Aug 022011
Eagles CB Asante Samuel

Asante Samuel looks on at Eagles training camp

The good news is Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel has reported to training camp.  He’d previously been excused for personal reasons so it wasn’t really a big deal he hadn’t shown up yet, even in the face of the two new acquisitions at cornerback and all that entailed.

The bad news is now that he’s in camp he doesn’t seem too happy with the firestorm of trade speculation swirling ever since the Eagles signed Pro Bowl free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha right after trading for Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

When asked if he had requested a trade, Samuel responded with the always ominous, “No comment.”

Which probably means “hell yeah.”  That’s not good.

If the Eagles plan on keeping all three of their top corners, they need to immediately come out and say so.  The fact that they haven’t speaks volumes.  Eagles general manager Howie Roseman did indicate that Samuel hadn’t formally requested a trade, but that’s not really the issue here.  It’s whether the Eagles themselves plan to move on from Samuel after bringing in their new toys in the secondary.  Roseman chose to be as vague as possible.

“We’ve always had a really good relationship with Asante, we’ve been very honest with each other, and I think he would say the same thing about our relationship,” Roseman said.

Translation: “We’re willing to listen to any offer and we’ll tell Asante about them when we decide what to do and until then he can twist in the wind and wait since it’s our way or the highway.”

Samuel was obviously not expecting to be the subject of trade rumors and his annoyance is coming through pretty clear.

“I want to be where I’m wanted,” said Samuel. “If I’m not appreciated here, then life goes on.  We had our talks. If they are tired of my big play-making ability, they’ll ship me off. If they still want it, they’ll keep me here.”

Yikes.  Sounds like Asante went to the Donovan McNabb School of Passive Aggressiveness.

It wasn’t all negativity though, with Samuel opting against further complaining after being asked about playing the nickel role.  “Wherever they want me to play, I’m able to play.”  Of course, when asked if he felt he was wanted, he came back with, “It’s probably 50-50.”  So yeah, he’s obviously not happy.

While it may seem like a bit of overkill to have three elite level corners, after the disaster at the position last year having a little extra juice isn’t exactly a bad thing.  For his part, new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo seems not only interested in keeping Samuel, but maintaining him in a starting role.  Speaking to the media, Castillo said it could be the best of the bunch actually lining up in the nickel.

“Nnamdi is a special guy. He wants to make plays. I think he respects [Charles] Woodson. I think he would love that role, being able to blitz — big, tall guy like that coming off the edge, then all of a sudden in press coverage on the slot guy.”

Castillo is referring to how the Super Bowl-winning Green Bay Packers have used Charles Woodson in an almost Jim Johnson-esque Joker role, just with a corner not a lineman.  Of course, while Woodson was still very effective he isn’t exactly in his prime and needed to have his skills used differently to limit his liabilities.  Nnamdi Asomugha is nowhere near that point.  Really, to suggest Asomugha could or should play nickel is sort of ridiculous.  Then again, it sounds like it was Asomugha himself who suggested it.

“Him and I rode in the car together to practice yesterday,” Castillo said, “and [Nnamdi] was the one that mentioned to me the kind of job that Woodson did and that he would be excited about a role like that if it went that way,” said Castillo.

“Here’s the thing, you know that the nickel defensive back is really a starter in the NFL,” Castillo said. “The way people play, there are some teams that don’t even play regular personnel. There are some people like the Colts that play the two tight ends, two wideouts, and one back, and that extra tight end is a receiver. You’re playing that nickel the whole game. You know what, no, we have three starters. You need three starters. That’s a great deal, we’re excited.”

But that statement dramatically overstates the role of the third corner, considering on average the Eagles have used the nickel only about half the time, and there’s no way the Eagles or Nnamdi himself would intentionally look to limit the prize free agent’s playing time in any way.  Asomugha didn’t sign a 5-year deal for $60 million to be the team’s third corner.  It’s just a bit disingenous to suggest otherwise, unless Castillo really is implying that the Eagles are going to run the nickel as the full time base defense.  And that’s highly unlikely.

It’s a tough call.  The Eagles would greatly benefit from the luxury of having three elite players at corner, but on the flipside, if one of them (ie., Samuel) can be moved for a starter at another position — like linebacker — it might make sense.  The problem is, finding a team willing to part with a linebacker, or any player really, worthy of the value Asante has may be difficult.  If the Eagles can’t acquire an impact player with commensurate value then they are much better off just holding on to Samuel.  They certainly can’t trade him for a future draft pick which will do nothing to contribute to winning right now.

So the drama continues… 

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