No one is quite as alluring as the big name free agent. No one carries so much promise, and no one so regularly disappoints.
The Atlanta Falcons have been more than a little guilty of indulging in the big name during Thomas Dimitroff's time in Flowery Branch. They struck out with Dunta Robinson. They whiffed badly on Ray Edwards. And yet all off-season long, I've heard a chorus of voices demanding the Falcons go out and sign a host of free agents. Heck, they have Steven Jackson and are about to sign Osi Umenyiora, so I would argue they've already done that.
No one free agent has received more perplexing attention than one Nnamdi Asomugha, however. As the Saints and 49ers fight to the death for the right to sign the soon-to-be-32-year-old cornerback, I've heard more than one Falcon fan lamenting that the Falcons don't appear to be in on him. It's a minority of the fanbase, of course, and a reasonably small one at that. But because this is legitimately upsetting some people, I want to set the record straight.
People, that is not an ideal outcome.
The name tends to live on well after a player has reached the end of his useful life. This isn't John Abraham or Osi Umenyiora, two guys on the wrong side of 30 who are wearing down but still productive. This isn't even Dwight Freeney, a guy who plays a lot of snaps, isn't the force he used to be but still manages to be decent. Asomugha was a disaster for the Eagles. An absolute abomination.
Some of this is not his fault. The zone and press coverage schemes the Eagles asked him to play were not strengths for him, and the generally shoddy state of the Eagles defense meant he didn't have a ton of help. But make no mistake, Asomugha is losing the athleticism that made him a force earlier in his career, and his time as an elite cornerback has come and gone.
It's fair to argue that Asomugha's size, speed and athleticism earlier in his career created the untouchable reputation that followed him around in Oakland. Teams simply did not throw as Asomugha unless they were forced to, and that made it difficult to tell whether he was declining or not before his ill-fated Philadelphia tenure. When teams only throw the ball in your direction 30 times in the season, we don't have a representative sample to work with.
The 49ers and Saints are smart enough to know the player they're getting here is a smart one, but one who has eroding athleticism. You're not going to line up Asomugha against Julio Jones anymore, as the Eagles found out last season. Instead, you're going to move him outside and perhaps even in the nickel and count on him being effective in bursts against second or even third receivers. If he comes cheap—and he might—he adds a veteran presence and the possibility that he may be able to recapture some of his old form.
The 49ers and Saints may be able to squeeze quality play out of Asomugha, but anything above that—or any sustained success—would stun me. Asomugha had a long run as one of the NFL's elite cornerbacks, something no one can rob him of now. But he's not the player he was, and the Falcons are smart to avoid him. They need to get younger and more dynamic at corner.