The Wizard, Ozzie Newsome.

What the Asante Samuel trade fortifies

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Asante Samuel was dealt to the Atlanta Falcons for a fifth-round pick Wednesday.

Does a trade between the NFC East’s Philadelphia Eagles and the NFC South’s Atlanta Falcons involving cornerback Asante Samuel mean anything for the AFC North’s Baltimore Ravens? In short, not really. The Ravens do play the Eagles this season, but Philly getting rid of Samuel will actually help Baltimore’s chances. The Ravens also play the Falcons in the preseason, so they will see Samuel this year, but only in an exhibition capacity. So where the actual trade doesn’t affect Baltimore on the field, really, it does affect the already-impressive perception of how the Ravens draft year in and year out. For me, at least.

It’s fitting that the Falcons and Eagles were both involved in this trade given the recent history of both franchises free agent signings. In 2010, then Houston Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson became a free agent and garnered plenty of attention from teams searching for a cornerback because he was fairly productive in Houston. Atlanta came to terms with Robinson on a six-year, $57 million deal with $25.5 million guaranteed.

Fast-forward to the dreaded, lockout-stricken 2011 offseason where Nnamdi Asomugha was the league’s prized free agent. He and New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis were both regarded as the two best cornerbacks in the game and, if you remember, Rex Ryan, his stomach and the Jets were all yearning for Asomugha’s services to sport possibly the greatest cornerback tandem in recent memory. Ryan and the Jets lost out on the Asomugha sweepstakes to the Eagles, who eventually signed the former Oakland Raider to a five-year, $50 million deal with $25 million guaranteed. Quite similar to Robinson’s deal the year previous.

After landing Asomugha — the free agent signee of the failed 2011 Philadelphia “Dream Team” — the Eagles made several more moves to acquire talent. Most came through free agent signings, but a notable move made by Philadelphia was when it dealt the 36th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Kevin Kolb, to the Cardinals for a second round pick and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. So when the 2011 season started, the Eagles’ corners were Asomugha, Samuel and Rodgers-Cromartie (who’s going to be known as “Ro-Cro” for the remainder of this blog because he’s not a Raven and I refuse to type his hyphenated last name over and over). Keep in mind the Eagles had obtained Samuel’s services prior to the 2008 season after his contract in New England expired. Philly had three of the best individually talented corners in football in 2011 that they each acquired through free agency but, as a unit, they failed to meet expectations.

So what does all this have to do with Baltimore? How well Ozzie and Co. draft, duh!

The Eagles tried New York Yankee-ing their way to sporting one of the best secondaries in the NFL and whiffed. The Ravens have simply drafted well and have found talent scattered throughout the league to bolster their secondary. Lardarius Webb was third round pick in 2009, has since blossomed into a stud corner and a few weeks ago signed an extension with Baltimore worth around $50 million. In November of the ’09 season, the Ravens plucked little-known Cary Williams from the Tennessee Titans practice squad and he too has turned into a solid cornerback. Last year, Baltimore selected Jimmy Smith with the 27th overall pick and, after suffering an early injury, Smith showed remarkable promise as the year progressed.

Last week, former Colts General Manager Bill Polian posted a column on ESPN.com in which he praised the Ravens and deemed them the best drafting team since 2009. Well, since 2009 every player the Ravens have drafted is still playing in the league. Maybe not in Baltimore, but in the NFL.

When I heard about the Samuel trade earlier today, I couldn’t help but think about all of this. You rarely hear about the Ravens making big free agency moves. Instead, Baltimore bides its time, waits to the free agency smoke has cleared then makes it moves. But the real Ravens magic doesn’t happen until draft day weekend. This trade affirms the Ravens dominance in scouting and drafting players. Analysts, insiders, pundits and fans will go back and forth this summer talking about which team has the best cornerbacks. There’s no doubt that both Atlanta and Philadelphia will be in that mix after all the money they’ve spent over the past few seasons. I personally believe the Ravens should be thrown on that list too. If Webb excels this season, Smith takes forward strides and Williams remains consistent, there won’t be many cornerback trios better than Baltimore’s.

 

And the beauty of it is Baltimore’s trifecta is home grown. The Ravens gave Williams his very first NFL start against the Steelers last season. Before he got to Charm City, he was on the scout team. Baltimore’s front office saw something in him that no one else did. That’s not uncommon for Baltimore though. The front office has a keen eye for talent and it’s shown each season when the Ravens lose players to free agency and they just plug the young guys in without missing a beat.

This weekend when the Wizard of Oz and his congregation carefully sift through their draft boards to find the right talent, feel at ease and trust the pick. There’s a reason why Baltimore hasn’t made a splash in free agency like the Eagles, Falcons and countless other teams have done over the years. There’s a reason why Baltimore traded out of the first round in 2010 to acquire more picks because they value their picks like nothing else.

The Samuel trade (indirectly) reinforces the notion that Baltimore shines come draft day. For reassurance, tune into the NFL draft this weekend and watch the Wizard work his magic.

If drafting is an art, then Ozzie is Picasso. Enjoy the draft.

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Tags: Asante Samuel Atlanta Falcons Baltimore Ravens Cary Williams Dominique Rodges-Cromartie Dunta Robinson Houston Texans Jimmy Smith Lardarius Webb Nnamdi Asomugha Ozzie Newsome Philadelphia Eagles

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