The All-Name NFL Free Agent Team: Nnmadi Asomugha*

NFL Free Agency

The following is part of a series that can be most easily described as an NFL Free Agency preview.

Since we’re talking about Free Agency, a quick review of the draconian Reboot rules are in order:

1. If these free agents are such good players AND considering the thousand rules in place for teams to retain players they want, then why exactly are these guys free agents?

2. Considering the brief average careers of NFL players and that whole post-football brain damage thing, free agency is basically a way for a player to cash in for the rest of their lives and/or NOT be overly committed to a team’s pursuit of actual winning.

3. Finally, the All-Name criteria is just that – even a brain-addled Fantasy Football pre-teen knows what both the player name and position played.

For more background, here are the first three installments of this year’s series:

Alex Smith
Mike Wallace
Paul Kruger

Nnmadi Asomugha*

*As of this writing, Asomugha may or may not be a free agent – depending on what action the Eagles decide to take regarding Asomugha’s monster contract. If he indeed is NOT a free agent when you read this, don’t be “that guy” who makes the obvious comment at the bottom of the page.

PROS:
-Great size, good speed
-Is/Was/May Still Be a very effective cover cornerback
-Effective in coverage when he’s able to be physical
-Brings a lot of experience to a young defense

CONS:
-That whole Dream Team thing and the past two seasons
-Not particularly effective in space
-Advancing age for an NFL cornerback
-Would still command a sizable salary

In terms of a true “All-Name” free agent, Asomugha* is pretty much the prize of this year’s class. Or, more precisely, can you remember just how red hot the original free agent pursuit of Asomugha proved to be two years ago? Then again, two years in the NFL seems like twenty – especially if you consider that at the time, Asomugha and Darrelle Revis were interchangeable as the league’s top two “shutdown corners.”

Now, the only legitimate mention of such a phrase coincides with Doug Farrar’s great site and at least based on the league’s further devolution into flag football, Asomugha’s kind is nearly extinct. Although it’s been this way for quite a while, last month’s playoffs further illustrated just how irrelevant defensive secondaries have become – at least in the context of “shutting” anything down.

In fact, it’s not a stretch to think that maybe the Browns already have a post-modern version of a “shutdown corner” in Joe Haden. That is, when Haden is both in uniform and NOT going against a superhuman A.J. Green. The thing is, we’ve either reached a temporary dip in cornerback cultivation or the mounting on-field legislation that prevents corners from doing anything other than chasing after wide receivers has weakened the stature of the position.

Take a look for yourself.

There’s an argument to be made for Haden proving to be the top drafted cornerback of the past several years – at least going back to Revis in 2007.

Or Asomugha a decade ago.

Of course, two years after signing a massive contract with the Eagles, Asomugha’s once sterling reputation has been dinged. Thanks to what basically proved to be a bad fit of player style and defensive approach, Asomugha’s talents were essentially wasted in 2011 and for a chunk of last season. Asomugha, a physical – or at least “handsy” corner – was most successful when he played close to the line, man coverage. When Asomugha was able to get his hands on a receiver off the line of scrimmage, he excelled. Throw in some increasingly rare size (6’2) and long arms and Asomugha proved to be a difficult, rangy target for opposing quarterbacks trying to measure tight passes.

However in Philadelphia, Asomugha was first asked to play a softer type of coverage – off the line and a bit less physical – things that negated his great initial advantage. Naturally, such a style of play proved to be part of the unraveling of the Eagles’ defense – a unit that was equal parts undisciplined and unsuited for their specific roles. At times over the past two seasons, Asomugha was switched inside to cover slot receivers and even played safety – which seemed to counter his natural football skills.

In most respects, it’s easy to state that Asomugha was wasted by the Eagles. However, in the burning light of the media’s Dream Team aspirations and the Eagles’ own erratic coaching and management, Asomugha’s inability to transcend what was a dysfunctional situation makes for both a unfortunate career chapter but also a compelling possibility.

Again – contingent on whether the Eagles’ management decides to cut ties with Asomugha – the question becomes whether a new team decides to turn back the clocks to 2011.

And speaking of that management, here’s where the Asomugha story takes a left turn.

If prior accounts are to be heeded, it appears there is a bit of a tussle occurring between new Browns’ boss Joe Banner and his former Eagles’ brethren. Volleys were launched between both teams regarding the dual pursuit of Chip Kelly and some have even ventured that Pat Shurmur’s Philadelphia hiring represents something resembling a figurative nose thumbing at the always unpopular Banner – who likely decided Shurmur’s fate sometime last August.

On the surface, it would appear that a potential Browns’ pursuit of Asomugha could fall into the same category of NFL executives trying to one up each other – a virtual pissing contest that indirectly involves a talented NFL veteran.

Or if you’re not into such hypotheses, let’s at least examine two points of logic here.

First, Asomugha is still a quality corner – despite the evidence of the past two seasons. Like any other NFL player – regardless of name value or contract worth – he needs to be put in the best position to succeed. Certainly, the Eagles’ sterile defense wasn’t such a case. Essentially, Asomugha needs to again be allowed to play a physical style of man coverage – something that ideally is found in the design of Ray Horton’s more aggressive defense.

Second, before you scoff at the idea of Asomugha, at least consider the player he would be replacing. Before becoming the annual cornerback recipient of Browns’ fans wrath in 2012, Brown was a serviceable starter and played a similar physical style – albeit with a lesser degree of Asomugha’s physical talents. And in terms of actual money, the two players would fall into a similar range – at least based on the contract Brown carried with him from Philadelphia. On this last point, let’s remember the who’s and why’s of how Brown actually ended up in Cleveland.

THE PICK:
Again, Haden is a rare top of the draft cornerback find and represents the Browns’ best first round selection since Joe Thomas. However, the cornerback depth behind Haden is a scattered collection that was often exposed in 2012. Through any means, the new Browns’ front office needs to add at least two corners; otherwise, Ray Horton’s new defense may quickly resemble Rob Ryan’s.

As for Asomugha, his star may have fallen to the point where he has become a viable and realistic free agent option.

Two years ago, Asomugha’s name in relation to the Browns would be one of those star crossed free agent tales dreamed up by fan boys and bored beat writers. A lot of Browns fans would have whipped themselves up into a frenzy, only to see Asomugha sign a bloated deal with another team. However, if the recent comments by Banner are an indication, these same fans may finally get what they want next month.

And in terms of a name, Asomugha’s still registers.

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Comments (16)

  1. pdxscott

    i like the idea of pairing asomugha with haden. a fiery guy like horton should be able to draw out asomugha’s previous form in a defense that better suits his skills.

    at some point we are going to have to start thinking about extending haden – that’s going to mean a lot of money tied up in our starting corners…

  2. Max

    random harebrained idea I just percolated a couple of minutes ago but makes a lot of sense to me, based to taking the wisdom of having two “stud” corners and therefore being able to lock down opposing offenses, and turning it on its ear…maybe in the modern NFL, it’s just not possible to have a secondary good enough to effectively stop a prodigious offense. With the way the rule changes have progressed, the only way to stop a passing game is to get to the quarterback. No corner, no matter how good he is, can cover for 5 seconds. Someone will uncover and get open. Maybe that’s why Belichik never seems concerned with his porous secondary. Maybe that’s why the 2010 Saints won the Superbowl with one of the worst (albeit most opportunistic) secondaries in the NFL

    Perhaps tying somewhere near 10% (or more) of the entire salary cap in two corner backs is a fool’s errand, simply because their effectiveness is being legislated out of the game to an extent. Sure, having one corner who can take a teams best WR and zero him out is nice, and it allows the defense to roll coverages to help weaker secondary members, as well as call more blitzes, but is having TWO “stud” CB’s worth the salary cap ramifications?

    I say no. I think the best way to help the secondary cover is by making it harder for opposing QB’s to throw the ball. If anything, I think making sure the #3 corner is “starter” quality is more important than trying to have that second “stud” qb.

    • I talked about a version of this idea in referencing the Broncos and Ravens. The days of low-scoring playoff games and killer defenses are over. Both the rule changes and best players are oriented to the offensive side – which means that defenses just have to hang on.

      In fact, the reason why people thought the Ravens’ D was so good wasn’t because of what they did during games (which was allow a TON of yards), but what they did in the Red Zone at the end of the games.

      However, to Max’s point – every team needs at least 2 solid corners to not allow 30 points a game and preferably a third and fourth. Right now, the Browns have Haden.

      • I don’t think that saying BB isn’t concerned with secondary is accurate – the Patriots draft CB and Safety with high picks almost every year.

        However, I think that this perhaps still supports your point – with the new CBA at least, there is no cheaper/better commodity than a starting player on a rookie contract.

        I think it’s more accurate to say that BB decides against spending on re-signing aging DB’s or signing FA’s, choosing to treat them as fungible assets.

        So then the question really is: “is x years of Nnamdi worth more than x years of Dee Milliner/YourDBChoice? Which will cost more? Where is the best value?” Or, better yet, “does spending x amount of dollars on Nnamdi allow us to upgrade another position with pick #6 more than it upgrades CB?”

        I think the smartest way to build a team is to ask questions like that. I am confident that Banner and Lombardi will make decisions using that line of thinking. (Rather than “OH WE WANT NNAMDI HE IS THE MISSING PIECE” – presuming that this type of decision-making is what Banner talks about when he mentions “building a team.”)

        • jimkanicki

          after BB’s headaches with .. meriweather (1st), wheatley (2nd), chung (2nd), mccourty (1st), dowling (2nd) and now dennard (7th round, but now facing sentencing on a felony)… he’s got to be ready to try something new. snake bit.

          i could easily see him throwing out cash to re-sign talib and making run at reed.

          • It’s interesting to think that given Belichick’s background, he never quite made the defensive transition to what the league has become now. He’s done a lot offensively and is progressive in bringing in newer aspects, but his defenses haven’t been good for five years now.

        • Agreed on the point of rookies on the new CBA being the better value. Look no further to the mess the Lions are in, since they had to pay two No. 1 picks “old” CBA money – or the Rams with Bradford and the OL they cut last year.

          Not so sure on the Belichick strategy – yes, he’s an excellent coach but there’s also a distinct possibility he isn’t very good at finding defensive backs. Who was the last really good Patriot DB that was a Belichick pick? Asante Samuel? Eric Turner?

  3. I have a problem with the fan/blogger that feels our browns paid to much money for a player. Phrases like,”he isn’t worth the cost or we can get him cheap”. This is a pantywaist approach to being a browns fan. I say go out and spend that money banner, with the exception of Mike Holgren, Eric Mangini. Who cares what we spend, Jimmy Haslam? Spend away, is it a quwinki dink that we are so far under the cap and so far from playoff contention? NO! Throw in the before metioned shisters and here we are. I say go out and spend, spend, spend. Let old Joe sort em out. Grow some balls people it’s not your money.Any who, it wont happen because we as a fan base except cheap skates in the FO.

    • At least based on what everyone has said, it looks like the Browns may spend some money this offseason. And maybe it’s good timing, considering the Browns don’t have the second round pick, are looking at what could be a weak(er) draft and of course, still have a ton of needs.

      But like always, it remains to be seen.

    • jimkanicki

      agreed and i’ve never understood that either. it’s not my money.
      i only care insofar as it affects the cap.
      and in the case of nnamdi, that’s an issue. he’s looking at 15, 12, 11 mil the next three years which _could_ be crippling.
      i see the cowboys with 16MM on the books for brandon carr as a cautionary tale.

      • pdxscott

        don’t forget that haden is in line to become the highest paid player on the team (by a bunch) when we extend him.

        http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/cleveland-browns/cap-hit/

        even IF we get asomugha for a reduced rate of about $10mil a year, we’re still looking at about $25mil a year on starting corners. it could be as high as $30mil if there are a bunch of other teams interested in asomugha’s services.

        for some perspective, sheldon brown’s 2012 cap number was $5.5mil. if the assumption is that we have a FO that can put all of our cap dollars to good use, i’m not so sure spending a quarter of the cap on 2 starting CBs is a great idea.

        that being said, if banner can make the numbers work he should pull the trigger.

        • I’m not sold on Asomugha commanding another Eagles-like contract. I think his star has dimmed to the point where he may prove to be a value. And really, how many more years would the guy even play? It’s probably more realistic to look at NFL salaries from a year to year basis.

      • Yep exactly. The NBA is actually helpful to use to illustrate the importance of building a team that is cap-conscious. If your team in the NBA has big money tied up in average players, you are done. It simplifies a little thing since there are fewer players, but the concepts are the same – you need to spend for the guys that are the core of your team, and you need to be right about your guess/presumption/hope that they are talented enough to win championships, and you need to look for value wherever you can find it, whether it’s through FA, Draft, UDFA’s, or trades. Goal should be to have as many guys under contracts that are under market value as possible.

        I think that the CBA changes to rookie draft pick compensations represent a sea change in the NFL, as the first round pick that is a starting player is now, by far, the best asset to have.

  4. Solid points fellas, i still.think that win at all.costs should.be implemented.

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