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Nnamdi changes Eagles' defensive landscape

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Recent posts by Eric Edholm

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Posted July 29, 2011 @ 7:06 p.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

The Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes ended with a surprise: The Eagles landed the top free-agent target of the year. After much attention was focused on the Jets and Cowboys as likely landing spots for the Pro Bowl corner, the Eagles swooped in and signed Asomugha to a five-year deal worth $60 million with $25 million guaranteed. Asomugha is a three-time Pro Bowler with 11 career interceptions. He spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Raiders. The Eagles have also added CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie via a trade with the Cardinals and agreed to terms with former Titans DE Jason Babin.

The PFW spin

The Eagles said they were going to be aggressive in free agency. They were not kidding.

They made the boldest move of the free-agency period, signing the top guy available and changing the landscape of the defense. What made the deal so sweet was that they paid just a little more money than the Texans paid to Johnathan Joseph.

With a first-year coordinator in Juan Castillo, the Eagles wanted to keep things simpler than the schemes of predecessor Sean McDermott and focus on being a harder-hitting defense and more of a playmaking unit.

They'll pressure. The blitzes won't be as complex as in previous seasons, but as Castillo said on Thursday, "We're going to attack and get up the field."

That means they will send their defensive ends — led by Jason Babin and Trent Cole — loose after the quarterback, play gap control defense in the middle and man-cover a lot on the back end.

Asomugha helps them do this. Right corner was a huge trouble spot all last season, and this instantly cures that issue. He prefers to play man-on coverage. Rodgers-Cromartie prefers to play off. They have gone young and fast at linebacker, and they have penciled in a hard-hitting rookie (Jaiquwan Jarrett) at strong safety. Everything is starting to come together.

Andy Reid never was going to put Castillo in a situation where he was going to have to prove himself as a defensive coach without better talent than McDermott had last season. They had to get better at several spots to give Castillo a fair shot, and the improved talent will make the scheming and the play-calling a lot easier.

Asomugha is a big, physical press corner who loves to get in receivers' faces, and considering the size of wideouts we see in the NFC East — Hakeem Nicks and Dez Bryant, to name two — this is an outstanding matchup move.

Now, here's the intriguing part — what do the Eagles do with Asante Samuel? He has a base salary of nearly $6 million and a cap hit of more than $9 million. The club reportedly butted heads with Samuel last season for his constant freelancing and disinterest in tackling.

Samuel currently is not in Bethlehem, Pa. for training camp, excused for "personal reasons." Could the Eagles trade or dump him? Might they have known something was in the hopper all along? Perhaps. There are plenty of teams in the market for a gambling, interception-making corner. The Cardinals got involved with Asomugha late, and the Jets were able to clear cap space to be a front-runner most of the time he was out there. Either team could be interested in his services.

If they keep both Rodgers-Cromartie (likely) and Samuel (unclear), one of them has to prove they can play the slot. Asomugha can handle that duty, but they much rather would keep him outside, it would appear. It just doesn't seem likely all three will remain in Philly. Having that much salary committed to one position is extremely restricting, especially with a $120 million cap.

This also has an impact on the DeSean Jackson situation. The holdout receiver is not getting a new deal — not until he shows up. That's not the way the Eagles operate; they don't get strong-armed into contracts. So when Jackson sees the Asomugha salary figure from home, what will he think? It could trigger him to report sooner rather than later — or make him dig his heels in even harder.

The NFC East landscape just changed dramatically. The Eagles come in at the last minute and pull a shocker. They backdoored the Cowboys and landed the top available cover corner on the market. And most importantly, the Eagles' defense just got better. They have to be considered a Super Bowl contender with this move and the others they have made to this point.

There are moves on the horizon, big ones, too. Keep tuned in. This just got a lot more interesting in Philly — and in the rest of the division that always keeps us on our toes.

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