Is Asante Samuel in 'steep decline?'

Jeff McLane, the Philadelphia Eagles beat writer for the Inquirer, has been "emptying his notebook" over the past couple of days of some interesting tidbits regarding the team. Today's edition includes an item on the team's cornerback situation, and it's one of particular interest to those who still wonder why the Eagles traded Asante Samuel for a seventh-round draft pick:

The Eagles are banking on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie having a little extra to play for and that he'll be at least the equal of Asante Samuel, who was jettisoned in the offseason. I'm split on the Samuel move. Reid thought he was in steep decline and that his style no longer suited the scheme. The latter may be true, but I think Samuel is still better than his replacement. DRC has exceptional physical skills. He's a bit of a flake, but that can sometimes be a good thing. Can he sustain a steady dose of attention, though, with Nnamdi Asomugha playing his opposite? Asomugha was not consistent last season, but quarterbacks were still shy about throwing in his direction. If you had a choice between the two, who would you attack? The Eagles' backup plan, should DRC falter, is Curtis Marsh. The idea is that Marsh would replace DRC should the team decide not to bring the vet back for 2013. But Marsh could be ready this season, if necessary. The Eagles were already slipping him onto the first team for a few snaps during the spring, giving him a taste of the action. Marsh, like Asomugha and DRC, is a man-press corner. He's not as long as the other two, but he's long enough as the Eagles complete their shift away from short outside corners.

Coach Andy Reid would obviously know better than I would, but I don't know what indication there was in 2011 that Samuel was in decline. No, he wasn't perfect, but it's not as though he ever was. Much of the chatter out of Philadelphia this offseason has indicated that the team played zone coverages last year in part because Samuel was a weak man-press corner who made his name on big plays but wasn't much in coverage or tackling. But Samuel has always been that, and there's nothing to show he played any worse in 2011 than he had at any other time in his career. In fact, he was the most effective cornerback the Eagles had last year.

Now, you can postulate that the reason for that is that Asomugha was a poor fit in zone coverage and Rodgers-Cromartie didn't see the field consistently enough, and you may be right. The Eagles' secondary may be better this year with those two starting and playing man-press coverage. But I don't anticipate that Samuel's going to have a bad year for the Falcons. And in fact, stuff like this is going to fire him up. Here's Samuel's tweet (@pick_six22) from just before 3 pm ET on Friday:

I just finished reading the story on coach Andy Reid! All I can say is WoW! #fueltothefire #riseup

As I wrote at the time, I understand why the Eagles traded Samuel and why they couldn't get more than a seventh-rounder for him. He makes a lot of money and doesn't fit what they want to do on defense. But just as the Eagles may have benefited from that as the reason the Houston Texans were willing to trade them DeMeco Ryans, the Falcons might end up with a steal in Samuel, who is 31 years old and doesn't appear -- to these eyes at least -- to be finished as a player.