What was theorized by some as early as the opener against Atlanta, and what was confirmed against New England and New Orleans, ultimately proved to be our undoing in the biggest game of the year on the biggest stage there is.
I'm not going to say what it is. We all know. And it needs to be fixed quickly.
What we need is a 6'2", 210 lbs. corner who can run with anybody, who can maintain tight man coverage as well as play great in the zone. A guy who will step up and put a hit on a ball carrier, and not shy away from contact. Someone with the smarts and veteran savvy to pick up and mentally devour a playbook, maybe not knowing it all, but having the physical ability to make up for what he doesn't know yet while he becomes versed in the rest.
Now picture that player hungry for a championship, and starving for any team success in general at the professional level. Sounds pretty good right? But is there a player of that pedigree even out there, let alone someone that the Steelers might realistically be able to acquire? There may just be.
Nnamdi Asomugha came into the league with Oakland in 2003, as the 31st overall pick out of California. At the time, he was most likely fulfilling a dream to many dream, playing professional football in his home state (he was raised in Los Angeles, CA), but possibly for his favorite team to boot. They were coming off of a Superbowl appearance, and he was about to make them even better.
He has since developed a reputation as a top-tier corner, and one of the league's elite defensive players overall. Due to a clause in his contract requiring he reach certain incentives (which he failed to reach), Nnamdi is now a free agent who cannot be franchise tagged again. He had the tag applied in 2008.
Clearly the demand for a player like Nnamdi is great, and the number of contract offers even greater. But after years of playing without any sniff of a championship, we can offer him a perfect place to come in and compete for one immediately.
If I were Nnamdi I would want to play for a winning organization...
At this stage in his career, Asomugha has both the free agent freedom and padded bankroll to try to land on a winning team if he so chooses.
After he was drafted in '03, Oakland began its free fall into an immense step back, and during his career he has played for teams that went, in chronological order, 4-12; 5-11; 4-12; 2-14; 4-12; 5-11; 5-11 and 8-8. That is a combined 37-and-79 (.318), without a single playoff appearance on his resume. Not to kick a franchise when they are down -- I actually respect for the Raiders franchise -- but Asomugha has been through more coaching turmoil and instability than any player should. The list of coaches and head-scratching leadership decisions that have come and gone or occurred during his eight years in Oakland includes Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell picking his offensive coordinator up from a bed and breakfast, Lane Kiffin's mere existence in Al Davis' eyes, and Tom Cable maybe or maybe not punching assistant coaches in meetings.
In his eight years as a pro, Asomugha has played for five different head coaches along with numerous positional coaches and defensive coordinators.
Since Nnamdi joined the Raiders, the Steelers have by contrast been quite successful. Most notably of course are the two Super Bowl wins, but even in the down years, stability at the top has never been a problem for the franchise. We've had the same defensive coordinator for that entire span, and a decent one at that. We have, however, had one change at head coach, but the new man in charge, Mike Tomlin, is no stranger to working with defensive backs. Given Tomlin's early successes, not to mention that the Rooneys have only changed coaches twice twice in forty years, it is safe to say he'll be around for a while.
How does Nnamdi fit in with the Steelers image?
This would normally rank a little lower in order of importance to some but I almost lead with it, because people like Nnamdi should be celebrated, in my opinion.
- Asomugha serves as Chairman of the Orphans and Widows in Need Organization which provides necessary assistence to those in need of it in Nigeria.
- Asomugha launched the annual Asomugha College Tour for Scholars Program where he takes students on tours of colleges. Since launching the program in 2006, 100 percent of it's participants have gone on to college after high school.
- He has been nominated for and/ or received numerous awards for his dedication to his community including:
- Home Depot Neighborhood MVP in 2007
- The President's Volunteer Service Award in 2008,
- One of Essence Magazine's "Do Right Men of The Year" in 2008
- "Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year" nominee in 2008
- The NFL PA has nominated him for their Byron White Award for Outstanding Community Service in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 before he finally won the award this past year in 2010.
- The Jefferson Awards for Public Service named him to their "Dream Team for Public Service" in 2009.
- Honored as a United Way Ambassador in 2010
- And most recently, Asomugha was nominated for the Walter Payton Man of The Year Award.
- The President's Volunteer Service Award in 2008,
- Home Depot Neighborhood MVP in 2007
I encourage anyone who feels like it to read his Wiki-page, which goes into Asomugha's off the field contributions to society in greater detail. You can also check out his foundation's website for more information about what they are doing, how they are doing it, and possibly how you can get involved. People like Nnamdi don't get enough recognition for what they do, and as an organization that likes to take great pride in not just the player, but the person inside the uniform, Pittsburgh Steelers fans would love to have him in the 'Burgh representing our team.
Nnamdi is too high-priced for the Steelers...
But let's not forget who was paying him before.
I'm not going to pick on Al Davis too much, but the bottom line is, in order for the Raiders to acquire or keep talent at this time, they must overpay, and occasionally overpay big time. Javon Walker, Tommy Kelly and Sebastian Janikowski all come to mind as either being (extremely) overpaid free agent signings, or overpaid in house re-signings. Add to that the recent signing of Richard Seymour to a two year deal that pays him $15 million per season. Does anyone actually think any of these players were worth what they signed for?
In no way was Asomugha extremely overpaid, but he was paid more than what I think he could have gotten elsewhere. At $17 million, his salary is not in line with what the other players at his position make. The closest comparable player, Darrelle Revis was resigned to a $12 million per year deal. I prefer Asomugha to Revis personally, and even I don't think he is $5 million a year better.
In order for the Raiders to keep the talent they do have, they have to outbid not only other teams, but they have to almost outbid themselves a few times too. They're almost like the Yankees in a way, but the bizzaro Yankees, because their reasons for doing so are so vastly different.
Big market teams in need of a corner can surely outbid the Steelers...
The usual suspects in free agency will be on the hunt, let's see how they stack up along with other potential suitors.
The last salary cap in place was $130 million dollars. Dallas, a team in dire need of secondary help, is already over that number. The Redskins potentially have the cap space to make a push for him, but they are not one piece away from a championship at this time. Houston is rumored to be in the mix as a potential landing spot, but they are in a rebuilding phase as they transition to a 3-4, so I would expect them to be at least two years away from competing defensively. The Giants and the Jets are both near the tipping point cap-wise as well.
His old team, Oakland, may have just pushed all their free chips into another pot, choosing to forgo possibly playing them with a slightly better hand.
The Steelers have won without an elite corner because of the system...
How would this work football wise?
This is where it could hurt Steelers fans.
Ike Taylor has been a major piece of two championship teams and three Superbowl teams. He has never gotten that big pay day from the Steelers and his clock is ticking at 30 years old. For the many teams, I would say Ike would be a top priority free agent who could demand more than the 3.5 million he made last year in Pittsburgh. Theoretically, given the importance of position he could warrant a deal in the neighborhood of $6-8 million a year. Think that's too high? Compare Ike to Chris Gamble, or even Corey Webster. Heck, compare him to Bryant McFadden who got $5 million just two years ago in free agency. Maybe that $6-8 million is even on the low side. Teams such as Arizona, San Fransisco, Dallas, Houston, Minnesota, New England, Oakland, Philadelphia, and San Diego could all be interested in Ike potentially. I could even see New Orleans getting in the mix maybe. This could be his last chance at a big time deal, and I couldn't blame him for taking one if it's offered.
Ike could take another "hometown discount". I could see yet another instance where he steps in and tells his agent to take the deal, possibly leaving money on the table. He loves Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh loves Ike. In a dream world, Ike on one side and Nnamdi on the other would be, well, seventh heavenly.
LaMarr Woodley is also a major factor. The pass rush he provides, along with James Harrison and the rest of our 'backers, has given us the luxury of not needing top tier talent all over the secondary. LaMarr was just "franchised" yesterday, at $10 million for this season.
If we can get a long term deal done with Woodley, we will save money as compared to franchising him. I do not foresee him getting more than the franchise amount from us, if for no other reason the rule that is forcing our hand with the franchise tag wouldn't allow us to pay him that much without giving it to him guaranteed, something the front office seems hesitent to do. On the open market, it is a distinct possibility he could be offered that kind of deal, but he will not with Pittsburgh any time soon. If the time comes when we do have to say goodbye to LaMarr, the system that allows us to "get by" with average (in some cases average at best) corners would take a serious hit. There is a young pass rusher waiting in the wings named Worilds, and at some point he will step in at one of our OLB spots. It's unfair to assume the same high level of QB pressure would continue right away, so coverage on the outside will need to be better to compensate.
And, whether any of us want to admit it or not, the window for this team (this specific group of payers) is closing. At the start of next year, Aaron Smith will be 35; Hines Ward will also be 35; Casey Hampton will be 34; Brett Keisel will be 33. We clearly have young talent waiting in the wings, if not finding their way onto the field whenever possible, but these players need this issue corrected as soon as possible, or they may not get another ring before all is said and done.
It is not normally this franchise's M.O. to make "quick fix" moves, and not only do I understand that, I personally love that about our team. And I do not mean to exaggerate the circumstances we are in, we did make it to the Superbowl last year with our current group, so we are not in desperation mode by any means. But, we are in an interesting position. As a franchise that prides itself in continuity, we are in a position now where we can look at the guys who have gotten us to where we are over the last ten or so years, and we can say maybe just one more player can make the difference we looked like we needed against Green Bay. Maybe that one more piece can take us from the "great team" category to the "all-time great team" category. In my opinion that piece can and should be Nnamdi Asomugha.
He is a great player at one of this team's few points of, well, weakness for lack of a better term. He must, by now, be starving for team success and we can offer that for him right away. He is a great person, who more than fits in with what the Rooney's look for in a player. A person who takes great pride in his community, and is always willing to offer that helping hand when the moment arrises. We offer him a chance to play for one of the great minds in coaching in Dick LeBeau, and one of the rising stars in the head coach ranks in Mike Tomlin. Both men offer great insight on his position, LeBeau being a Hall of Fame corner himself, and Tomlin being a Superbowl winning secondary and two time Superbowl winning head coach.
The Steelers are a perfect fit for Nnamdi Asomugha, and Nnamdi is a perfect fit for the Steelers. All that is left is trying to make Asomugha financially comfortable. LaMarr Woodley's recent "franchise" designation complicates things, but with the money that can potentially be saved through the expiring contracts of Mewelde Moore, Keyaron Fox, as well as the possible inability to resign Ike Taylor while restructuring deals with Byron Leftwich eventually LaMarr Woodley, a competitive offer can at least be made, possibly in the neighborhood of $10 million or so a year. That combined with the other intangibles the franchise offers, might not get Asomugha in Balck and Gold, but I would think he would at least have to weigh the offer. Being, in my opinion, an extremely intelligent person, Nnamdi would recognize what we as a franchise offer, and that could possibly be the deciding factor. If New England was able to capitalize on their winning tradition in the mid 2000's, I say we try our hand similarly in this instance.
So, Nnamdi, if you're looking for a winning organization, that celebrates it's great defenders, has a team poised for a championship now, and want to become part of what could be an historic championship run in NFL history there is only one place to be.
Be a Pittsburgh Steeler.