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July 19, 2022

Former Eagles LeSean McCoy, Asante Samuel recall downfall of Nnamdi Asomugha in Philly

A Brent Celek route during practice let the team know that the pricey new cornerback might be in trouble

Eleven years ago this month, the Eagles made a splash in free agency with the signing of top-tier cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. The former Raider, reputed around the league as a shutdown guy, got a five-year, $60 million contract and became Philadelphia's marquee acquisition during the infamous 2011 "Dream Team" season.

Less than three full NFL seasons later, Asomugha retired and went on to launch his career as an actor, which has landed him roles on the screen and the stage over the last decade.

To say that Asomugha's two seasons in Philly didn't work out would be an understatement, but it's always been a bit perplexing trying to figure out why a career as promising as his could have cratered the way it did. Was it the money? The dysfunctional, dying gasps of the Andy Reid era? A lack of cohesion with his team, evidenced by Asomugha's notorious parking lot lunches?

During a recent episode of the "I AM ATHLETE" podcast, former Eagles LeSean McCoy and Asante Samuel joined Brandon Marshall and company to discuss, among other things, what went wrong with Asomugha in Philadelphia. It turns out there were bad signs on the horizon at his first practice in an Eagles uniform.

"When I say the name Nnamdi Asomugha, what comes to your mind?" McCoy asked Samuel, who was supposed to be half of a dominant cornerback tandem in 2011.

Samuel chalked up Asomugha's top free agent billing as little more than hype, which has a way of overrating NFL players. For Asomugha to go from a stud on a bad, mostly invisible Raiders team to an exposed liability on the Eagles suggests that the acclaim out of Oakland was unjustified.

"A guy that was just overrated and, you know, they gave a lot of (publicity) to (him) because of whatever reason, like a lot of other overrated people," Samuel said.

McCoy, who was entering his third NFL season in 2011, recalled thinking the defense would have a great secondary with Asomugha on board. During game prep for a previous matchup against the Raiders, McCoy remembered the offensive staff specifically scheming to make sure DeSean Jackson could get free from Asomugha off the line (Jackson had six catches for 94 yards in that game — an Eagles loss).

But when Asomugha arrived in Philly, the first thing McCoy recalled was tight end Brent Celek roasting him on the practice field.

"The tight end hit him with a post corner — and we (were) like, ahhhhh!" McCoy said.

(A little update here: Former Eagles tight end Clay Harbor has claimed he — not Celek — beat Asomugha at this practice, and the route was a slant and go). 

Samuel believes Asomugha benefited from being on a Raiders team that was easily exploited by NFL offenses, which generally avoided throwing toward Asomugha because there were other reliable ways to win. On the Eagles, it was more of a gamble for quarterbacks to throw at a risk-taking ball hawk like Samuel than it was to test Asomugha, who was suddenly in an atmosphere with much higher stakes and pressure.

Brandon Marshall said he remains friends with Asomugha, who may even have had a small role in Marshall's bitter exit from the Denver Broncos at that stage of his career. As dominant as Marshall was, he remembers his coaches never wanted to gameplan for him when the Broncos played the Raiders — because of Asomugha.

"So you mean I'm not going to get (any) targets?" Marshall recalled thinking. He said the frustration led to outbursts during meetings and friction with the Broncos coaching staff.

To this day, Asomugha hasn't spoken much publicly or reminisced about what went wrong in Philadelphia.

During an appearance on "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" in 2020, Asomugha mentioned that he didn't necessarily have the kind of ego and overall personality that was conducive to being an NFL star.

"I was much more of like, get the job done and then go home, and then you don't hear from (me)," Asomugha said. "You know what I mean? And I hated that part of me. I really wanted to be this eccentric personality ... that was not my game."

The 2011 Eagles remain a cautionary tale to this day, not just because they fell flat that year, but because the wheels came off completely the following season. The team brought in a number of high-profile players via trade and free agency this season — A.J. Brown, Haason Reddick and James Bradberry, among others. The confidence that Miles Sanders let slip earlier this offseason isn't a bad thing. It just needs to be tempered a bit.