Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie may be Eagles' best options at corner next season

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie breaks up a pass from behind. He is one of the most athletic corners in the NFL.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie breaks up a pass from behind. He is one of the most athletic corners in the NFL. (RON CORTES / Staff)
Posted: December 17, 2012

Don't be surprised if both Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were to return next season.

Many fans would celebrate the Eagles' dumping both cornerbacks, and it's hard to argue with that sentiment considering how poorly both have played at various points this season.

But with starting-caliber corners a rare commodity in the NFL, the Eagles may find themselves with no better alternatives than the warts-and-all pair they currently retain the rights to.

Money, of course, will factor significantly into whether Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie are part of the post-Andy Reid Eagles.

Asomugha is slated to earn $15 million next season, with $4 million of that guaranteed. The Eagles will not bring Asomugha back at that figure. He would likely agree to a restructured contract because - at 31 and on the downside of his career - what the Eagles would likely offer would be more than he could make on the open market.

"Here's the thing that I know," Asomugha said Thursday when he was asked about next season. "Everybody wants to be back. We don't know how it's going to shake out, but I can tell you everybody believes in this team and knows the direction that we're going. We think it's up."

The Eagles could simply cut Asomugha and eat the $4 million, but that's a large chunk of cash against what is projected to be a flat salary cap. As of now, the Eagles are about $17 million over the 2013 cap, although they will save some dough when Michael Vick and several others are presumably released.

Rodgers-Cromartie will be an unrestricted free agent in March. The Eagles could place their franchise tag on the 26-year-old for one season, but with the tag expected to be worth $10.4 million for cornerbacks, it is unlikely.

The Eagles will have a few months to work out a deal with Rodgers-Cromartie, but it may be in his best interest to wait. The list of available free-agent cornerbacks isn't an especially attractive one. While Rodgers-Cromartie has some flaws, he remains one of the more athletically gifted corners in the NFL.

"I know what I have in me. I know what kind of player I am," Rodgers-Cromartie said Thursday after the Eagles' 34-13 loss to the Bengals. "If nobody can see it, then that's just them."

Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie had their best game as a tandem in months Thursday. After a historically wretched six-game stretch, the Eagles secondary has fared well in the last two games.

Rodgers-Cromartie had perhaps his best game in Tampa on Dec. 9. He followed up that performance with another gem against Cincinnati in which he held Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green to six catches for 57 yards and a touchdown.

But Rodgers-Cromartie, who came from Arizona in the Kevin Kolb trade in July 2011, had extended stretches during the Eagles' eight-game losing streak when he was not playing up to his ability. He's never going to be a strong tackler, but he shouldn't get beat as often as he did.

"This has been a tough season for him with the ups and downs," Reid said. "You have to make sure that you keep it focused every week. It doesn't matter how the team is doing or whatever the situation is, you stay focused on your job."

There were several moments when Rodgers-Cromartie did not appear to be giving full effort. The same went for Asomugha, who is a slightly better tackler but can no longer run with top receivers.

"Listen, he's had an up-and-down season, too," Reid said of Asomugha. "He'll be the first one to tell you that."

Reid said he had a talk with both corners after the game against the Cowboys on Dec. 2. They responded. Asomugha struggled against the Buccaneers, but most of his struggles came after he suffered a back injury. He did not allow a single reception against the Bengals.

If they play as well in the new scheme for the final two games, there could be an argument made for bringing both back.

An upgrade at safety next season could help their cause. At least one starting safety (Kurt Coleman) and possibly the other (Nate Allen) could be gone. Finding upgrades will be a challenge.

If the Eagles keep one corner - likely Rodgers-Cromartie - or unload both, they have the obvious avenues to look for replacements. In house, Curtis Marsh would be the next outside corner. He has played very little in two seasons, but the fact that he could not supplant either starter at their worst suggests he may never be ready.

Brandon Boykin has been consistent in the slot. Reid recently said the rookie could play outside. He did in college. But Boykin is only 5-foot-9 and the Eagles prefer taller outside corners.

There is no Brandon Carr, who signed with the Cowboys last offseason, on the free-agent market. The Eagles could go the draft route, but they have other needs as well, which brings the discussion back to Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie.

If they can get both at good value, it might make sense to bring both back. It could be worse.


Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com and on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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