Resurrecting Nnamdi Asomugha
Going into the 2011 offseason, Nnamdi Asomugha held the title of “Best Cornerback Not Named Darrelle Revis.” At the age of 30, Asomugha left Oakland and found a home in Philadelphia via free agency. Well, mainly the Eagles threw $60 million over five years at him, including $25 million guaranteed.
We all are aware of his Philadelphia story by now. Two years later, Asomugha is attempting to reinvent himself in the Bay Area again, this time in San Francisco, after coming up well short of high expectations in Philadelphia.
Much of the problem for Asomugha was the lofty expectations. The entire Eagles team had to play under Vince Young’s “Dream Team” moniker all season. In reality, Philadelphia’s defense was overmatched due to a new coordinator and some players not being a natural fit for the scheme there.
Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Jason Babin were the biggest of the new names on defense. New coordinator Juan Castillo, who had been Andy Reid’s longtime offensive line coach, was forced to install defensive line coach Jim Washburn's wide-9 scheme. It emphasized getting pressure on the quarterback, but often left corners on an island.
Babin thrived in 2011, with 18 sacks. Overall, the defense ultimately struggled. Asomugha reportedly started eating lunch in his car during practice in 2012, meaning the writing was on the wall.
So, what role will the former All-Pro play in San Fran? After being exposed in their playoff run by some quality quarterback play — and after losing free safety Dashon Goldson to free agency — the Niners may be able to fit Asomugha into their plans for the 2013 season.
The Niners’ secondary was stout in the 2012 regular season. Aside from their All-Pro safeties, Vic Fangio’s defense boasted three better-than-average cornerbacks. Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers and Chris Culliver all graded out positively in Pro Football Focus’ analysis. Additionally, all three were ranked in PFF's top 50 cornerbacks. In today’s NFL, quarterbacks make a living by picking apart zone coverage, so it’s important to have cornerbacks who can play man-to-man.
But Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco all took advantage of the 49ers’ lack of pressure over the last six games of the season, when pass-rusher Justin Smith was lost. After the secondary was exposed, the Niners' brain trust wasn't going to let their top three corners coast into the 2013 season.
Asomugha has always been an intelligent player, excelling in his Oakland days as a physical, man-press corner. Using his long arms to get into opposing receivers, Asomugha drove opposing No. 1 receivers off their routes and out of sync with their quarterback. With zero guaranteed money and an incentive-laden deal that is worth a max of $3 million, this was a risk worth taking.
Whether Asomugha can actually contribute, though, remains to be seen. He can certainly help mentor a young cornerback like Chris Culliver, who was especially exposed by Anquan Boldin in the Super Bowl. Additionally, having him in training camp will only light a fire under the starters, as well as backup corners Perrish Cox and Tramaine Brock, who are on the roster bubble.
Asomugha is listed as the backup at right cornerback right now. Asomugha has played right cornerback for every day of his NFL career. However, barring an injury to Brown, he'll be fighting for scraps in the secondary. Due to the presence of Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, the 49ers don’t employ many dime packages. This could be a major factor in determining if Asomugha is with the team after camp. If the team doesn't believe he can contribute to the secondary, Asomugha could be cut loose before the season, free of charge.
Another variable is the chip on his shoulder. He didn’t want any guaranteed money when he signed his contract. He is motivated, recently married and never underestimate the inventiveness of Fangio. He could easily be up for a head-coaching job in the near future. If Asomugha can play, Fangio will find a way to get him on the field.
For now, the jury’s still out on Asomugha. Due to his contract situation, there are no guarantees that the four-time All-Pro is even on the roster by September. Yet, if he does win a job in the secondary, expect him to contribute in man-press coverage, even if he plays minimal snaps. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, there’s really no downside to a low-risk, high-reward signing such as this one.