Examining Nnamdi Asomugha's Sad, Rapid Decline in Philadelphia

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMarch 5, 2013

There's a decent chance that the biggest free-agent signing of the 2011 NFL offseason and one of the most heavily hyped veteran acquisitions in Philadelphia Eagles history will officially become a bust by the end of the week, because with Nnamdi Asomugha due to make $15 million and only 27 percent of that money guaranteed, the Eagles could release Asomugha before free agency begins next Tuesday.

Asomugha's career has careened off of a Hall of Fame track in Philly. A man who was considered, almost unanimously, to be the best active cornerback in the NFL has been torched time and again during his two years with the Eagles. 

The numbers are startling. 

* Rankings for 2008-2010 are based on the league average from those three seasons.

  • He's now giving up almost 50 percent more receptions per game than the amount of targets per game he faced during his final three years in Oakland. 
  • After surrendering only one touchdown in 45 games during that stretch with the Raiders, Asomugha was been beaten for nine scores in only 32 games with the Eagles. That's a rise from touchdowns in two percent of the games in which he played to touchdowns in 28 percent of the games in which he's played.
  • His overall per-game receptions-allowed rate has risen over 100 percent, as has his per-game target rate. 
  • Even when they did throw his way between 2008 and 2010, opposing quarterbacks put up a rating of 72.6. That rose to 88.6 last year and skyrocketed to 120.6 in 2012. No starting cornerback in football had a worse opponent passer rating than he did. 
  • Asomugha himself was responsible for giving up only 0.47 yards per defensive snap between 2008 and 2010. That number has climbed to a mediocre 1.38 in 2012.
  • It's hard to relay how dominant Asomugha was in terms of touchdowns allowed, yards per snap, snaps per target and snaps per reception allowed, but between 2008 and 2010, nobody was even remotely close to him in those categories. Even last year, he was very strong in the latter three categories, but that dropped off dramatically this past season.

In other words, in a 32-game span, the greatest active corner in the game has become one of the worst corners in the game. 

How is that even possible? 

The popular excuse for Asomugha last year was that the Eagles were getting away from a press-man-oriented approach to coverage and that Juan Castillo was in his first year as a defensive coordinator. Further, the defense has a lot of new faces and they didn't have a proper chance to jell because the 2011 offseason was virtually cancelled due to the lockout. 

But then year two came and things got even worse, for both Asomugha and the entire secondary. It didn't matter that they had become familiar with each other or that they'd gone back to a lot of man defense, which Asomugha succeeded in with the Raiders. 

It seems as though it was all just a perfect storm for Asomugha's career to implode just after his 30th birthday. 

In addition to those factors, here's what I think happened: I think Asomugha, at 30, lost half a step. And I think when you're a corner and you only have average speed in first place, losing even a fraction of a step can be a career-killer. 

Asomugha always got by because his technique is exceptional, but technique is worthless when you can't keep up. A lack of safety help and support from the defensive front didn't help, but the erosion of his game clearly had to do with the fact that he was slowing down. 

It's not as though he had a lot of support in that Oakland defense when he was a 20-something, but Asomugha was simply never targeted because his speed kept him with receivers just enough to utilize that top-notch technique. 

Once the speed was diminished, it almost seemed as though Asomugha lost all confidence in his ability to be a shutdown cornerback. During the first half of the 2012 campaign, he was abused by two speedy dudes named Jones. First, in Week 2, Jacoby Jones ate him alive on this double move:

And then, in Week 8, Julio Jones didn't even require a move. Asomugha didn't give him a ton of space, which has always been a trademark of his game. But he was underestimating Jones' speed. Or overestimating his own speed. Or both.

That was a 63-yard touchdown. It's amazing the amount of space Jones gained on Asomugha in a short period of time. 

Going back two years to his final season in Oakland, it's tough to find tape of Asomugha shutting receivers down in similar scenarios because he was rarely tested. But here's a matchup against San Francisco's Michael Crabtree that exemplified his ability to bump and run with the best of them. 

His positioning actually looks terrible inside five yards, but he stays with Crabtree, breaks up the pass and almost comes down with an interception...

It just felt as though he had nothing left as this season wore on. He was no longer going at guys like he did with Crabtree there and he no longer had the confidence to perform in the same technical fashion he did throughout the first eight years of his career. 

A prime example came in Week 17, when he stayed with rookie Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle, but then was manhandled by the kid with the ball in the air.

That's what you'd expect from a rookie corner, not a potential Hall of Famer.

It's time for the Eagles to move on. A divorce will be better for both parties. And wherever Asomugha ends up next, hopefully the coaching staff is smart enough to come to terms with the fact he's no longer capable of covering top-end receivers. 

Just like that.