157 interception return yards and returned one pick 99 yards for a touchdown.
Davis was fired after the season, and Rodgers-Cromartie has since had some productive seasons but was largely a disappointment in his past two years with the Eagles. As the front office mulls whether to re-sign the enigmatic corner or let him walk in free agency, the potential reunion of Davis and Rodgers-Cromartie is viewed as a good reason for the organization to hang onto the 26-year-old defensive back.
“That I can’t answer because, again, I’m just new in the building,” Davis said Monday when asked if the team should keep Rodgers-Cromartie. “Coach Kelly and I, we will make those decisions.”
But Davis seemed to suggest that his history with Rodgers-Cromartie could help influence the team’s decision. At the very least, he spoke highly of his former player.
“I know DRC. We drafted him,” Davis continued. “As a young guy he went to to the Pro Bowl. He made a lot of plays and we had some success in Arizona with some pressure packages and got a lot of turnovers and we created some defensive scores, and Dominique was part of that.”
Rodgers-Cromartie is just one of several veterans - especially in the secondary - whose fate will be decided on in the coming weeks and months. Michael Vick already took a major pay cut to preserve his roster spot, and some others might not even get the opportunity to come back on a reduced salary.
Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins and safety Nate Allen all could be headed for the exit as the Eagles try to move on from consecutive disastrous seasons and change the culture inside the locker room.
Kelly said he hasn’t yet evaluated which positions are in the most dire need of an upgrade or facelift.
“As we start to formulate where we're going, obviously, with free agency starting here in March and the draft starting in April, we have to start prioritizing at that point in time,” Kelly said. “ But today in February, we haven't set a priority. We're still in the process of the full evaluation.”
Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha each had disappointing 2012 seasons, but of the two starting corners only Asomugha is under contract for 2013. Rodgers-Cromartie’s contract expired after the season, which means any team can sign him on March 12 when free agency starts unless the Eagles decide to retain him for one year under the franchise tag.
The tag would guarantee him a base salary of the average of the league’s five highest-paid corners, which the Eagles are highly unlikely to pay him. But the crop of free-agent corners is deep this year, which hurts Rodgers-Cromartie’s chances of scoring a landfall in the open market and could enable the Eagles to bring him back at a realistic salary.
Rodgers-Cromartie, who will be 27 next season, had three interceptions last year but two came in the first game. Later in the year, he was confronted by Andy Reid after failing to give maximum effort in tackling.
Davis emphasized that his defense, which is expected to combine tenets of the 3-4 and 4-3, will emphasize tackling and throwing the opposing offense out of rhythm. He also said Rodgers-Cromartie flourished in 2008 behind an aggressive Cardinals front that made life tough for quarterbacks.
“We had situations where we were causing turnovers and [generating] a little pressure,” Davis said, “and he succeeded.”