Strictly business . . . as usual

There’s a great scene in the movie North Dallas Forty where the late John Matuszak confronts an assistant coach following a playoff loss and says, “Every time I call it a game, you call it a business, and every time I call it a business, you call it a game.”

It was business in 1979 when North Dallas Forty was released, and with the NFL having developed into a billion dollar industry, even more so almost 30 years later.

Which goes a long way toward explaining why Nnamdi Asomugha isn’t expected to participate in the Raiders’ June 3 minicamp and why he is no lock to be present at training camp when the Raiders start putting together their 2008 roster.

Asomugha is doing the wise thing and playing it very low key, as is his agent, Steve Baker, who declined comment beyond saying there is no animosity between his client and the Raiders.

There’s a school of thought that Asomugha is crazy for not signing his tender as an exclusive unrestricted free agent. The moment he puts pen to paper, Asomugha is guaranteed a figure expected to be just short of $10 million. In the meantime, Asomugha is not under contract and guaranteed nothing. If he is injured while training or involved in a freak accident, the Raiders owe him nothing.

Because it was an exclusive tag, Asomugha can’t shop himself to other teams in hopes of bringing back a contract the Raiders can match or decline, receiving two first-round draft picks as compensation. No team is going to give up two first-round picks, of course, but the whole process of negotiating with someone else can be enough to spark a deal. Asomugha cannot be involved in that process.

You can assume Asomugha, who participated this offseasonin the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial program at Harvard Business school, understands the business world is all about leverage. And that he has precious little in that regard. You can also assume he is smart enough to be insured should he be injured while not under contract.

Forget the total value of multi-year deals when it comes to NFL contracts. Score is kept among players and agents by guaranteed money _ the amount of cash a player will get either immediately or very soon the moment a deal is struck.

So far this offseason, the Raiders committed $24.5 million to cornerback DeAngelo Hall, $18.125 million to defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and $16 million each to safety Gibril Wilson and wide receiver Javon Walker.

Last season, they spent approximately $30 million on quarterback JaMarcus Russell and very soon will have to scratch a check in the $20 million range to lock up running back Darren McFadden, assuming the running back isn’t going to press for a deal falling just shy of the $34.75 million No. 3 overall pick Matt Ryan got from the Atlanta Falcons.

There’s being a team guy, and there is being a smart businessman. If you’re the latter, and are considered a valued commodity, how would you feel at being fifth or sixth in the pecking order in a contract year? Particularly when the year’s biggest offseason acquisition is someone who plays the same position?

Asomugha could go the Charles Woodson route and sit out until training camp is over. The time Woodson signed his franchise tender early was when it became apparent to his representatives the dollar figure he was going to get was as good as anything he would likely see on the open market.

The other option, if the Raiders want Asomugha in early, would be to offer him a one-year deal which promises he won’t be a franchise player next year. It was that tactic which New England and Chicago used last year to bring in cornerback Asante Samuel and linebacker Lance Briggs, respectively.

The two sides could still negotiate and agree to a long-term deal later.

Asomugha is going to be a Raider in 2008, and will surely handle his business without ruffling any feathers. He will be back eventually, but for the time being will continue to play poker with only one card, and it’s his call to determine when to fold his hand.


Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer