The Eagles need a cornerback for 2011, but what about the future? How will this offseason affect future plans and moves at cornerback?
There has already been a tremendous amount of speculation this offseason about what the Eagles will do to fill the hole at right cornerback. I've written numerous columns and articles about the various targets and possible moves the team could make. One thing I don't think we've really done is to discuss the big picture. What is the long term plan at cornerback?
Asante Samuel is a stud corner who delivers big plays year after year. Unfortunately, Samuel is 30 years old. He hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, but cornerbacks don't tend to age well. There are some exceptions (Darrell Green was amazing in that sense). Samuel will be the left corner for the next couple of years, but you can't count on him playing at a high level beyond that. You hope he does, but nothing is guaranteed.
Joselio Hanson has proven himself to be a solid slot corner. He isn't meant to be a starter, but does a good job of taking on receivers in the middle of the field. Hanson is more quick than fast and that fits the slot well.
The Eagles do have a pair of young corners they like. Trevard Lindley was a fourth round pick in 2009. Curtis Marsh was a third round pick back in April. The Eagles want these guys to develop into starters for the future, want being the key word. While the Eagles have high hopes for Lindley and Marsh, they are both unknowns.
Lindley showed some good things last year. He played well in the win over Dallas. He didn't start, but ended up playing most of the game because of an injury. That was his best showing of the season. Overall, he saw extensive action in a couple of games and had one start, the meaningless finale against Dallas when the backups played. Marsh is a project. He's coming from a small school and has only spent a couple of years playing cornerback. The Eagles know he will take some time adjusting to the pro game.
One reason I don't think the Eagles are all that interested in Nnamdi Asomugha is his age. Like Samuel, Asomugha is 30. He still can play at a high level for a few years, but then both corners would be old at the same time. When you factor in that Asomugha will get a huge deal, that is two major strikes against him. I think the Eagles would ideally love to find a corner in his prime to put opposite of Samuel. That is what makes Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie such a good fit. He would provide talent and stability at right corner for the next five or so years.
We're just speculating about him. Obviously teams can't talk trades with the lockout still in place. We still don't know if Rodgers-Cromartie will even be on the table. Heck, we don't even know if the Eagles have any interest. I'm assuming they would, but that's strictly a guess. If he isn't available, the Eagles will have an interesting choice to make. They could go for Ike Taylor or Jonathan Joseph.
Taylor is older, but wouldn't carry a huge price tag. He would also be a terrific fit for the Eagles defense. Joseph is in the prime of his career, but might cost more and I don't see him as an ideal fit for the Eagles. Taylor would be a short term fix at right corner. That would put pressure right back on Lindley and Marsh to develop quickly. If a player like Joseph was added, they would have more leeway.
Cornerback is a premium position. You can get by with one strong corner and one average corner. Teams prefer to have a pair of good corners, but you must have at least one. When Samuel is gone in a couple of years, the Eagles need to have someone in place to be the good corner.
Lindley and Marsh are mid-round picks. You don't make plans around guys like that. Think about the last 15 years. The Eagles had Bobby Taylor in place in 1996 and went after Troy Vincent in free agency. That duo played together until 2003. The Eagles made Al Harris a well-paid number three corner for a couple of years. The Eagles spent high draft picks on Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown in 2002. The Eagles developed Joselio Hanson as a third corner and paid him well. In 2008 the Eagles gave Asante Samuel a huge contract to bring him into the fold. The point of all this is that the Eagles place an emphasis on corner. They will spend big dollars or high picks to get the guys they want.
The Eagles like Lindley and Marsh and would love for them to become stud players, but won't count on that. The Eagles will add a high quality right corner this offseason, but that isn't the final piece of the puzzle. They could turn around and spend a high pick on a corner next April. In recent years the Eagles have eyed some cornerbacks in the draft that unfortunately got picked by other teams. They liked Vontae Davis and Aaron Ross. They considered trading back into the first round for Kyle Wilson in 2010, but decided the compensation was going to be too much. I know some people think that settling for Ellis Hobbs as the right corner in 2010 shows the team has changed in some way, but that was an aberration. The Eagles still see cornerback as a premium position.
In a fantasy world, the Eagles would get a long term solution at right corner this offseason. Lindley and Marsh would develop and be ready to make an impact in 2012 or 2013. Lindley could take over the slot from Hanson and Marsh would become the left corner in place of Samuel. There is also the possibility that Jorrick Calvin or Brandon Hughes could develop and challenge for a spot.
The Eagles know that cornerback is an odd position for them right now. They love Samuel and Hanson, but those guys aren't spring chickens. Everything else is a question mark. What happens between now and next March will dictate how the Eagles go forward. If they land a right corner still in his prime, that gives them a lot of freedom. Lindley needs to show progress from last year. Juan Castillo specifically mentioned that Lindley's footwork was an area that needed work. Marsh isn't likely to get on the field at all, but he needs to show the team in practice that his potential can translate to the NFL game. Being a good cornerback in the WAC is far different from doing it in the NFL.
If things don't work out so well, the Eagles could be right back pursuing a good corner next year via trade or free agency. Or they could go into the draft wanting a corner to be taken early. Basically, the only certainty is uncertainty at this point. While this may sound bad, it isn't necessarily. The new right corner will be an improvement on Hobbs and Dimitri Patterson. New cornerbacks coach Johnnie Lynn might do a really good job with Lindley and Marsh. A position of uncertainty could quickly change to a major strength.