The Legend and Contracts of Nnamdi Asomugha

CB Nnamdi Asomugha was released this week by the San Francisco 49ers likely leading to the end of his career. Asomugha is one of the more fascinating figures from a contract perspective that I can ever recall. He leveraged an incredible reputation, draft status, and team needs to create a brilliant marketing plan that saw him out-earn his peers regardless of who was or was not better at the time.

Asomugha was drafted in 2003 with the 31st pick in the NFL draft by the AFC Champion Oakland Raiders. Asomugha had a pretty non descript rookie season, starting just one game and logging no passes defended or interceptions on the season. By 2005 he had become a good starter and in 2006 he became a star with 8 interceptions and 19 passes broken up.

With the Raiders only having won 15 games in the four years Asomugha had been a Raider and the organization looking as if it was headed nowhere,opponents made a decision in 2007 to simply avoid Asomugha rather than chance a turnover, which may have been the Raiders only chance to score in certain weeks. The legend of Asomugha grew from there as the Raiders placed the Franchise tag on Asomugha to prevent him from becoming a free agent.

Asomugha actually did not receive his first true post season honors until 2008, when he was named first team All Pro and selected to the Pro Bowl. At that point Asomugha was able to use everything to his advantage to receive an outlandish three year contract that would pay him over $45 million dollars if he fulfilled the three year contract. The kicker in the contract was that the third year salary would be a minimum of $16.874 million, essentially paying him as if he was a Quarterback, provided he reached some very basic incentives.  As things turned out he failed to reach these incentives, but it didn’t really hurt him as it simply led to his 2011 contract year voiding, making him a free agent.

Asomugha became arguably the hottest free agent in 2011, despite the fact that his play had dropped off – Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 14th best cornerback in 2009 and 24th best in 2010.  A bidding way ensued between the high spending New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys which Asomugha seemed to just use to drive up the price for the team they really wanted to play on- the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles had just come off a 10-6 season where they had surged behind a resurgent Mike Vick, who had an 8-3 record as a starter. They were assembling the “Dream Team” and money was no object to what had been a cautious organization. They signed Asomugha to a $12 million dollar a year contract with $25 million guaranteed. He was going to lead the defense to greatness as the legend of Asomugha said he could not be tested.

Except somewhere along the way teams decided maybe it was time to begin throwing on Asomugha. This was not the Raiders with no offensive threat anymore. After being thrown on just 57 times combined in the prior two seasons Asomugha was tested 47 times as an Eagle. That’s still a good number but teams saw that the legend may have been far bigger than the actual player at that point.

Teams had success throwing his way. There seemed to be genuine shock about this among fans and media alike. Much was written about defensive systems, coaching, lack of cohesion with his teammates, and even difficulty in adjusting to life on the East coast in a lockout shortened season. By 2012 it was pretty much all out war against Asomugha and he was terrible, leading to his eventual release. Luckily for him his legend was so great that the Eagles had already agreed to pay him $4 million dollars even if he played with another team.

It is pretty amazing how much money Asomugha was able to command during all of this time. The first contract was truly a masterpiece. At the time Nnamdi had spent 6 years in the NFL. Now it’s difficult to measure “shutdown” as a metric, but just in terms of overall career numbers Asomugha was not significantly better than his peers. His two and 3 year payouts were about 18% and 40% higher than the next closest player.

 

Player

Year Signed

Seasons

GS

PB

AP

Int

2 Year

3 Year

Asomugha

2009

6

69

1

1

10

$28,592,000

$45,466,000

Bailey

2004

5

80

4

0

18

$20,199,000

$26,226,450

Samuel

2008

5

53

1

1

22

$23,145,000

$32,140,000

Tillman

2007

4

49

0

0

14

$18,600,000

$22,000,000

Clements

2008

6

91

0

0

23

$24,083,334

$27,650,000

 

It is a bit harder to compare Asomugha when he signed his next contract in 2011 since these other players were all under long term contracts, but an interesting point of reference there is Samuel. Samuel was on the same Eagles team as Asomugha, but they decided to move on from Samuel in 2012 and trade him to the Falcons. At the time Samuel was one year removed from 4 straight Pro Bowls and was showing signs of breaking down. While Asomugha got the $12 million per year deal Samuel received a contract worth about $6 million a season. Here were their career stats upon signing their last major contracts:

 

Player

Year Signed

Seasons

GS

PB

AP

Int

2 Year

3 Year

Asomugha

2011

8

99

3

2

11

$21,000,000

$36,000,000

Samuel

2012

9

108

4

1

45

$12,450,000

$17,700,000

 

All told this led to an extremely impressive salary from 2009 through 2012. Between the Raiders and Eagles, Asomugha earned just under $53.6 million dollars (this includes his $4 million dollar go away payoff) to produce 5 interceptions on teams whose combined record was 25-39 and produced no winning seasons nor any playoff appearances. How did the others do in those initial 4 year periods:

 

Player

GS

PB

AP

Int

4 Year Pay

Asomugha

61

2

1

5

$53,592,000

Samuel

55

3

0

23

$38,140,000

Bailey

54

3

2

22

$34,229,500

Clements

53

0

0

10

$33,700,000

Tillman

62

1

0

13

$25,450,000

At the end of the day Asomugha earned 40% more than Samuel, a player drafted the same season and arguably as productive at his peak.  He earned significantly more than Bailey and Tillman proved to be an excellent bargain for Chicago.

There are only a handful of players in the NFL that should be in the discussion for greatest contracts of all time, but Asomugha is right at the top of that list. I’m not sure if there is anyone that will ever show this level of disparity from a financial standpoint from his peers again for producing so little on the field. It was brilliant contract management and creating a frenzy about something that may not have even existed if he had played for another team besides the one in Oakland. This is a series of contracts that every player and agent should dream of and every team he played for has had nightmares about.


 

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