No reason was given. Thursday, the 49ers, having released Nate Clements, had been reported to be in hot and heavy for the services of the former Raiders cornerback. Indeed, the proposition seemed enticing in that Asomugha, perhaps the premier cover corner in the game, would go a long ways to patch up a leaky secondary as well as give 49ers fans reason to believe that ownership and the front office are working hard to improve the team.
Friday, that disappeared, an emotional deflation on par with finding no presents under the Christmas tree. Moreover, other top-name corners like Ike Taylor and Johnathan Joseph have signed new contracts, reducing the number of prospects the Niners could have had.
On top of this news came the report that Michael Crabtree will miss four-to-six weeks due to a foot injury, which he incurred during informal workouts over the summer. It’s the same foot on which surgery was performed prior to the 2009 NFL Draft. It also marks the third-straight whiff on training camp sessions for the former Texas Tech wideout.
It may seem like a very long reach to connect a foot to a premier player’s decision to stay in the Bay Area, forsaking offers from the likes of Houston, New York Jets and now, it is reported, the Dallas Cowboys. (Excuse me: 49er fans want that rephrased as the hated Dallas Cowboys.)
Truth be told, Crabtree’s injury did not cause Nnamdi and his agent Ben Dogra to pull out of negotiations with the 49ers. But here are four reasons why that news and other issues persuaded the former Cal defensive star to look elsewhere to ply his trade.
He’s 6’3” and 215 pounds and possesses the speed to run with the fleet receivers. He is big enough to fight off the big boys like Larry Fitzgerald and Braylon Edwards. He is a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro. Nnamdi Asomugha has earned the right to be called an elite player.
After eight years in the league, playing for a low-profile team, it seems natural that Asomugha would want to elevate people’s awareness of his talents. And there are two ways to do that.
First, you play for a major-market team. The Jets and the Cowboys definitely fulfill that qualification. Second, you play in the playoffs. Again, those two teams seem reasonably guaranteed of doing that.
In contrast, the Niners offered the chance for Asomugha to stay in the Bay Area and help return a franchise to its standing among the league’s elite.
Then came the news, not that they are related, that Crabtree won’t be in camp. And there’s one thing about feet and receivers: The latter need the former to do their job. This is the third-consecutive year that injuries have hobbled Crabtree’s progress, and the news that he did it during shorts-and-t-shirt workouts during the summer does not suggest his anatomy can stand up over the course of a season, much less a career.
In other words, the Niners can’t count on Crabtree to reach his potential this year, and that hurts their chances of making the playoffs, which is the only way that Asomugha would have enjoyed a high-profile moment as a 49er.
It may not occur to the younger NFL fans to wonder why a team in north central Texas is considered to be in the “East.” It happened back when the NFL and the AFL merged in the 1960s.
Tex Schramm, then the general manager of the Cowboys (and close, close friend to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle), knew that for his team to grow its popularity across the country was to have access to the nation’s largest cities.
With some wink-wink agreements, the Cowboys ended up in the East along with the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins. About the same time the merger took place, the Atlanta Falcons came to be, and they were put into the NFC West.
That’s right, Los Angeles and San Francisco were west along with New Orleans and Atlanta, which meant they flew over Dallas to play those division games. Dallas remained in that cozy eastern division against its storied rivals, the Giants and Redskins.
Schramm’s gambit worked.
In the 1970s, people referred to Dallas as “America’s Team.” It still calls itself that today, which is so much hooey. But the point is, the Cowboys are a premier team in that they regularly appear on nationally televised games, have a regular gig at home on Thanksgiving (highest TV ratings short of crucial late-season games or playoffs), and play in New York and Washington every season (bringing access to national media).
That arrangement brings added benefits to Cowboy players, and that has to appeal (along with huge amounts of cash) to Asomugha.
If Asomugha signs with the Jets, that will give the AFC’s premier defense the two best corners in the game (Darrelle Revis being the other). It is one thing to be a daunting defense, quite another when you can build a name as part of a tandem or team, such as the famous Purple People Eaters of the Minnesota defense of the 1970s.
Getting known for your talents is one thing; carrying across the boundaries of sport and into mainstream American culture, usually through merchandising and promotions, is quite another. Can’t you see t-shirts with:
Asomugha and Revis: The Pass Stops Here.
Knowing the hyper-active media firms in New York, if Asomugha becomes a Jet, he’ll have offers to write a book, star in commercials and perhaps open up an acting career (he’s certainly attractive enough, and he’s very well-spoken).
In other words, a move to the Jets will make Asomugha’s post-NFL days much easier in terms of staying relevant (read: making money). That’s something the Niners can’t offer.
Having played six seasons for the Raiders, during which Oakland struggled through three head coaches (something like that, I think I’ve lost count) and numerous in-house power struggles between managing general partner Al Davis and who knows how many league and team personnel, it would be understandable if Asomugha wanted a harmonious place to work.
In that perspective, it could hardly be said that the 49ers could offer such a respite from political in-fighting and an uncertain future for the franchise. It starts with Jed York and his father, John, on whether this organization can get its act together to pull off the two-handed juggling act of trying to get a stadium deal done while also improving the team’s fortunes on the field.
Having three coaches in three years, coupled with Jed York’s inexperience, probably constituted some advice from Condon to his client: Stay away.