- Ashley Fox
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BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- The news about the Philadelphia Eagles having signed the biggest free agent on the market was not two hours old Friday evening, and Joe Banner's phone rang yet again.
"Put me down for five Super Bowl tickets, can you?" a friend and former Eagles employee asked Banner, the team's longtime president.
"I've had 10 calls like that," Banner said after he hung up. "It is sort of tongue-in-cheek. Nonetheless."
Indeed. In a matter of two days, Philadelphia went from being an explosive offensive team with question marks scattered across the defense to a potentially devastating defensive team that will be a front-runner to vie for the Super Bowl. The cap to the feeding frenzy was the news that came across via text message at 6:17 p.m. ET Friday: "Eagles agree to terms with CB Nnamdi Asomugha."
Bam. The message was unmistakable. Philadelphia is making a run at the Super Bowl. This is the year.
The Eagles had been "very late" to the Asomugha party, team general manager Howie Roseman acknowledged, but they eventually won the Oakland Raiders cornerback with a reported five-year, $60 million offer that included a $25 million signing bonus.
For days, it had looked like Asomugha would join Darrelle Revis and the New York Jets. Then, it looked like the Dallas Cowboys might swoop in. Finally, having flown under the radar until the end, it was the Eagles who won free agency's biggest prize.
But it was not just Asomugha. On Thursday, the team agreed to terms with Tennessee defensive end Jason Babin, who made the Pro Bowl after playing one season under defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who now is barking colorful commands on the Eagles' practice field.
For those scoring at home, the Eagles now have three Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie and the ball-hawking Asante Samuel, and it is conceivable they will carry all three into the 2011 season.
Their combined salary for this season, according to an NFL source, is around $18 million, with a cap hit of about $20 million. It is a big number, but not too big for the Eagles to handle.
After watching their secondary get abused last season, particularly by the Green Bay Packers in a first-round playoff loss, the Eagles now have an embarrassment of riches at cornerback. If they keep all three, first-year defensive coordinator Juan Castillo could rely on a defense that plays an inordinate amount of nickel packages, with two younger linebackers and a rotating corps of aggressive pass-rushing defensive ends.
They also could try to trade the 30-year-old Samuel, who has not reported to Eagles camp yet because of what the team is insisting is a personal matter for which it has excused him.
The Eagles did not start getting into serious conversations with the Asomugha camp, led by agent Ben Dogra, until late Thursday, Banner said. He spoke with Roseman and coach Andy Reid into the early hours of Friday morning, and then again after the sun came up Friday.
"Probably at 3 this afternoon, we knew we had a deal," Banner said. "Then we had to hold our breath. You're not done until you're done. You can't sign the guy yet. You have a feeling you met what they wanted, but until everything is finally agreed to and executed, you hold your breath."
Just after 6 p.m., the transaction was official.
"I think the Jets are a good situation, but we are, too," Banner said. "We have had and we will continue to have a defense that plays aggressive, physical and very fast. Our understanding was he was ruling out anybody who could not win a Super Bowl. Not that these things aren't true of the Jets, but we're considered a good opportunity in terms of the passion of the city.
"Andy has a great reputation, and we offered him a lot of money. We had to reach a certain threshold," Banner continued. "I think we're a place and at a time and have been for a while where it's considered a highly desirable place to play and an organization likely to be competing at a top level. We're playing on a grass field, putting money up. He was able to check off the boxes on his list."
The Eagles still have a box to check off their personnel list, and while Banner insisted the team is under the approximately $123 million cap in place for 2011, the funds might be dwindling. The Eagles need to resolve DeSean Jackson's contract situation. The fourth-year wide receiver has outplayed his rookie contract and is holding out of training camp, hoping to force the Eagles to sign him to a new deal.
However, Jackson's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, might want to explain to Jackson how the Eagles reacted the last time a Rosenhaus receiver tried to force their hand. That time it was Terrell Owens, who complained loudly about his contract and other issues, got himself suspended and then deactivated for most of the 2005 season, and was released during the offseason.
And there is one very large box the organization would like to check off its to-do list: win a Super Bowl. The city of Philadelphia has not celebrated a world football championship since 1960. The Eagles have come close under the Jeffrey Lurie-Joe Banner-Andy Reid regime that has been in place since 1999, but close does not count. Not in Philadelphia.
The last time the Eagles made such a splash in free agency was 2004, when they signed Owens and defensive end Jevon Kearse on the first day of free agency. It was the boldest of moves the regime had made. This latest round equals, if not surpasses, that haul.
That 2004 season was glorious in Philadelphia. Owens gave the team a swagger it had not possessed, and the Eagles finally reached the Super Bowl after three consecutive failed attempts in the NFC Championship Game.
"Hopefully it leads to the same thing, plus one more win," Banner said, kicking back in his office in South Philadelphia. "That would be a good omen, if we were on the same track."
For the Eagles, yes, it would.
Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
Signing free agent Nnamdi Asomugha and acquiring other big names shows the Eagles are serious about winning the Super Bowl, Ashley Fox writes.