Eagles kicked Samuel where it hurts

Posted: October 25, 2011

If you go to his personal website, Asante Samuel's name is accompanied by the words "Future Hall of Famer."

This is a man with an ego. And you know what? That's OK. A lot of great athletes have oversize egos. For an awful lot of them there is a connection between their supreme self-confidence and their ability to perform at a high level. They need a mystique to live up to.

If you take your head out of the teapot, the tempest generated by Samuel's on-air interview with 97.5 FM the Fanatic doesn't seem like such a big deal. In order to run alongside 6-foot-3, 210-pound men with 4.48 speed, Samuel needs to believe he is the best cornerback in the universe - just as Brian Dawkins needed to believe he was Weapon X to be the player he was here. And if Samuel believes, then the idea that his team keeps trying to trade him away for draft picks is bound to cause a bit of cognitive dissonance.

"It doesn't sit well with me," Samuel told the station.

Later, he added, "As long as I'm getting paid, I'm going to do my job. . . . I just know in the back of my head they don't want me. . . . They put it out there so everybody can know that, so I know that, and everybody knows that . . . and Asante Samuel is a business entity first, so I'll make sure I handle my business accordingly."

Aside from the unfortunate words "business entity first" - really? Ahead of human being, man and son? - there really isn't much wrong with Samuel's comments. Those rumors he was being dangled as bait before last week's NFL trade deadline came from somewhere. It is natural that he would suspect the Eagles front office, especially since there was serious talk of trading him early in training camp. So he's going to do his job, even though he knows in the back of his mind that his bosses find him expendable. What's the problem, exactly?

Well, the problem is that everyone has seen Samuel playing at something less than his best through the Eagles' first six games. Whether that results from his attitude or from adjusting to a new defensive approach that has been a systemwide disaster - that's in the eye of the beholder. When you speak up like this, you give people reason to suspect the worst in you. Ask Allen Iverson if he's tired of hearing about "practice."

But here's the part no one seems to be getting. Samuel has been with the Eagles since 2008. They knew something about him before signing him to a rich free-agent contract. They obviously know even more about him in his fourth season here. Samuel is a raw nerve, a guy alert to the merest perception of disrespect. How would you expect him to react to the idea that he was being offered around the NFL for a draft pick or two?

When Andy Reid talks about putting "players in the right position," this is part of that equation. Managing personalities is a major part of coaching any professional sports team. As Buddy Ryan used to say, "You got to know who to kiss and who to kick, and when to kiss 'em and when to kick 'em."

Samuel is a kiss 'em guy.

Besides that, selling veteran players on the idea of an untested defensive coordinator and a radical new scheme was bound to be tricky. If they didn't buy in 100 percent, the whole enterprise was doomed. Watching Samuel and Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie during the Eagles' 1-4 start, they sure looked like three guys who weren't buying in.

The players obviously bear responsibility for that, but so do the coaches. It's their job to sell their schemes. Results help. By getting Samuel's back up - and then not trading him - the Eagles offered him a perfect alibi for not being all-in. Then, at the trade deadline, they did it again.

The same logic applies to wide receiver DeSean Jackson. He, too, is transparent. His joke of a contract was weighing on him at times last year. It seems to be weighing on him now. With the passing of the bye week, it seems all the more likely that he will not get the contract extension he has earned until after the season, if then.

Is that the best way to get Jackson to focus and perform at his highest level? Yes, he has an obligation to give his all, and he appears to be doing just that most of the time. But his numbers are down, he has dropped some scoring passes and his incentive to risk injury dwindles with each passing week, not to mention each fresh loss.

Jackson and Samuel have egos. They're very, very good at their jobs. Better, one could argue, than the men who kick the players they should kiss.

Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan


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