In his dorm room on the bucolic Lehigh campus in Bethlehem, Pa., just a few beats past midnight last Friday morning, Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman resigned himself to another season without cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Some 60 hours of the wildest personnel negotiations in NFL history had elapsed, and the Eagles had been major players. They'd traded quarterback Kevin Kolb to the Cardinals for Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick, signed Pro Bowl pass rusher Jason Babin from the Titans for five years and $28 million and worked out a deal to bring in free-agent QB Vince Young from Tennessee. But Roseman simply could not find a feasible route to the player he wanted most.
The 36-year-old Roseman, who's been with the Philly front office since 2000, has long coveted Asomugha, 30. Equally adept at press coverage or playing off the line of scrimmage, the four-time All-Pro is also admirable off the field: Asomugha has addressed the U.N. on malaria prevention and worked with Bill Clinton on community service issues. Just as Roseman was sending a message to Asomugha's agent, Ben Dogra, wishing them well, Dogra was texting Roseman that they should talk further. Both men saw it as a cosmic sign, and a lengthy negotiation continued into the small hours. "The [salary-cap] numbers worked," Roseman says. "It was just about putting it all together."
By Friday afternoon Asomugha—who in 2009 had signed a three-year, $45.3 million deal with the Raiders, briefly making him the highest paid player in the league—had agreed to a five-year, $60 million contract with the team that, despite speculation about the Texans, Jets and Cowboys, had been his top choice all along. "We looked at every single situation and circumstance, and the Eagles always came out on top," Asomugha says. "Once they jumped in—and it was stealth—they were aggressive. It's what you want."
Coach Andy Reid's 12-year reign in Philly has been marked by successful teams coming up short—a player short, a game short, a play short. With several swipes of a pen, the lone NFC East team that hasn't won a Super Bowl has become a front-runner to nab its first. A day after inking Asomugha, the Eagles signed defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins from the Packers. The high-impact newcomers have further invigorated a team that won the division in 2010 behind a resurgent Michael Vick before losing in the wild-card round to the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers. And with another Pro Bowl corner, Asante Samuel, already in the fold, Philadelphia may not be done dealing.
"We think we've set ourselves up to compete not only this year but going forward," says Roseman, noting that the team has also stockpiled 11 draft picks for 2012. "We're not locked into this roster, and we're still under the cap. Green Bay had [17 players on injured reserve] last season and had the depth to overcome that. We didn't want to be at a point where one injury ruins our chance."
Says Eagles president Joe Banner, "You can't be afraid to shoot for greatness. How many times does the first- or second-best player at his position hit the market? When it happens, you better make sure you're seeing every way to get that done."
On Monday morning Asomugha, whom league rules prevented from practicing for three more days, stood by and watched Vick unfurl deep spirals, one after another, downfield. The sun was hot, the stands were packed, and the Eagles were all in.