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Making sense of the Asante deal

As you've likely heard by now, the Eagles have dealt cornerback Asante Samuel to the Falcons for a seventh-round pick.

I've received a bunch of questions on Twitter about the move, so lets answer 'em here.

Q: Why didn't they just keep Samuel?

A: It's important to remember that this trade pretty much originated last summer when the Eagles acquired Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha. They made it known then that Samuel could be had for the right offer, but apparently, Howie Roseman was unable to complete a deal for the veteran cornerback before or during the season.

Before anyone calls me out, I was in favor of the Birds keeping all three. I was wrong. What I failed to realize was that none of them could play the slot. Greg Cosell of NFL Films recently pointed out the three traits associated with playing inside: coverage skills, ability to provide run support and the ability to blitz. The Eagles tried Rodgers-Cromartie in the slot, but he proved to be a terrible tackler, and he was much better later in the year as a cover man on the outside.

If the Eagles were to keep all three corners, one of them would have to be a backup, with Joselio Hanson (or perhaps a draft pick) playing the slot. So who would be the odd man out? It would have to be Rodgers-Cromartie, which could be an issue, considering he's a former Pro Bowler and entering a contract year. In other words, the pieces just don't fit.

One counter-argument to what I just wrote is: Shouldn't the defensive coordinator (Juan Castillo) be able to make it work? Isn't that his job?

And that's a fair point. The front office and the coaching staff must work together to make sure they have the right pieces and the pieces fit. They tried it with this group last year, and it didn't work. There's little reason to believe that would have changed next season.

Q: So, why not trade Roders-Cromartie or Asomugha?

A: Rodgers-Cromartie is only 26 years old and carries a salary of about $1.1M in 2012. He's a Pro Bowl talent and an asset, even if he didn't show it last year.

The Eagles just signed Asomugha last offseason, and he's due $11M in 2012. Would a team be willing to take on his contract? Doubtful. And as I pointed out in a previous post, while he struggled badly when opponents threw at him, Asomugha was only targeted 6.3 percent of the time, so quarterbacks stayed away from him quite a bit.

Samuel is 31 and was due a reported $9.5M on his deal with the Eagles. Again, this decision was made last summer, not in the last few weeks.

Q: But a seventh-round pick? Really?

A: This part is difficult  to explain. Sure, Samuel's age and contract posed issues. But he still played at a high level last year. Considering the importance of the cornerback position and Samuel's ability to force turnovers, surely there had to be a better deal on the table, right?

Jeff McLane of the Inquirer has reported that the Eagles had a deal on the table with the Lions before last season for two second-day draft picks (either second-rounders or third-rounders), but the deal fell apart for reasons other than compensation.

One thing to remember is that Samuel had leverage in proposed trade talks because he had to agree to restructure his deal with interested teams. It was almost like a free-agent situation in that respect.

Still, it says something about the Eagles (a front office that has the reputation of often "winning" trades) that they were willing to part with him for a measly seventh-rounder.

Q: Does this mean the Eagles will draft a cornerback?

A: If you've been reading MTC, you know I've been on board with taking a cornerback early for weeks now. Mike Mayock has the Eagles taking South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore in the first round. Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick could be an option too.

Later on, Georgia's Brandon Boykin could be attractive as someone to compete with Hanson for the slot spot (and he can return punts/kicks). Alabama's DeQuan Menzie projects to play the slot as well. Clemson's Coty Sensabaugh was Mayock's sleeper in his online series with Domo and could be a mid-round option. And the Eagles reportedly worked out LSU's Ron Brooks, who could be a late-round choice.

In other words, yes, I think the Eagles will come away with a cornerback in this draft.

Q: What about the players currently on their roster?

A: Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie project to be the starters. And as of right now, Hanson figures to be the nickel corner, but as I just mentioned, that could change, depending on who they draft.

One thing to remember when we talk about Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie playing press-man coverage on the outside is that the Eagles were very good at covering tight ends last season. Part of that was because they used Asomugha against Jason Witten and others. Castillo will have to decide if he wants to continue to move Asomugha around or just leave him on the right side.

Many have asked about Curtis Marsh, a third-round pick last year. I wish I could give you a real opinion on him, but he played only 13 snaps last year, according to Pro Football Focus. Ideally, he will have improved enough to provide depth behind Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie. But we'll have to see how he develops in the coming months and how much the coaching staff trusts him at the start of next season.

Brandon Hughes, who was originally a fifth-round pick by the Chargers in 2009, saw his most significant playing time against the Patriots last season, playing at right cornerback, and did not perform well. Then again, he was going up against Tom Brady. Not exactly a fair test.

The other corners on the roster are Trevard Lindley (a fourth-round pick in 2010) and D.J. Johnson (an undrafted free agent in 2009).

From earlier:

My mock draft roundup
Full Eagles NFL draft coverage

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