Each and every offseason, a new class of free agents provides the opportunity for teams all around the NFL to get better. This year is a little different because what is normally a four month period is being condensed to just several days before training camps open. The free agency wire is sure to be incredibly busy, but most eyes will focus on several key star players.
The position of cornerback is a unique one. The right player can erase the threat of your top wideout. We've seen what Charles Woodson has done in Green Bay, more so in his prime, as well as what Darrelle Revis has done for the New York Jets. To me, no type of player across the entire league is more impressive than a true shutdown cornerback. Being responsible for the opposing team's No. 1 receiver week in and week out is no small feat, yet several players across the league do it and make it look easy.
Every free agent class is headlined by one star who shines just a little brighter than all other free agents. This year's prize is Nnamdi Asomugha—the very definition of a "shutdown corner." While receiving less exposure than Revis in New York, Nnamdi has gone about his business and has managed to post some staggering numbers. From 2007 to 2009, Asomugha surrendered only 31 total completions when locked up in man coverage—an average of about two completions for every three games he played. In 2010, he didn't allow a single TD pass.
The Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers would not have been crowned World Champs if it had not been for the play of their cornerbacks. Tramon Williams came out of nowhere and had an excellent season for the Pack. Williams shadowed the other team's top pass catcher, while Sam Shields held down the other outside WR, allowing veteran Charles Woodson to be a "football player," relying on savvy instinct and "know-how" to roam free within the Packers' scheme. The emergence of Tramon Williams as a top cover corner opened doors elsewhere within Green Bay's Defense and it allowed Woodson to roam.
Asomugha is a unique talent—he's cut out of the Woodson mold in that he's long and athletic yet can still move stride for stride with the best wide receivers in the game. At first glance, you see the Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans, Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the possible landing spots for Nnamdi. Dallas and the New York Jets also are sure to have interest, yet financially it seems nearly impossible for either team to make a serious push to sign him.
After playing his entire career to this point in Oakland, Nnamdi's number one goal is to play on a Super Bowl contender. One would think this fact leaves the Redskins out of the discussion. The young Tampa Bay Bucs have a lot of money to spend, so they're a team to watch, but with other more enticing options out there, I don't think he'll seriously consider becoming a Buccaneer.
I think the Philadelphia Eagles will address their glaring need at cornerback a different way. I assume the Arizona Cardinals will include CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the Kevin Kolb trade with Philadelphia, addressing that need for the Eagles and thus taking them out of the sweepstakes for Nnamdi.
The Baltimore Ravens have a unique situation. It's just became public that they intend to release TE Todd Heap, WR Derrick Mason, RB Willis McGahee and DT Kelly Gregg—clearing about $18 million in salary cap room. Could it be that they're clearing all this money to make a serious push at Nnamdi? It very well could be. They pass the test of being a Super Bowl contender and Nnamdi would be a nearly perfect mentor for talented, yet troubled, rookie CB Jimmy Smith from Colorado. More information is sure to come out soon as to the real reason regarding Baltimore dumping these veteran players to clear money, but they're certainly one of a couple teams to keep an eye on.
The Houston Texans provide an intriguing option for Nnamdi Asomugha. Since coming into the NFL as the 32nd franchise, the Texans have steadily improved yet failed to reach the next level as an NFL Playoff team. The last couple years, I've been waiting for them to win the AFC South or barge into the AFC Playoffs as a Wild Card team. They're incredibly fun to watch, having had key positions filled with QB Matt Schaub, RB Arian Foster and WR Andre Johnson as mainstays on offense.
The Texans' recent problems have not been offensively, but rather defensively. They feature two Pro Bowl caliber linebackers in Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans, who both project to start as the two ILB's in Houston's 3-4 scheme. Along the defensive line is former No. 1 overall pick and outstanding defensive end, Mario Williams. To be the bookend to Super Mario, Houston selected Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt, a perfect prospect as a 3-4 Defensive End, with the 11th overall pick in the 2011 Draft.
The only level of Houston's defense that is without a legitimate stud is in the defensive backfield. Houston was 32nd in the NFL in pass defense last season, giving up an average of 267.5 yards per game through the air. If anything positive for the pass defense came out of the 2010 season, it's that Houston may have found one long term starting CB in Glover Quin. Quin performed much better in his third year out of New Mexico than fellow young CB Kareem Jackson did. The Texans D-Backs would really benefit from bringing in a true No. 1, shutdown CB like Nnamdi and pairing him with Quin to give the Texans a formidable duo of cornerbacks.
When you're playing in the same division as a historically great QB like Peyton Manning, a high precedence needs to be placed on your pass defense. While the Texans addressed their pass rush by selecting DE J.J. Watt, as well as Arizona OLB Brooks Reed, the back end of their pass defense can not be ignored. Without addressing their glaring weakness at cornerback, Houston will hover around .500. With properly addressing their need at cornerback, Houston could make a playoff push in the AFC. This is a team with very few weaknesses and a guy like Nnamdi could make them a legit contender.
Soon enough, we will all see where Nnamdi ends up playing football. However, a realistic option that can financially support Asomugha's high demands, while still figuring to be a contender is the Houston Texans.