When Asante Samuel zoomed into Philadelphia, he was the Eagles' $57 million Porsche.

Four years later, the team discarded the 31-year-old cornerback like an old Pinto, and as he sputtered out of town all they got in return was a seventh-round pick from Atlanta.

The Falcons treated Samuel like a shiny new addition to their stable of cornerbacks, a four-time Pro Bowl player, once he agreed to restructure his contract on Wednesday.

"We just improved our team today," Falcons coach Mike Smith said.

The Eagles, meanwhile, privately heaved a sigh of relief that they were able to part with a player they considered steep in decline, no longer fitted to their defensive scheme, and - most important - one slated to be paid $21.4 million in the final two years of the six-year contract he signed as a free agent in February 2008.

"We wish Asante Samuel all the best as he heads into the next chapter of his career in Atlanta," Eagles coach Andy Reid said in a statement. "He has been a very productive member of the Eagles for the past four years and we appreciate all that he has done for our organization."

Samuel agreed to a pay cut before the teams settled on compensation. He will make $18.5 million over three years provided he plays out the length of the contract. Samuel was never given the option to restructure his contract with the Eagles, a source close to the situation said.

"It's a business," Samuel said.

Reid had decided as far back as last summer, after the Eagles acquired cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, that Samuel was available.

The Eagles received an offer from Detroit in August for two second-day draft picks, but the trade fell apart when Samuel and the Lions couldn't agree on how to rework his deal.

So the Eagles went into the season with three Pro Bowl cornerbacks and only two starting spots. Rodgers-Cromartie played in the slot in nickel situations but struggled. Samuel continued to mostly play off at left corner, but his bait-and-switch style often did not mesh with a defense that blitzed less.

Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo moved Asomugha all around, and last season's prized free agent signing looked lost at times. He also had trouble adapting to the Eagles' zone defense when he primarily played man-to-man in Oakland.

With Samuel out of the picture, Castillo has two corners in Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie who prefer to play man-press at the line.

"We obviously feel good about our cornerback situation moving forward," Reid said. "Those two played very well together in the latter part of the season and we anticipate that will continue as we head into the 2012 season."

Samuel missed the last two games of the 2011 season with an ankle injury, and Rodgers-Cromartie moved back to his natural spot on the left side. He fared well. But the 26-year-old had a number of head-scratching moments in the first 14 games, even if he was playing out of position.

Rodgers-Cromartie will make $1.13 million in the last year of his contract. The Eagles can move on in 2013. That flexibility makes selecting a cornerback in this year's draft, perhaps even in the first round, a possibility.

The seventh-round pick the Eagles got for Samuel is 229th overall. They have 10 picks.

Samuel departs with 23 interceptions in four seasons as an Eagle, tied for 10th on the team's all-time list. He was voted into three Pro Bowls here.

Quarterbacks often feared throwing in his direction, but his sub-par tackling and the space he gave receivers made him susceptible to throws underneath.

Boisterous and full of self-confidence, Samuel rubbed some fans the wrong way. But his sense of humor made him a locker room favorite.

Samuel's 52 career interceptions, including the postseason, make him a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate, although he may need at least a dozen more to convince voters.

He joins cornerbacks Brent Grimes, a product of Northeast High, and Dunta Robinson in Atlanta. Samuel will likely play left corner there with either Grimes or Robinson moving into the slot.

"Matt Ryan, I bet, is happy to see me," Samuel said of the Falcons quarterback, whom he has picked off three times. "I can show him a thing or two."

He can also show the Eagles that he isn't some old car on its last legs. The Eagles will host Samuel and the Falcons on Oct. 28.

"Is the Linc going to erupt?" he asked.

Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com or follow @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.