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Why keeping Asante makes sense

During Sunday morning's practice, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Joselio Hanson continued to line up as the team's starting cornerbacks.

The Eagles' offseason began with right corner as their biggest hole, but after acquiring Rodgers-Cromartie and signing Nnamdi Asomugha, the question that hangs over the defense now is: Will the Eagles keep all three cornerbacks, or is Asante Samuel headed out of town?

I've heard some people poking holes in Samuel's game recently, and while he isn't the most sound tackler or the most physical player, by most measures, he turned in a career year in 2010.

I've mentioned the numbers before, but Samuel allowed just 3.2 yards per pass on 36 targets, according to Football Outsiders. That was tops in the league - better than Darrelle Revis (5.6) and better than Asmougha (5.9). Samuel also had seven interceptions. Consider that for a moment. He created a turnover once every 5.14 times teams threw at him. If Rodgers-Cromartie would have had that ratio, he would have had nearly 20 interceptions in 2010.

Sure, it helped Samuel that teams threw away from him, considering Ellis Hobbs and Dimitri Patterson were manning the other side. But when teams threw his way, Samuel made them pay. According to Pro Football Focus, opposing QBs had a 31.7 rating when throwing at Samuel. That too was the best mark in the league.

Samuel is 30 years old and scheduled to make the following base salaries the next three seasons: $5.9M in 2011, $8.4M in 2012, and $10.4M in 2013. Johnathan Joseph, 27, just got a five-year, $48.75M deal from the Texans with $23.5M guaranteed. And Asomugha, 30, got a five-year, $60M deal with $25M guaranteed. Maybe Samuel's contract won't look so good in 2013, but I'm not sure it's such a problem for 2011, considering how well he played last year.

Which brings us to trade talks. Jeff McLane of the Inquirer caught up with Samuel's agent, Alonzo Shavers, who said his client does not want to be traded, but according to the article, the Eagles are already fielding calls and could deal the cornerback if a "great" offer came along. A league source told Joe Person of The Charlotte Observer that the Panthers could be interested.

By now, you probably know my take. I think there's great value in keeping Samuel and teaming him with Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie.

A few items to consider:

* The Eagles had to cover three or more receivers 47 percent of the time in 2010, per Football Outsiders.
* Teams like the Packers played offensively with three or more receivers 60 percent of the time.
* Samuel missed four games last year. Asomugha missed two.

In other words, let's say the Eagles made Rodgers-Cromartie the nickel corner. He's still going to be on the field quite a bit.

Greg Cosell of NFL Films had a very interesting Tweet yesterday:

Eagles looking to play like Colts of few yrs ago. Get ahead early, force opposing offense to play from behind, play nickel + dime + rush QB.

That makes a lot of sense to me. And it puts their offseason moves into context - not only with adding Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha, but with signing Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin as proven pass rushers.

Play more nickel. Let teams run the ball a little bit. Only keep a couple linebackers on the field. The Eagles have the personnel to do that right now, without making any additional roster moves.

There are only two ways I consider dealing Samuel. One is for financial purposes. If moving him is the easiest way to free up money and extend DeSean Jackson and Michael Vick, then it might make sense. But Joe Banner doesn't seem too worried about the team's cap situation, so maybe the Eagles could get something done with Jackson and Vick anyway.

Number two: If trading Samuel lands them a legitimate right tackle in return.

The more I think about it, the more I believe right tackle is now the biggest concern on this team.

Given all the moves they've made, I don't see how the Eagles can be comfortable with either King Dunlap or a less-than-healthy Winston Justice protecting Vick's blind side. It just doesn't add up - not after they've said they're "all in" and have made moves to back up that notion. Dunlap has been playing right tackle with the first team at Lehigh, and Justice is on the PUP list so far.

If they don't add a new right tackle, maybe the Eagles move Todd Herremans over there and plug newly acquired Evan Mathis or Mike McGlynn in at guard. But with each passing day, it becomes more apparent that this is something which needs to be addressed.

I've heard suggestions that the Eagles should target a middle linebacker in exchange for Samuel, but given the way they've viewed the linebacker position in recent years, I'm not sure that makes sense. My guess is any LB they'd consider would have to be young, proven and relatively cheap. Not an easy combination to find.

We still don't know what the Eagles will do with Samuel, but for now, everyone is saying the right things. Samuel's camp says he doesn't want to be traded. Rodgers-Cromartie says he can be the nickel corner. And Asomugha today called the Eagles' situation "very workable."

I'm sure Howie Roseman and company are fielding calls, as reported, but unless the right deal comes along, holding on to Samuel makes the most sense.

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