Late Thursday afternoon Nnamdi Asomugha signed a one day contract with the Oakland Raiders to set up his retirement on Friday in a press conference to set up the start of the final weekend of the Raiders 2013 season and end an 11 year NFL career for a player who at one point was at the peak of his position in his league.
On Thursday evening there were a lot of emotions and reflections on the career of Asomugha, a player who before guys like Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman earned raves was the NFL’s premier cornerback despite never making it to the playoffs. A player who while playing on bad football teams was always perceived as one of the best players in football without much of anything to make him a star and finishing with quite average career numbers was still a player who I consider to be one of the best players of my childhood, but also one that fell off the face of the earth following signing a massive deal with the Philadelphia Eagles before failing to catch on in San Francisco this season.
On Thursday I wasn’t too sure what to think.
Asomugha came to the Raiders at the exact time where the team was transitioning from the Rich Gannon/Jon Gruden era that led the Raiders to their highest successes before crashing to earth in the well documented playoff drought since their 2012 Super Bowl. Drafted 31st overall in the 2003 NFL Draft, the only teams Asomugha played for were losing ones and he never made the postseason during his career that spanned over a decade.
It was fitting that Asomugha’s best statistical season in his career came during one of the worst seasons in Raiders history, a 2-14 2006 year in which Asomugha was one of the lone high points. After playing sparingly in his first seasons as a pro, Asomugha added to a breakout 2005 where he started every game by becoming one of the most explosive playmaking corners in the NFL. Asomugha’s eight interceptions in 2006 not only elevated Asomugha’s status, it began the (true) myth in which teams opted to not throw to Asomugha all together.
From 2007 onwards, Asomugha’s greatest asset was the fact that teams were afraid to throw the ball to Asomugha’s assignment. Before the New York media coined Revis Island, there were quarterbacks, offensive coordinators and wide receivers losing sleep at night because they had to deal with Asomugha. He was tested less than 50 times and teams completed just ten passes with Asomugha covering the receiver. After his eight INT’s in 2006, Asomugha became a myth and a legend on a team that still went 4-12.
The myth continued through the rest of his career and even if his numbers were never eye popping, if you knew the game of football you could notice that Asomugha was one of the best in football every time he stepped on the field just by not noticing him. Few cornerbacks in the league’s history have completely taken away real estate on the football field by being a shutdown cornerback like Asomugha, and even then there may not be a player who conceded less completions than Asomugha did during his days in Oakland. Even if the team was bad (and it always was) Asomugha alone was worth tuning into a Raiders game.
During his days as a Raider there was no denying Asomugha’s value, and although he was the highest paid defensive back in NFL history, he was worth every penny. Even in the final year as a Raider, Asomugha was targeted just 27 times in his eighth season and on the final year of the highest paid contract of any defensive back in history. In an era where Raiders took their guaranteed deals and stopped their production, Asomugha gave Al Davis every bit of value he paid when he gave Asomugha a deal that paid him an average of the top five highest paid quarterbacks each season before finally leaving in 2011 in an attempt to find the promised land of the postseason and land another big payday from the Philadelphia Eagles.
In Philly, Asomugha was a shell of his former self from Day One and although at the time he was worth every penny based on his production in 2010, teams no longer feared Asomugha now that he was an Eagle. While the struggles of the Eagles were in no way the fault of Asomugha, the team went from expected to contend for NFC East titles to missing the playoffs in both of his seasons. Asomugha left to be a winner, but instead was bit once more by the Football Gods. When he was waived by the Niners, nobody seemed to want him and Asomugha himself didn’t seem to want to come back. Married to actress Kerry Washington and already seemingly at piece with what he had accomplished despite never making the playoffs you could tell that Asomugha’s life in football was likely over and when the news came out on Thursday it was no surprise that Asomugha wanted to end his career as a Raider.
The career of Asomugha will likely be debated a lot this weekend. Unlike hero Charles Woodson, Asomugha never helped lead the Raiders to glory and will likely largely be remembered for being a great player on terrible football teams. A member of USA Today’s All-Decade team there is no denying that Asomugha is one of the best of his era, but whether he will be remembered as such is up for debate. Due to a lack of eye popping numbers due to a lack of opportunity to make plays, to playing on very forgettable teams in the Raiders/Eagles, time likely will be cruel to Nnamdi whether it is fair or not.
How Asomugha will be remembered has a lot to do with how you evaluate the game. His lack of stories will make writers like myself forget about him for the new Flavor of the Month and fans will likely remember him less fondly due to his exit for a chance at winning and more money in Philadelphia after eight years in Oakland while the causal fan will forget about him altogether due to his lack of highlight reel and infamous moments. That does not mean that Asomugha was not one of the most influential Oakland Raiders of their second stay in Oakland, nor does it not mean he is not one of the best Raiders of all time.
While Asomugha might be forgotten down the road, this weekend we have the chance to appreciate a player who the game has already forgotten about one last time. Like it, hate it, or don’t agree with it, Asomugha was one of the best of an era even if we likely won’t remember to tell our grandchildren about it. Nor will there be a player who symbolizes the post 2002 Super Bowl Raiders more. Goodbye Nnamdi, you truly were a Raiders great.