The Falcons are in a division with Drew Brees and Cam Newton, and also have Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford, Michael Vick, and rookie Robert Griffin III on their 2012 schedule. Stopping the pass will be both crucial, and incredibly difficult.
So employing a surplus of players who are quite good at batting down balls and catching them when they’re thrown by the opposing quarterback is a sound strategy. Yesterday the rumors of Atlanta doing just that began to percolate when Jay Glazer reported that they’d shown serious interest in Asante Samuel, the expendable and expensive Eagles cornerback who’s on the trading block. At the time, it was also thought that GM Thomas Dimitroff’s interest could have been rooted in the potential for unrest with Brent Grimes, who was promptly motivated to sign his franchise tender.
Now it seems Dimitroff really is bent on forming his cornerback juggernaut, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that Atlanta is on the verge of acquiring Samuel for a late-round pick (probably a sixth rounder), in a deal will likely be completed prior to the draft. After leaving a fully stocked secondary where he played alongside Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Samuel is now set to join Grimes and Dunta Robinson.
Of course, there is the small matter of money to be dealt with, and Samuel’s bloated contract that partially led to Philly’s desire to send him elsewhere. At 31, he’s an aging player, and the vicious concoction of his age, the Eagles’ surplus of CBs, and his massive contract made Samuel a luxury in Philadelphia that had far outlived its useful life. Samuel is set to make roughly $10 million in 2012, and $11.4 million in 2013, and finalizing the deal with Atlanta now depends on whether or not that salary can be re-worked to a more manageable number.
That digit-crunching process is already underway, with NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora reporting that the deal could be completed today, and that Samuel is willing to reconfigure the final two years of his existing contract.
When that’s done, the Falcons will have a three-time All Pro on their roster to balance their current talented but sometimes inconsistent cornerback duo of Robinson and Grimes. They’re a pair that’s often played a high risk, high reward game, delivering the big hit and interception, but also the big play. That’s reflected in the Falcons’ 19 interceptions last year (10th), which is countered by the 12 receptions of 40 yards or more they allowed (25th), and 236.6 yards per game (20th).
Better resistance against large gains through the air is a necessity given the Falcons’ schedule, and the rapid growth of the passing game in today’s NFL. For the Eagles, this becomes the acknowledgment that Samuel was an overpriced luxury, and it’s also a blatant salary cap move. Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Eagles will now have roughly $20 million in cap space.
As we wrote last week, if a team could find a way to be creative and fit Samuel in under the cap, they’d be acquiring an elite cornerback with 45 interceptions over nine seasons for slightly more than the price of a few used footballs. The odds of the Falcons finally winning a playoff game under Mike Smith just increased significantly.
UPDATE: The trade has been finalized, and Samuel has agreed to a three-year deal with the Falcons worth $18.5 million, according to NFL Network’s Albert Breer. That’s a pay cut compared to the $21.4 million Samuel was set to make over the next two years in Philadelphia, which is likely a meaningless observation.
Had he stayed in Philly, Samuel almost certainly would have been released, and therefore wouldn’t have seen a dime of that contract.