At cornerback, the Eagles may have to start over

Aqib Talib has had off-field issues, but is supremely talented. MICHAEL DWYER / AP
Aqib Talib has had off-field issues, but is supremely talented. MICHAEL DWYER / AP
Posted: March 11, 2013

The peril of a high-profile free-agent signing is evidenced by an examination of Nnamdi Asomugha's two seasons in Philadelphia. During that time, Asomugha's reputation sank from perhaps the finest cornerback in the NFL and the marquee free agent on the market to a player who might be unceremoniously released any day.

Asomugha is still on the Eagles' roster. But unless the two sides can renegotiate the big deal he signed in 2011, the Eagles will be scouring the free-agent pool to find his replacement. And with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie also free to sign with any team, it's entirely conceivable that the Eagles would need to replace both starting cornerbacks.

The Dallas Cowboys did that last season, although they signed the top cornerback on the market (Brandon Carr) and drafted the top cornerback (Morris Claiborne). This is a deep class of free-agent cornerbacks, but any big-money offer must come with the understanding of the risk of free agency.

The top cornerback is likely Sean Smith, a 25-year-old from the Miami Dolphins who is 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds. Smith's size is rare at that position, and his 56 starts offer impressive experience. The caveat is that Smith's position as the top cornerback on the market also puts him in position for a big contract, and the Palm Beach Post reported that Smith is looking for $24 million guaranteed over three years.

Smith has never appeared in a Pro Bowl, and he has just five career interceptions. Signing him could require a bidding war.

Another intriguing name will be Aqib Talib, a 2008 first-round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who was traded to the New England Patriots last season. Off-field issues have accompanied his potentially elite talent. Talib, who turned 27 last month, is 6-foot-1 and has 19 interceptions in 64 games.

For under-the-radar picks, ascending players who won't cause a splash but could make sense for the Birds, watch Keenan Lewis from the Pittsburgh Steelers, Derek Cox from the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Antoine Cason from the San Diego Chargers. Each is 26 (and turning 27 this year) with starting experience and physical tools to excel in a new environment.

For proven players who are a little older, two names to watch are Brent Grimes and Chris Gamble. Both will be 30 next season. Grimes, a Philadelphia native who attended Northeast High School, was a 2010 Pro Bowler and is coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon.

There is risk of decline because of injury, and at 5-10, he does not fit the profile of taller cornerbacks who have become the trend in the NFL. Gamble, who was released on Friday, is 6-1 and has 27 career interceptions. But after nine NFL seasons, his best days might be behind him.

The most talented cornerback on the market might prove to be Rodgers-Cromartie. He underachieved in Philadelphia. But if he reaches his potential, he could be the best signing of any cornerback from this class.


Top Free-Agent Cornerbacks

Player   Team   Age   Ht.   Wt.   

Sean Smith   Dolphins   25   6-3   218   

Aqib Talib   Patriots   27   6-1   205   

Keenan Lewis   Steelers   26   6-0   208   

Brent Grimes   Falcons   29   5-10   183   

Derek Cox   Jaguars   26   6-1   195   

Antoine Cason   Chargers   26   6-1   195   

Greg Toler   Cardinals   28   6-0   192   

Chris Gamble   Panthers   29   6-1   205   

Cary Williams   Ravens   28   6-1   190   


Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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