Harris: Among CBs, it's easy to like Ike
He's considered the best. Well, at least until common sense takes over.
Unrestricted free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is a pretty good football player. A former first-round draft pick, he's considered a lockdown corner because of his ability to prevent opposing receivers from catching the ball.
But you know what• Asomugha may not be as good as advertised.
This offseason, Asomugha has been touted as the class of unrestricted free-agent corners. He's rangy, fast and plays his position with aplomb.
Asomugha is definitely talented. But he has an aversion to contact in a physical sport, recording only 19 tackles in 14 games last season. (He missed two games because of injury.) That's an embarrassing stat for someone who ranks among the best at this position.
Asomugha, who didn't have an interception in 2010, was paid $15 million by the Oakland Raiders. That made him the highest-paid corner in the NFL, but also the most overpaid corner when compared with Ike Taylor, another unrestricted free agent.
"He's not quite a specialist like (Oakland kicker) Sebastian Janikowski, but he is kind of a specialist," said Jerry McDonald, who covers the Raiders for the Oakland Tribune. "He has one special skill. He's great at covering receivers. In the grand scheme of things, it's not changing things. They still gave up 29 touchdown passes with him. The Raiders totally realize that. That's why they weren't going to sign him back."
According to the numbers, Taylor was a more complete cornerback than Asomugha last season, as well as throughout their respective eight-year careers.
Taylor and Asomugha are perfect foils. They were selected in the same draft, so their body of work is nearly identical. Taylor, who turned 31 in May, is a year older than Asomugha, who turns 30 in July.
Taylor recorded 66 tackles and two interceptions in 2010. He had 11 passes defended to Asomugha's six.
Overall, Taylor has 481 tackles, 99 passes defended and 11 interceptions in 125 career games with the Steelers. Asomugha has 310 tackles, 54 passes defended and 11 interceptions in 122 career games.
Taylor and Asomugha were selected in the 2003 draft. Asomugha was the No. 31 overall pick; Taylor went in the fourth round, No. 125 overall.
Statistically, Taylor is a better player than Asomugha, despite earning half as much in 2010. And that doesn't include Taylor starting in three Super Bowls -- winning two -- and playing in four AFC Championship Games.
Asomugha has never played in a playoff game. In fact, he's never played on a team with a winning record.
If a team seeks a talented free-agent cornerback who can also bring a winning attitude to the locker room, Taylor, not Asomugha, is your man.
"(New York Jets cornerback) Darrelle Revis can do it all. But I'd take Taylor over Asomugha because of his physicality," said Scouting Services Inc. chief Dave-Te' Thomas, who consults with NFL teams on the draft and potential free agents. "He should be wearing No. 55 on his jersey. He loves that element where he can punish people.''
Don't assume that Asomugha will set the salary scale for free-agent cornerbacks when the lockout is lifted. If his asking price is in the neighborhood of $15 million per season -- even if he signs for $12 million or $13 million per season -- Taylor should be worth at least that much.
Taylor has a better resume than Asomugha, who was the least-targeted cornerback in the league the past two seasons.
However, Asomugha's ability to play stifling pass defense doesn't override the fact that he doesn't do much else. He doesn't come up and force the run like Taylor does. Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau labeled Taylor the best tackling cornerback in the league. Asomugha doesn't defend both sides of the field or play on special teams like Taylor does.
Steelers management insists it has every intention of re-signing Taylor, who plays right cornerback, left cornerback and in the slot. But the number of teams the Steelers will have to outbid for Taylor continues to rise -- along with his price tag.
Last week, ESPN and CBS Sportsline reported that the Philadelphia Eagles could be targeting Taylor in free agency after the team initially focused on Asomugha, who plays right cornerback exclusively.
"He makes an occasional play against the run, but I don't know how much he wants to really come up and hit," said McDonald about Asomugha. "You wonder why you don't see it more. He's had some nagging injuries. And he's always dealing with this hip thing they never talk about. He's always stretching it. It's never listed on an injury report."
On paper and on the field, Taylor is a better football player than Asomugha. In the battle of unrestricted free-agent cornerbacks, it's Taylor by a long shot.