Once upon a time, there was a football team blessed with an All-Pro player. This player, though not without flaws, was considered by most to be one of the best at his role.
But one day, a new Lord of Defense was brought in. This Lord had a different way of doing things. The player did not fit in with the Lord's plans, but the Lord used him nevertheless for the entire campaign season. Unfortunately, the player was not entirely healthy and did not contribute like the Lord wanted. So the Lord had him traded, for respectable compensation.
Unfortunately, that is not the story of Asante Samuel.
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DeMeco Ryans was a 2-time Pro Bowler and 1-time All-Pro for the Houston Texans. He was a team leader, and was respected by his fellow players. But in October of 2010, he ruptured his Achilles' tendon and missed most of the season. With Ryans out, the defense struggled and the team finished 6-10.
After the season ended, the Texans fired their defensive coordinator and hired former Cowboys coach Wade Phillips. Phillips installed a 3-4 defense, and a still-recovering Ryans switched from MLB to ILB. The scheme change was a huge success, with the Texans going from #30 in yards/game and #29 in points/game in 2010 to #2 and #4 in 2011.
Unfortunately, Ryans no longer fit with the Texans. Perhaps slowed by injury, he had just 10 more combined tackles in 2011 than 2010, despite starting 10 more games. His playing time dropped dramatically. He was also due quite a bit of money, having signed a 6-year $48 million extension in March of 2010. This was much more than they wanted to spend for an inside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme, especially one who didn't play every down. They were not just willing to trade him, they were happy to do so. And in March of 2012, he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles.
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Asante Samuel was a 4-time Pro Bowler and 3-time All-Pro for the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. In 2008, he was one of the most sought-after free agents available. On the same day that free agency opened, the Eagles signed Samuel to a 6-year, $56 million contract. He made an impact immediately, and helped the Eagles reach the NFC Championship game that year. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2008-10, and was an All-Pro in 2009 and 2010.
However, Samuel was a lone bright spot on the Eagles defense. Since the illness (and eventual death) of well-respected and beloved defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, the defense had struggled under rookie coordinator Sean McDermott. In 2009, the defense was ranked #12 in yards/game and #19 in points/game. In 2010, the defense again was #12 in yards/game but fell to #21 in points/game and were historically bad in the red zone. In January of 2011, McDermott was fired.
Four days later, respected defensive line coach Jim Washburn was hired, bringing his Wide-9 system to Philadelphia. In February, the team's offensive line coach since 1998, Juan Castillo, was promoted to defensive coordinator, a surprise to the media and fans. Castillo's defense was based on Washburn's Wide-9 defensive line and a talented group of cornerbacks who were intended to play press coverage, giving the pass rushers more time to reach the quarterback. This was not a style suited Samuel's experience or inclination.
In 2010 under McDermott, Samuel started 10 games and intercepted 7 passes, as well as being named the top CB in terms of "success rate" by Football Outsiders. In 2011 under Castillo, Samuel started 14 games and still played well, although only amassing 3 interceptions.
The flaws in Samuel's game have been endlessly discussed: he attempts to hit instead of tackle, he plays off the receiver even in the red zone, and he takes gambles in order to intercept the ball. Despite all this, he was and is one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL due to his abilities as a cover corner and playmaker. But he no longer fit with the Eagles defense, so one day before the 2012 draft, he was traded to the Atlanta Falcons.
We have two players: DeMeco Ryans and Asante Samuel.
Both are considered to be amongst the best at their position. Both have been selected to the Pro Bowl and as an All-Pro. Both struggled with injury in the past few years, each missing multiple games. Both had big-money contracts. Both had a new defensive coordinator arrive in 2011 and install a different defensive scheme that did not fit their style of play or talents. Both were no longer a good fit for their team.
The differences are simple. DeMeco Ryans is a relatively young player with a short history of success at a position which is not valued highly in the NFL. Asante Samuel is an older player with a long history of success at a position that is highly valued in the NFL.
What did DeMeco Ryans cost? A 2012 fourth-round draft pick and swap of third-round picks (allowing them to move up 12 spots).
What did Asante Samuel cost? A 2012 seventh-round pick.
It is the best of times. It is the worst of times. And if there is no ring to be had this year, start the revolution.