This is a one on one interview with former two time super bowl champion, NFL leader in interceptions, first and second-team all-pro, and pro bowl cornerback formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles Asante Samuel.
We went over his entire tenure in Philadelphia leading up to his initial signing to his departure from the organization and he gives us his insight on some never heard before behind the scenes action. Hope you enjoy and thank you Asante for taking the time out of your day to speak with me.
Asante, you enter free agency in 2008 after several successful seasons in New England. You’re the best free agent on the market period, but what was it about Philadelphia that made you want to sign with them, especially with Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard already on the roster?
“With all due respect and I’m not here to throw anyone under the bus, or anything like that. I just want to make that clear. With me, I’m just nothing but a truth guy,” Samuel said. “When you tell the truth you can’t be penetrated. The Eagles showed the most interest in me and were the most serious about signing me. I will forever thank the Eagles organization, Mr.Lurie, and Andy Reid for signing me to a big contract and changing my life and my family’s life forever. I’m forever thankful for that. Period.
With me picking a team, with the Eagles be the team coming at me first, their reputation for winning and getting to a Super Bowl (they lost to us when I played with the Patriots), but making it to the playoffs numerous times was definitely the reason for making my decision.” Samuel explained. “I definitely wanted to play for a competitor. But me signing with any team didn’t really matter. I’m a totally confident guy and no matter what the media portrays or whoever decides the market, I watched every player and I know that nobody can play to the level that I play on. Me going anywhere, I knew I would outshine anybody. I knew there’d be some good and cool guys (Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard) to play with. I knew eventually one of the guys would have to leave.”
As you entered that cornerback room, like you just said, you knew one of those guys was going to have to go. We knew Lito Sheppard saw the writing on the wall for his tenure in Philadelphia, but they did opt to keep him for your first season with the team. How did that all pan out in the cornerback room? Was it strictly business or did you feel any type of tension?
“I don’t really feel the tension or whatever people have,” Samuel said when describing the Eagles room upon his arrival. “It’s strictly business for me. I know you signed me to all this money to come here and show you what I can do and produce, so I know I’m the man. I’m the man before you sign me. I’m the man after you sign me. It’s my mindset, so I’m just ready to get in there and show what I can do.”
Brian Dawkins was the leader of the Eagles defense, but he departed in free agency after your first season as an Eagle, so you had to assume the leadership role on that defense after. How did you answer to these responsibilities?
“Everybody is a leader in their own way. Brian Dawkins and me were kind of like the same leader for the most part. He’s not a rah-rah guy who’s gotta talk to the media to be a leader and all of that. That’s not leadership,” Samuel said. “We go out and show our leadership skills. He does his thing his way. He goes to the ball 100% of the plays. He goes hard, he does all the extra hard stuff. He talks to the team when they need to be spoken to.
Me? I run my mouth. I talk to the reporters, I talk trash to the coaches, I talk trash to the players. That holds everyone accountable, so when I see you slacking out there and I call you out, you don’t want to be embarrassed. With me, I’m talking s**t every day. I gotta hold myself accountable. Since I’m talking trash the bullseye is always on me. So that makes me hold myself accountable and makes me go out there and practice my heart out and keep it at a high level every day.”
The Eagles really had to depend on you to be the guy a lot in your tenure. Lito was gone, Sheldon was let go the season after. With all these defensive changes you were looked at as the guy on this defense. Did the team respond to you well?
“I’m the more outspoken guy out of everyone like I said. Yeah, people came to me when they think there is a problem going on or when they think someone needs to be pushed a little bit,” Samuel explained. “They always came to me and I analyzed things and we go from there. I was one of the main guys most people came to and that was pretty cool.”
Did you ever question the direction the Eagles were going in? Like we said earlier, Dawkins leaves after your first season, McNabb gets traded after the 2009 season. This team changed a lot and quickly during your early tenure with the team, so it’s fair to wonder if you questioned the direction.
“Well I know business is business. Money is always part of business and you know in the NFL they look at age and stuff like that. One thing I learned from the Patriots and Belichick was everyone is going to go through a situation if they play long enough. I already knew that. That wasn’t a really big thing for me when they were leaving or the direction they were going.
Now when they started signing all those players,” Samuel said referring to the 2011 dream-team offseason. “That’s when a situation came about.”
Let’s get more into that. During your Eagles tenure you appeared in three pro-bowls, received second-team all pro honors, led the NFL in interceptions (2009), and led the NFC in interceptions (2010). Really 2010 is arguably one of your best seasons. Then comes the 2011 offseason after the lockout, the Eagles make the move trading for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, so everyone assumed it’s going to be you and DRC, then the next day comes and they sign Nnamdi Asomugha. What was your initial reaction to hearing these moves?
“First, 2010 was my best year as a cornerback,” Samuel exclaimed. “Not just my best year, I’d like to compare that to any cornerback that every played the game. If you threw my way it was 20% chance that pass was getting intercepted. I think that’s a hell of a stat. I’d like to compare that against anybody’s numbers. I have a year that no one can compare to.
The Eagles, they’re probably going to hate me for this, but I’m not going to get too far into details because I’m coming out with a book. The book is going to be called ‘The Art of the Interception’ and the book is going to explain how all these interceptions changed my life for the better and put my family and I in better situations.
“A lot of people don’t know this. This is a behind the scenes of what goes on and a lot of people don’t know this. My momma died and of a lot of people from Philly didn’t know this at the time. She died when I left and went to Atlanta, but she got sick when I was with the Eagles,” Samuel said. “Mind you, it’s just me, my mom, and my sister my whole life. I’ve never dealt with anyone close to me dying or being sick where there is no recovery in my life. My mom is pretty much all I got. So she gets sick and it was just time for me to go somewhere and do something. “I can’t go, I can’t come, I can’t make it,” Samuel said regarding to the time he missed at the beginning of Eagles training camp. “This is the situation and the rest is history. I go into more detail in my book.”
You did miss a week of training camp, as you alluded to. The team excused it as a personal reason. Now everyone really knows the reason why since you explained it to me.
“Yeah, it was a struggle between where I need to be and where I should be, while my momma was going through this situation.” Samuel explained.
Just for the record without spoiling your upcoming book, you did not miss training camp because of the cornerbacks the Eagles brought in, but you missed it exactly for a personal reason dealing with your mother correct?
“Yes, my mother was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. That was just about my mother period. That was all I had. That’s all I grew up with,” Samuel said. “My mother was from Mississippi and she moved to Florida, so we don’t have any family it was literally just me, my mom, and my sister. I was really ready to quit. My mom was the one who had to tell me to go. I was like I’m done, I can’t leave you.
So I eventually came back and you know I really thought me and DRC could’ve been great. And I’m not taking no shots and this is in no ways any disrespect, but I really thought me and DRC could’ve been great. I could’ve moulded him a little bit. We could’ve done good things.”
Now that’s exactly what was presumed to happen. The Eagles traded for DRC a couple days before the Nnamdi signing, so no one saw it coming with them signing Nnamdi. Everyone was focused on how young DRC is and how he’s coming into his own and each article or analysis looked at you as a mentor figure to him. You had to be as shocked as we were when you hear they signed Nnamdi.
“When they signed Nnamdi I automatically knew that there was a situation. I understand business. I understand I’m making $10 million dollars per year and they’re paying him $12 million per year, so they can’t waste all that money at one position. I understood that I would have to leave. I figured that couldn’t work out,” said Samuel.
“Honestly, you sign me and I give you 23 interceptions in four years, so how in the hell do you decide that’s not good enough and let’s get rid of this guy?”
After the 2010 season we realized the Eagles needed more help in the secondary. Ellis Hobbs and Dmitri Patterson weren’t panning out on the other side of you, but after the season you just had it made no sense to anyone why they signed Nnamdi. We were all scratching our heads at what the team was doing. When you come back to training camp and you have those conversations with Andy Reid, Howie Roseman, and Jeffrey Lurie were there any trades brought up? Did you ask for a trade?
“They put it to me as we have a lot of corners and teams are inquiring about our corners. Of course I read between the lines and I realized you’re shopping me. We almost did a deal with the Detroit Lions (during the 2011 offseason),” Samuel explained. “The deal didn’t go through, so we played it out.”
Did you feel disrespected after all of this went down?
“Yes. I will forever feel disrespected, but not just for me, but for the fans as well. I put my heart and my passion out there. I gave Philly nothing, but excitement, energy and fun. For them to do me, my family and you guys like that, that was just a crazy situation. Not only that, but for the replacements to not even give you guys back any of the excitement, it’s crazy.
It was just like a power struggle,” says Samuel. “I’m not taking shots at anyone, I hold no grudges against anyone either. I’m just speaking. No one ever heard my side of the story. I’m just talking and telling the truth.”
You proved throughout your NFL career you thrived in zone coverage and man coverage as well, it was an under appreciated asset you brought to the Eagles. It seemed like Nnamdi just flat out struggled with the scheme change and playing man coverage.
“When you play on the other side of me you gotta show up and you gotta play. Either you’re good or you’re not, it’s going to show. I’m going to go deeper than that. Andy Reid knows and he knew what was going on. He knew like I said, I bring energy, I’m a leader and I practice hard,” Samuel said.
“He would always try to get me, and no disrespect saying this, he would try to get me to get those other cornerbacks to practice hard. He would say stuff like ‘Motivate them son, talk to them. Do this, show them how to do that.’ I’m like dude you just paid this dude more money than me. What are you talking about? Get out of here with that.”
Okay so, in your personal opinion, it sounds like Andy Reid favored you, so would you say that maybe he wasn’t on board with bringing in Nnamdi? The 2011 offseason did have Howie Roseman’s fingerprints all over it.
“I have no idea who’s move it was. I have no idea who had the power. Like I said it was a power struggle. Someone decided I don’t want Asante back,” Samuel says. “I don’t care what he’s done for this team. Life goes on. They said they wanted to get rid of me and just like I said in the news, I just want to go where I’m wanted.”
The 2012 offseason begins. Do they basically come to you and say we need to end this now and move on?
“Yeah. Let me tell you I think this was another shot at me too,” Samuel explains. “This is my opinion. I’m going to teach the fans a little bit about business. So they want to trade me right? Everyone has families to take care of, Andy, Howie, everyone does. So I go to Andy and say, you want to trade me it’s already known. Let me go before free agency hits when everyone has money, so I can go out there and get a fair deal for the fair market value and it’s not all gone. He wouldn’t do that for me.
They waited all the way towards training camp to trade me for a seventh-round pick. To barely even have a trade for me and barely find a team with some money out there for me. I had two choices and I took Atlanta. If they would’ve just let me go in the beginning of the offseason I could’ve gotten a better contract and I could’ve been in a better situation. That’s all I asked from Andy and the Eagles, but they wouldn’t do that for me either.”
Eagles fans still love you and the playmaker you were to the team. Is there anything else you just want to look back on with your tenure?
“I made my twitter when I signed with the Eagles, so usually Eagles fans take over my twitter. I love my Patriots fans and I love my Falcons fans, but Eagles fans are the ones I see the most of. You guys rule on my twitter.
I just hate the way it ended,” Samuel said referring to his departure from Philadelphia. “We were supposed to keep doing good things. I was supposed to keep returning interceptions for touchdowns. I went to Atlanta, first year there I had five interceptions and one returned for a touchdown. Help take the team to the playoffs. They didn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs in God knows how long. That’s my leadership, that’s my energy, people underestimate that stuff.”
Again, I’d just like to give Asante Samuel a shoutout and let him know how thankful I am that he opened up about his departure from Philadelphia to me. He’s never gone into this much detail before talking about his Eagles’ career, so I greatly appreciate it. You can listen to the full interview here: ALL-32 Podcast by ALL-32 Podcast
Mandatory Photo Credits: Pat McDermott/Getty Images