Marcus Hayes: In Samuel trade, Birds toss a no-hitter

Asante Samuel displays his typical tackling technique by playing two-hand touch with Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald.
Asante Samuel displays his typical tackling technique by playing two-hand touch with Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: April 26, 2012

THE TRADE of @pick_six22 returned a seventh-rounder.

It's the most significant return Asante Samuel has made in years.

The Eagles traded Samuel to the Falcons for the 229th overall pick in this weekend's draft, apparently because a bag of hammers was way too much to ask.

The hammers hit a lot harder than Samuel ever did.

The Eagles thought they had solved their secondary problems for the long term when they signed Samuel as a $56 million free agent after the 2007 season. Well, they didn't.

For each of his 23 interceptions as an Eagle, Samuel missed five tackles.

For every pick he turned into six, he gave up 10 touchdowns.

Asante Samuel was a fraud, wrapped in a mirage, inside an illusion.

He had the hands of a receiver and the tackling skills of a quarterback.

Sorry, quarterbacks.

If Reggie White was the Minister of Defense, then Asante Samuel was the choirboy.

That is the first and last time you will see Samuel compared to a choirboy.

Not that Samuel is unprofessional. Samuel's preparation for games is legendary - because, after all, the more you prepare, the weaker you can play.

Samuel has made a career out of anticipation. Not winning battles for balls; not covering tightly and physically, risking a dislocated finger or a sprained knee.

He is the master of the deflected interception; the king of right place, right time. He jumps routes like a kid jumps rope.

The two Eagles cornerbacks who remain, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, can now play real NFL defense - the kind where they wrestle with a receiver at the line of scrimmage, run with him step-for-step and dare the quarterback to throw at them.

Troy Vincent defense.

Eric Allen defense.

The sort of defense that enables the wide-nine philosophy, giving time for defensive ends to crash the pocket; not the sort of defense that creates a bubble just past the line of scrimmage where QBs can dump passes before the pass rush gets close.

The wide-nine simply cannot work with the Charmin technique: soft coverage with a delicate finish.

Still, every once in a while, Samuel did lay a lick. Clearly, it left him delusional.

Of Philadelphia's fan base, he was quoted as saying:

"I know it was sad to see me go."

That would be the portion of the fan base with No. 22 jerseys.

Really, how can a guy named Asante play tough? And what does Samuel's breathy first name mean, anyway?

Well, given his body of work, if "sante" means "health" in French, "A" must mean "I only care about my own."

Samuel was a poor influence on his little buddy, third-year franchise back LeSean McCoy. Now, McCoy can grow up amid a group of selfless, determined professionals; he stands a real chance of maturing into something better than a Ricky Watters redux.

Of course, with Samuel, you always knew the answer to "For who? For what?"

He was the festering portion of the diseased secondary that cost the Eagles a playoff shot this season. Combined with free-agent safety Jerrod Page - another Patriots castoff - controversial first-year coordinator Juan Castillo stood no chance.

And then there was the mouth.

Always, the mouth; always, running.

Good for sports writers; bad for coaches.

How happy are hardhatter line coaches Jim Washburn and Howard Mudd that Samuel's smack-talk sessions in practice now take place in Flowery Branch? Then again, with Samuel's yapper, Wash and Mudd might be able to hear him all the way from Georgia.

All that said, fully expect for Samuel to make lots of noise in the 404. The Falcons are well-suited to exploit the remnants of his talents.

Samuel will play opposite Dunta Robinson, the ferocious cheap-shotter fined each of the past two seasons for illegal hits to Eagles top receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. The Falcons don't need to get any tougher.

And they didn't.

The Falcons also ranked seventh in the league in scoring last year, which means that they often forced opponents to pass when they didn't want to. That plays to Samuel's strengths.

Or, strength.

So, this is a good marriage. It could be great.

Samuel will return crowing loudly Oct. 28, when the Falcons visit Philadelphia. He will have an impact on that game. He knows Andy Reid's schemes, Michael Vick's tendencies and all the receivers' moves.

Good for him. Given his unremarkable pedigree, there is no real reason Samuel should be where he is.

If anyone had any inkling that Samuel would unlock the key to picking off NFL quarterbacks, would he have played at Central Florida? This was a Fort Lauderdale kid, and he played college ball in Orlando - not in Tallahassee or Gainesville or Coral Gables.

He picked off eight passes for no touchdowns in three college seasons, so the Pats were able to take him with the 120th pick in 2003. That's 92 picks and three rounds after Tennessee took first-round bust Andre Woolfolk out of Oklahoma.

So much for scouting.

So, good for Samuel.

He won two Super Bowls with the Patriots, who, tellingly, let him depart via free agency with something of a snicker after he dropped an interception that would have clinched a third.

Given his shortcomings, Samuel, with 45 career picks, probably needs 15 or 20 more to be seriously considered for the Hall. He is only 31, and, given his aversion to contact, he is a low-mileage 31. If he plays only five more seasons, he could wind up with 60 picks, maybe 70.

That would put him up there with hitmen like Night Train Lane, an orphaned factory worker and Army vet, and Rod Woodson, who used to run windsprints on a treadmill after training-camp double sessions.

Still, enough interceptions might get Samuel fitted for that golden jacket. His bust will be displayed in Deion's corner.

Is this irony, or is this karma: In the past two seasons, Samuel made a genuine effort to tackle better. And more frequently. And less cowardly.

And was hurt. Twice.

His ankle injury at the end of the 2011 season gave the Eagles the chance to see Asomugha and DRC play in tandem, with Joselio Hanson nicely holding down the slot between them.

Talk about addition by subtraction.

And don't be endeared to Samuel for taking a pay cut in order to move. He was due more than $21 million the next two seasons. He reportedly restructured his contract to make no more than $18.5 million over 3 years.

His alternative?

Get cut. Be on the street after the draft. Hope someone sees some value, and take whatever they offer, hope for a big season and pray your reputation doesn't follow you.

Instead, Samuel had a say in where he landed.

To be clear, Asante actually means "thank you" in Swahili.

Samuel should send a bouquet to the Eagles. On the card, he should inscribe:

Asante. Asante, very much.


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com.

 

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