It would be one thing if the San Francisco 49ers paid Nnamdi Asomugha the type of top dollar he commanded on the free-agent market just three offseasons ago. Such a move would be considered preposterous.
However, GM Trent Baalke's savvy acquisition of the supremely talented cornerback was a bargain that has potential to pay huge dividends for the Niners in 2013.
Whether he got complacent due to his five-year $60 million contract or it was the instability of the Eagles organization that caused Asomugha to underwhelm is unclear, but it wasn't pretty in Philly.
Asomguha signed a one-year deal with the 49ers worth $1.35 million in base salary. As Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer points out, none of the three-time Pro Bowler's deal is guaranteed, although he did receive $4 million in such compensation when the Philadelphia Eagles released him.
Berman also logged what Asomugha had to say about the move, which brings him back to the Bay Area, where he is very familiar with his surroundings as a former member of the Oakland Raiders:
I think 49ers have a good mix, what (defensive coordinator) Vic Fangio does I think has been awesome, over the last two years from what I’ve seen...
I think the contrast is I didn’t really know anyone [in Philadelphia], and it was a new area for me...Those were probably the biggest differences. And then out here, there is that familiarity with the area and with players and coaches.
I’ve never gone into a season thinking I didn't have something to prove...Always had a chip. The chip might be a little bigger now, but it’s always been there.
The deal in San Francisco is based on incentives, which could net him an additional $1.65 million. So any larger hit that Asomugha incurs will be against the cap, which will actually be good news for the Niners.
ESPN insider Adam Schefter notes that it was actually Asomugha's choice not to have any guaranteed money:
Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter
CB Nnamdi Asomugha is signing a 1-yr deal with 49ers worth $1.35 million in base salary, but get this: He didn't want ANY guaranteed money.2013-4-2 22:19:19
If the playoffs exposed anything, it's that the Niners desperately need a cornerback on the outside that excels at bump-and-run, man-to-man coverage. Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown are a decent tandem, but couldn't match up with the higher octane passing offenses they faced down the stretch.
That is precisely what Asomugha could do in his heyday—disrupt the timing of opposing passing games by jamming receivers and playing blanket coverage.
Unfortunately, that physicality has been absent from Asomugha's game recently. As Chris Wesseling of NFL.com points out, quarterbacks registered a ridiculous 120.6 passer rating when throwing Asomugha's way in 2012, per Pro Football Focus.
That's just not anywhere near what an elite corner should post. Without All-Pro safety Dashaun Goldson, the Niners especially need help in the defensive backfield.
Asomugha will have no choice but to adjust his mentality in playing for the Jim Harbaugh-coached Niners. This is one of the most physical teams in the NFL, and the once-great corner better be ready to bring it.
The assumption is that if Asomugha is anywhere near the player he was for the Raiders, he'll start. But he has made a commitment to earning it himself, as evidenced by his refusal to accept guaranteed money.
Such a move is indicative of how determined Asomugha is to prove he still belongs in this league and remains among the best at the cornerback position.
If he does wind up being a bust, it won't come at a steep cost for San Francisco. Baalke and the other brass know it.
However, if Asomugha experiences a resurgence in Vic Fangio's scheme—which is more suited to Asomugha's abilities—few teams will be able to deny the already formidable Niners defense of driving the team to another Super Bowl appearance.