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:
*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.
-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
-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.
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.
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.