Following a 10-6 season in 2011, ended by a 21-16 playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, the Philadelphia Eagles decided to be aggressive in the off season to put them over the top. The Eagles began their off season transformation by firing Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott and shockingly promoting their Offensive Line Coach, Juan Castillo as the new Defensive Coordinator. Castillo, who had not coached defense since 1989, implemented the “Wide 9” defensive, which was a complete change from Mcdermott’s version of the 4-3 defense. Following the coaching change the Eagles went all in during the free agency period and signed most notably- the highly coveted former Oakland Raider cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (5 year, $60 million), former Eagle and first time Pro-bowler Jason Babin (5 year, $28 million), former Packer defensive end Cullen Jenkins (5 year, $25 Million), former Miami Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown (1 year, $1 million), and former Heisman, and creator of the Eagle’s “Dream Team” nickname, Vince Young (1 year, $5.5 million) among others. The Eagles also traded former potential starter QB Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The Eagles were deemed the off season champions and the 2011 off season activity brought immense public and media pressure on them to win now. But despite seemingly improving the roster dramatically with the influx of high profile talent, the Eagles regressed and went from 10 wins in 2010 to 8 in 2011. The Eagles however finished on a four game winning streak in 2011, but in 2012 the implosion of the team finalized as they went 4-12 and long tenured coach Andy Reid, who had the final say in roster decisions, was subsequently fired.
So how did the addition of high profile off season acquisitions to an already talented playoff caliber roster lead to complete dismantling of a franchise? The problem with the moves made by the Eagles is that they were made without properly assessing fit, value, and development. The NFL is not fantasy football; the big name and headline signings and trades have to work fit with the players and systems already part of the team they join. A productive even Pro-Bowl caliber player on one team might not be able to stay on the roster if they do not fit in the system they are put in, as shown by Asomugha.
The Eagles attempted to completely shift their defensive scheme with the promotion of Castillo bring in new starting players and expected their talent level to overcome the lack of chemistry or cohesion. In terms of fit the biggest issue was the “Wide 9” defense which attempts to shut down the run game with four down linemen in unusually wide stances puts a heavy burden on the linebackers and secondary in run gap responsibility and coverage. Jason Babin was actually able to be productive in this system, but players like Cullen Jenkins, who was dominant in Green Bay, were out of place in the wide stance and rendered useless.
The linebacking corps was not a strong suit to begin with for the Eagles, and even the 2012 trade for DeMeco Ryans failed to produce a linebacker corps skilled enough to handle the incredibly challenging and demanding responsibilities of the “Wide 9”. To make matters worse the Eagles also thrust rookie third round pick Casey Matthews into the starting middle linebacker role. In a complete failure of player development Matthews who was not comfortable in the system was often completely lost in coverage and gap responsibility and became a liability and was eventually benched. Putting a rookie in a situation where they are not comfortable enough in the system can ruin their confidence and stunt their progression as an NFL player. The Eagles needed a veteran better versed in the system to allow Matthews to learn and gain confidence until he was ready to start.
Nnamdi Asomugha was the most obvious piece that simply did not fit the system demonstrated by his shocking and dramatic drop-off in production and performance. Asomugha flourished in Oakland at both man and zone coverage playing on the outside and quarterbacks avoided his side of the field out of fear and respect. However Castillo asked Asomugha to play inside and cover slot receivers, while Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel played outside. Without Asomugha’s favorite tool, the sideline, to work with he became lost and ineffective in coverage and run defense. One of the premier corners in the NFL rapidly declined and was eventually cut, because his skill set did not mesh with the team’s system. In 2011 the Eagles opted for aggression rather than value in their offseason strategy and took advantage of their cap space by outspending any other potential competitors for their free agency targets.
The problem with the aggressive Yankee-esque style of management is that overpaying to win the auction of free agency in the hard cap reality of the NFL has lasting consequences. Signing veterans in or approaching their thirties to lucrative 5 year deals with guaranteed money to lure them away from their former teams causes serious financial issues in the long term. Also adding players like Vince Young or Ronnie Brown, who have limited potential value to million dollar contracts when you can find similar level talent in the draft or signing undrafted free agents makes absolutely no sense. Finally the biggest flaw in the 2011 “Dream Team” Philadelphia Eagles strategy is the complete lack of consideration of the development of the team. Andy Reid has an impressive track record of developing talent in the NFL, but in 2011 he opted to bring in band aid solutions to finally bring him another chance at a Super Bowl. Instead of rebuilding through the draft or focusing on the young players already on the roster, Reid brought in veterans to start, and when they failed he had no understudies who understood the system to replace them. The “Dream Team” became a nightmare for the Eagles organization, because despite the shining new signings and trades the short term solutions became long term disasters. The players did not fit the system, were overpriced, and prevented the gradual rebuilding process and created a two year dumpster fire.
? Fit (5/20)
? Demonstrated ability to thrive in zone and man coverage in Oakland
? Less pressure with already talented secondary of Samuels, Rodgers-Cromartie
? Eagles need corner to cover bigger receivers
? Asked to play inside when Asomugha thrives in outside coverage
? “Press corner” not comfortable guarding receivers not on line of scrimmage
? Gets lost in complicated coverage schemes
? Not great tackler especially against the run and fighting off blocks
? Completely out of position in Castillo’s scheme not able to thrive
? Asomugha’s talent was wasted by being asked to play inside when his strengths are playing outside press coverage, and he struggled mightily to play off the ball middle of the field defense. Asking a player to completely change their game at age 30 is a tall order and one Nnamdi failed to execute.
? Value (3/20)
? Considered top player at his position the year before
? No serious off the field issues
? No serious injury concerns
? 3 Interceptions in 2011
? 12 passes defended in 2012
? Cornerbacks are one of the most sought after positions in the offseason, and a proven number one corner carries a high price on the market
? Five year contract to a 30 year old player with almost half of the contract guaranteed
? Highest paid corner in the NFL
? Statistically one of the worst at position from a production standpoint.
? Bottom 10 corner in Yard/Pass, Completion Success Rate, Yards after Catch
? Release two years into five year contract after being unable to restructure
? 46% completion rate when targeted (70th in the league)
? 10.4 yards per catch (86th in the league)
? 5 yards given up after catch (78th in the league)
? Not a great tackler or returning brings nothing to the table but coverage
? Not able to adjust position forcing system to cater to him not adaptable at all
? No potential to switch to safety in later years of career
? Displayed frustration and was unable to overcome early struggles and seemed to have easily rattled confidence and lack of resilience.
? 5 years $60 million with $25 guaranteed
? $11,000,000 salary in 2012 highest among corners
? 2010 top five if not best overall grades and ranking at cornerback position
? 2011-12 bottom ten worst overall grades and rankings at cornerback position
? The Eagles offered made Asomugha the highest paid corner in the league to lure him away from the Jets and other suitors, but his play did not meet the expectations of his contract and was released less than halfway through his deal making this signing an absolute disaster.
? Development (2/10)
? Asomugha was released after two seasons opening the door for younger players
? The Eagles did not have any notable young players on the roster at the time in the secondary hurt by Asomugha’s playing time.
? Signing Asomugha deterred drafting or developing young corners
? Asomugha’s failure left huge hole in roster due to lack of understudies
? Not even effective as a short term solution
? Asomugha is a perfect example of the failure to develop players during this period. Brought in at 30 years old he was a short term solution that failed to improve the immediate success of the Eagles secondary and his lucrative contract and presence dissuading drafting or developing long term solutions for the Eagles.
? Overall Grade (10/50) F
? The Eagles signing of Nnamdi Asomugha in 2011 will go down in history as one of the worst free agent acquisitions in NFL history. The horrible fit in the system and the massive contract was detrimental to both Asomugha and the Eagles and helped lead to both their sudden decline. Asomugha was the top prize of the 2011 free agency class and now serves as one of the the best cautionary tales of the harms of free agency.