Using the franchise tag on an elite cornerback turned out to be a mistake where Charles Woodson was concerned, but is the common-sense move for the Raiders with Nnamdi Asomugha.
The Raiders made no announcements today _ the first day players can be tagged _ but one can be anticipated at some point in the next couple of weeks.
The only way it won’t happen is if the Raiders first sign Asomugha to a multi-year contract, but chances are they’ll first deal with free agents who have actual freedom to leave starting Feb. 29, knowing a deal with their star cornerback can be reached at any time.
Last year’s prize free agent corner, Nate Clements, has a seven-year, $64 million contract with the 49ers (this year’s playing time voided what would have been an eighth year). Considering how long it took the Raiders to come to an agreement on that kind of money with JaMarcus Russell, don’t hold your breath on a deal with Asomugha.
This year’s cornerback prize is New England’s Asante Samuel because he agreed to a deal last season which guaranteed he would not be franchised this year. Both Asomugha and Seattle’s Marcus Trufant, the other top tier corners, are likely to be franchised.
Asomugha is the only one of the three who has played most often in a man-to-man defense.
The franchise number for cornerbacks this season is $9.465 million, which is guaranteed upon signing. Asomugha could still visit other teams for a longterm deal, which the Raiders could either match or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.
The other option is to make Asomugha an “exclusive” franchise player, meaning no other teams could negotiate with him. Asomugha’s salary would then be recalculated in April to average the top five salaries of cornerbacks across the league, which could conceivably go up from $9.465 million.
Still, the Asomugha situation is much more comfortable than the one that existed with Woodson, who pocketed $19.3 million in two seasons, designated “exclusive” in 2004 and as a straight franchise player in 2005.
For one thing, the cap is much higher _ $122 million _ and the Raiders have plenty of room to accomodate Asomugha without a ripple effect.
More important, the only thing Asomugha and Woodson have in common is that they play the same position.
The Raiders, whether they admit it or not, had to regret giving up so much money to a player who was prone to injury and snoozing during meetings. They gambled and lost on the second franchise designation, hoping to swing a deal for Woodson only to be stunned when he actually signed the tender guaranteeing him $10.5 million.
When agent Carl Poston presented the signed tender to the club at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, the Raiders were so flummoxed they issued a press release which said “The actions of agent Carl Poston and Charles Woodson tell us that they must have reached a long-term deal with a team, and we expect a trade very soon.”
It will be much smoother sailing with Asomugha.
For one thing, Asomugha is durable, having missed three games in five seasons. Woodson played in just 19 games for his $19.3 million in his two franchise years.
While Woodson came in with a Heisman Trophy and as the No. 4 overall pick, Asomugha lasted until the 31st selection of the 2003 draft. Even then, the pick drew blank stares and there were scouts from other teams which claimed Asomugha wasn’t anywhere in their first three rounds.
Score this one as a victory for the Raiders scouting department.
While Woodson started off playing at a near-Pro Bowl level, Asomugha, shuttled between corner and safety, struggled. He didn’t have an interception over his first three seasons, in part because his hands were about as soft as frying pans.
So Asomugha worked, and then worked some more. He can still be found staying after practice working on his game. He broke out with eight interceptions last season, and had just one in 2007 because teams wisely avoided throwing in his direction.
While Asomugha has never said publicly he wanted to move on, he could be forgiven for feeling overdue in terms of contributing to a winning team. In four seasons at Cal and five seasons with the Raiders, Asomugha’s teams are a combined 30-95 with exactly one winning season _ a 7-5 mark with the Bears in 2002, Jeff Tedford’s first year in Berkeley.