Paul Domowitch, Daily News NFL Columnist
Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012, 1:28 AM
THE BIGGEST decision facing the Eagles after the season - besides the obvious one of determining the identity of their next head coach - is figuring out who will be their starting quarterback in 2013.
I think we can safely rule out Michael Vick, who is expected to be handed a $3 million check (the remaining guaranteed money on his contract) and sent on his merry way.
That leaves rookie Nick Foles or somebody who doesn't currently reside at One NovaCare Way.
The second-biggest decision is what to do about their two underachieving Pro Bowl cornerbacks, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha.
Rodgers-Cromartie, 26, will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. Asomugha, 31, who is in the second year of the 5-year, $60 million deal he signed last summer, is scheduled to earn $15.3 million next season.
When they acquired Rodgers-Cromartie from Arizona in the Kevin Kolb deal last year, it seemed a given that the Eagles eventually would re-sign the talented 6-2, 182-pound cornerback, regardless of the cost. But after 2 years of occasionally good but mostly inconsistent play, it's a given no longer.
When they signed Asomugha, they thought they were getting one of the two or three best shutdown corners in the league. When he struggled last year, it was blamed on the way Juan Castillo was using him. Too much zone, not enough man-to-man. But he and Rodgers-Cromartie both have been used largely as press corners this season and the 6-2, 210-pound Asomugha is playing even worse than he did last year.
ProFootballFocus, a respected website that breaks down every play of every game, has Rodgers-Cromartie rated 171st and Asomugha 190th among the league's cornerbacks. Asomugha is giving up 16.1 yards per completion, Rodgers-Cromartie 15.2.
Last week, after their poor play and lackadaisical effort in the 38-33 loss to the Cowboys, Andy Reid called Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha into his office and read them the riot act.
During Sunday's broadcast of the Eagles-Bucs game, Fox analyst John Lynch said Reid told both of them they were on "thin ice. He didn't like their play. He didn't like their effort of late. Neither have I."
Lynch, a nine-time Pro Bowl safety, proceeded to eviscerate the two corners for the way they played against the Cowboys, particularly their reluctance to tackle wide receiver Miles Austin on his 27-yard touchdown catch-and-run.
"Listen, you're going to break coverages in this league,'' Lynch said. "It's going to happen. But lack of effort, that bothers me. It's disrespectful to your coach, to your teammates and to the game.''
As Fox ran the replay of the Austin touchdown, he added, "That's a shame. Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, that's a shame. They've got an opportunity to tackle Miles Austin at the 6-yard line, and they don't even try. It's disrespectful to the game of football. I don't like it. You can't have it.''
Neither Rodgers-Cromartie nor Asomugha was in the locker room Tuesday during media availability to respond to Lynch's comments. Reid acknowledged to the Daily News that he spoke with both players about their play and effort after the loss to the Cowboys.
"I have a lot of respect for both of those guys," he said. "But there's a time and place where you have to pick it up and do better. I thought they did that this week [against the Bucs].
"I'm always going to be honest with the guys. I'm going to tell them when they're doing good and I'm going to tell them when they need to pick it up. And make sure we're teaching them the right things to do. That was basically what our talk was.''
Rodgers-Cromartie had an outstanding game against the Bucs. Maybe his best game of the year.
He made his presence felt right out of the gate, breaking up a pass for wide receiver Vincent Jackson and showing uncharacteristic aggressiveness in coming up to defend a short pass to Mike Williams.
Early in the second quarter, on a second-and-26, he made a nice play to break up a deep pass down the middle to Williams. It was the kind of play the Eagles envisioned him making when they traded for him: utilizing his tremendous catch-up speed, wing span and leaping ability to take away the deep ball from opponents.
Later in the second quarter, he again went out of character, putting a big lick on tight end Dallas Clark on a 19-yard completion. On the same possession, he made a nice tackle on rookie running back Doug Martin.
In the third quarter, he had excellent coverage on Jackson on another deep ball, forcing an incompletion. In the fourth quarter, he broke up a pass to tight end Luke Stocker.
Asomugha played hard Sunday, just not very well. He injured his neck when he got undercut by Clark on an incompletion early in the second quarter. He returned to the game in the second half, but struggled. Williams boxed him out in the end zone on his 1-yard touchdown catch. Later in the third quarter, Asomugha gave up a 40-yard completion to Jackson. Also gave up a 28-yard completion to Jackson on a third-and-7 play on the Bucs' final touchdown drive.
So, the Eagles have to decide what they're going to do with these two guys. Asomugha, who will turn 32 before the start of training camp next summer, clearly is on the downside of his career and isn't a $15 million cornerback.
It's easy to say show them both the door, but then what? Good corners aren't easy to find. Maybe 2011 third-rounder Curtis Marsh will blossom into a player. Maybe not. So far, maybe not is winning.
You could move 5-9 rookie Brandon Boykin outside. But do you really want him going up against all of the 6-2 and 6-3 pass-catching trees in the league?
I suspect the Eagles will approach Asomugha about restructuring his deal. I think Asomugha will be willing to take a paycut. But how much of one? Judging by his play, I'm not sure I'd be willing to give him more than $6 million next year. Just $4 million of the remaining money on his deal is guaranteed, so releasing him wouldn't be too painful.
Rodgers-Cromartie has a lot of talent. Maybe as much as any corner in the league. But the kid's a flake who often seems more into his pink wardrobe than playing football.
He made the Pro Bowl with the Cardinals 3 years ago in just his second season in the league, intercepting six passes. But he hasn't played anywhere close to that level on a consistent basis since.
Should the Eagles overpay him, bring him back and hope the next head coach and defensive coordinator can figure out the secret to lighting a fire under him? Easy for us to say. It's not our money.
On Twitter: @Pdomo
Paul Domowitch Daily News NFL Columnist Twitter | Email