How the Eagles were able to get Asomugha

Eagles GM Howie Roseman (left) and president Joe Banner spent a sleepless week, working on deals to acquire Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason Babin, and Nnamdi Asomugha.
Eagles GM Howie Roseman (left) and president Joe Banner spent a sleepless week, working on deals to acquire Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason Babin, and Nnamdi Asomugha. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)

The surprise move was part of a strategy set months ago.

Posted: July 31, 2011

When Joe Banner reflected on signing Nnamdi Asomugha, he thought back to another big deal he made a decade ago.

In 2000, back in old Veterans Stadium, Banner waited for Jon Runyan.

The tackle had arrived in Philadelphia to sign with the Eagles in one of the first major deals of the Andy Reid era. Banner's phone rang, and his heart sank: Runyan's agent, Ben Dogra, had an emergency.

He told the Eagles to put Runyan in a private room and get him on the phone. Runyan's team, the Tennessee Titans, had upped their offer. They were ready to give him more money than the Eagles would match.

Banner could feel the key addition slipping away.

But Dogra saved the deal.

"We gave our word, we're keeping our word," the agent said, according to Banner. "From that experience, I had a strong trust in Ben."

That trust and longtime relationship would prove critical to the Eagles' stunning signing Friday of another Dogra client, Asomugha, as the team hijacked the top prize in free agency while everyone was looking the other way.

Getting Asomugha was the crowning achievement in a frenetic week of moves that has given the Eagles one of the most talented teams in the NFL.

The head-snapping activity came together through planning, some luck, and trust that kept the Eagles' biggest move entirely under the radar. This is how they did it.

The blueprint

Months ago the Eagles brain trust - owner Jeffrey Lurie, Banner, general manager Howie Roseman, and coach Andy Reid - drew up a "blueprint" of how they planned to attack free agency.

"This was probably the most aggressive plan we ever had," Banner said, and the team was eager to try it. But, he added, he's seen road maps come apart before.

"I wonder how much of this we'll end up executing," Banner wondered as he readied to act on the plan after months of waiting for the NFL lockout to end.

There were other teams to compete with, there were players' personal preferences that could throw wrinkles into any plan - maybe someone just wanted to live on the West Coast - and there was the unprecedented opening of training camps and free agency at the same time.

But when they saw opportunities, the Eagles intended to act fast and decisively.

"If you're not the bold team, you're just going to be watching and reading," Lurie said.

First moves

Their first objectives were to trade Kevin Kolb and get a defensive end.

Nnamdi Asomugha, the best player in free agency, was also on the team's radar, and the Eagles knew they were on his, but in his case they didn't want to jump into the market right away. Instead, they quietly kept in touch with Dogra and started on other routes to fill holes at cornerback and defensive end.

They divided the tasks. Banner would lead negotiations with their first-round draft pick, Danny Watkins, and the trade of Kolb.

Roseman would reach out to defensive end Jason Babin and monitor Asomugha's movement. Team counsel Aileen Daly wound up handling most negotiations with the rest of the Eagles' draft picks.

They moved on parallel tracks, keeping in touch, completing tasks, and barely sleeping as they bounced between negotiations and calls to each other.

Deals for the draft picks, except for Watkins, fell into place early. Babin, too, was quickly signed. New defensive line coach Jim Washburn liked him, Babin liked Washburn, and the Eagles needed a pass rusher.

"The good part about this being condensed is that there's not a lot of games," Roseman said. "You either go, or you're moving on, and they understood that."

Banner also had a fairly straightforward negotiation - of four teams he contacted, the Cardinals were the clear front-runners for Kolb from the start. Arizona offered cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a former Pro Bowler who would fill a huge need.

There were tense moments - the Eagles wanted a high draft pick, the Cardinals wanted a straight-up trade of players - but haggling that might normally take weeks was condensed to a matter of days because of the furious free agency period.

By late Wednesday the deal was about done, even though some details would linger to Thursday: The Eagles would get a second-round pick along with their cornerback.

At first blush a move for another star corner seemed extraneous. But, Roseman said, the team has eyed Asomugha for years, hoping to have a shot at him. If they could do it, Banner thought, "wouldn't this be unbelievable?"

Calm decisions

Since Wednesday Roseman has been at Lehigh, working from a cramped dorm room and on the practice field, the microphone to his cell phone's headpiece held close to his lips as he stalked along the sideline.

Through his calls the Eagles tracked Asomugha's price range, Banner said.

With the Kolb deal all but sealed, the team's decision makers huddled by phone around 6:30 Thursday morning. For around two hours they went over their roster, their salary cap situation, the moves they hoped to make.

And they decided to jump into the Asomugha bidding. The Eagles couldn't offer as much as others, but according to Banner they were Asomugha's top choice, giving them a chance.

Roseman had designed a "strike zone" for potential acquisitions - a range of dollar amounts the team was willing to pay to fill its needs.

"In calm times, you make calm decisions," Roseman said. "In times of stress, sometimes you make decisions that in the moment feel good, because you want to win the battle, as opposed to thinking calmly."

Now, in the midst of the most hectic signing period in NFL history, the team relied on those guidelines laid out in the calm of March and May.

If Asomugha's cost went into the stratosphere - say, $15 million - the Eagles were out. They couldn't afford that price and still follow the rest of their plan.

If he was in their target range, the team would act.

"We would kind of lurk in the shadows and attack," Lurie said.

Still, Banner worried. He wanted any interest kept secret, so the Eagles couldn't be used to simply pump up Asomugha's value. They didn't want to get involved, only to get left at the altar if someone else offered a better contract. They needed trust.

Staying quiet

Dogra, Banner said, helped keep the Eagles' involvement quiet. He even left some of his top aides in the dark.

But the numbers still didn't match up on Thursday. Shortly after midnight Friday morning, Roseman texted Dogra to let him know: Thanks for your consideration, but we can't do it.

At the same moment, Dogra was texting back: I'd really like to make this work. The agent took the simultaneous messaging as a sign, and called Roseman to revive the deal.

"It was hard for us to put everything together with the plan we had with obviously the money that [Asomugha] was going to get," Roseman said. "His commitment to come to Philadelphia was really something that showed through."

Roseman got Reid and Banner on the phone. They woke up Lurie. The chase was back on.

Big deal

For Lurie, the rest of Friday was torturous. He knew the Eagles were involved, but he also saw reports that the Jets and Cowboys were strong contenders. From his Main Line home, he kept one eye on his television and another on his iPad, scouring websites for any news. There he was: watching and reading.

Finally, around 3 p.m., Roseman called. From his dorm room, he had made the deal.

"Of course, subject to owner approval," he said, according to Lurie.

The owner laughed. "Howie, I approve."

Roseman told Reid. The deal couldn't be announced until 6 p.m., though. In his office, Banner celebrated internally, but stared at the clock, wishing it would move faster.

Lurie went back to watching ESPN and the NFL Network. The Jets were the leaders, they said. The Cowboys were also in. It was down to those two, reporters said.

"I'm watching all this knowing we've got him," Lurie said. "It was surreal."

The Eagles got Asomugha for five years and $60 million. Substantial, but less than many expected. He actually took a pay cut from his old deal, which paid $28.5 million over the previous two years.

Hours later, Michael Vick got a text from his brother: Asomugha was an Eagle.

"I didn't believe him. But I went into my dorm room and watched it on SportsCenter," Vick said. He texted Reid: "Man, you at it again. You crazy."

Still going

After landing Asomugha the Eagles quickly added Vince Young, and on Saturday Roseman, standing again on a practice field, completed a deal to sign defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins.

"Dream team," Young said when he met with reporters.

Roseman has barely spoken to his wife. His face Saturday evening was covered in days of stubble. Banner, a numbers guy, said he slept two hours Tuesday, two or three Thursday, and not at all Wednesday.

Friday he didn't sleep either. After getting Asomugha, he was too excited.

The week has been one of the most adrenaline-filled of his career, Banner said. Roseman hopes to reflect on it one day, but he may still be maneuvering.

Banner, meanwhile, said the team's goal is clear: the Super Bowl that has long eluded it.

"There's a big focus on relieving the stress and pain of having been so close so many times and not winning it all," Banner said. "We're very focused on getting that knot out of our stomachs."


Staff writer Timothy Rohan contributed to this article.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, jtamari@phillynews or @JonathanTamari on Twitter.

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