Of all the positions on the lackluster Eagles defense this past season, cornerback was one of the ones that hurt the team the worst. New CB Coach Johnnie Lynn will have plenty of holes to fix over the coming offseason, so let's take a look at some of the players he'll have to work with.
Asante Samuel: The saving grace of the Eagles secondary, Samuel performed admirably when healthy, leading the NFC in interceptions (7) and earning his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl selection. He is currently signed through 2013 and will be back in a starting role next year.
Dimitri Patterson: While Samuel kept his side of the field clean, the same unfortunately cannot be said of Patterson. Opposing offenses attacked the weak spot in the Eagles defense, averaging over 15 yards whenever they went deep on Patterson's side of the field. In short, Patterson was not an adequate compliment to Samuel - not by a long shot. In the words of Football Outsiders,
"Dimitri Patterson is awful. He hustles, and he is not bad in run support, but the guy was overmatched last year. McDermott spent a lot of energy...hiding Patterson in red zone coverage."
While it's certainly not fair to blame all of the Eagles red zone and defensive woes on one man, an upgrade at cornerback would certainly go a long way at rectifying the team's problems. Patterson will be a free agent this year, so don't expect him back in an Eagles uniform unless he returns to his old special teams role.
Joselio Hanson: After the Eagles gave him an inexplicably large 5-year contract at the end of the 2008 season, Hanson has yet to live up to his price tag. After being passed over by the likes of Ellis Hobbs and Dimitri Patterson, it's beginning to look like the 5'9" nickel corner will never crack the starting lineup. In fact, size is a big part of his problem, as Hanson has had a difficult time going up against tight ends and larger wideouts when Samuel is on the sidelines. As a nickel or dime corner, Hanson will get the job done, but don't expect him to take on any larger role in the defense this coming season.
Trevard Lindley: During his rookie season, Lindley showed flashes of talent, picking off an Alex Smith pass in week five to seal a win for the Eagles, but the young corner ultimately proved to possess skills that were too raw for extended playing time. Now, with a year under his belt, comes the real test: will the Kentucky product be able to take on an expanded role in the defense? He'll definitely be one to watch when training camp rolls around.
Gerard Lawson: A late-season acquisition to replace the injured Jorrick Calvin, Lawson was supposed to provide a spark to the kick return game. Instead, in two active games, the only thing Lawson managed to do was not fumble the ball away. He is currently signed through the 2012 season, but will have to fight for a spot on the roster this year as a special teams player.
Brandon Hughes: Although inactive for nearly all of the 2010 season, Hughes got a chance to show his skills during the season finale against Dallas. The former Charger recorded five tackles and was able to help out on kick coverage - although he didn't make any game-changing plays. He is currently signed through 2012 and will be fighting for a roster spot in training camp.
Ellis Hobbs: Even though he wasn't the best cornerback, Hobbs' absence was certainly felt in both the pass defense and kick return departments after the veteran went down for the season with a neck injury. Now, the Eagles will have to look for a permanent replacement in both departments, since Hobbs seems very likely to retire. When the injury first occurred in week eleven, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that one of his sources told him that: "if Hobbs had to make a decision today, he'd retire," but that he would likely wait until the end of the 2011 offseason to make up his mind. Now, a few months later, Adam Caplan of FoxSports claims that Hobbs' decision is inevitable because the injury "will end his career because it's higher up in his neck." It's a disappointing end to a productive career, to be sure, but it's the right decision. Hobbs was lucky to survive his first two neck injuries, but he may not be so lucky the third time.
Jorrick Calvin: In a last-minute preseason swap with the Cardinals, Calvin came to Philadelphia to provide depth at the kick return position. Before getting sent to injured reserve for back problems after week 15, Calvin had averaged a mediocre 21.6 yards per return. Oh, and he also pulled this classy little number:
Calvin still has two years left on his contract, but expect him to fight for his job during training camp this year.
Isaiah Trufant: The ex-Jet was picked up by the Eagles a few weeks ago to provide another bit of depth to the cornerback position. After bouncing around the UFL and the AFL for four years, Trufant will get his second shot at an NFL roster. The 28 year old Eastern Washington product had his most productive stretch in the UFL, where he led the Las Vegas Locomotives to two championships and earned Defensive Player of the Year honors after four interceptions and a sack in eight games. Although small at 5'8", Trufant brings a lot of speed to the table and could be a valuable addition to the Eagles special teams unit.
Who Could Leave
Ellis Hobbs, Dimitri Patterson
Who Could Sign
Although he doesn't have the best off-the-field presence in the world, Jets CB Antonio Cromartie could be a good option as a consolation prize in the Nnamdi Sweepstakes. His 6'2" size will certainly help with the Eagles redzone woes and his hands would allow him to become an interception machine as quarterbacks began targeting him over Samuel. The Jets are almost assuredly going to let him walk, so the Eagles should definitely invite the former Pro Bowler in for a look.
Finally, whenever Eagles fans broach the topic of free agency, Nnamdi Asomugha's name always seems to come up. I won't waste time rehashing what's already been said a thousand times, but suffice it to say that I'm officially on the Nnamdi Train. Toot toot.