KAPOLOI, Hawaii – This is akin to having Frank Sinatra be the lead singer of a garage band.
You just wonder how much longer Nnamdi Asomugha will want to perform his stunning skills with an Oakland Raiders team that can't do much more than clang. While he remains the picture of maturity, patience and understanding after six years lost in historic futility, Asomugha started to ask some questions.
Directly to Oakland owner Al Davis.
This season, as the Raiders were in the midst of their sixth consecutive year with at least 10 losses (an NFL record), Oakland made the decision to cut cornerback DeAngelo Hall. The former Pro Bowler had played all of eight games. While it was apparent Hall was having a tough transition to playing the Raiders' style of man-to-man defense, the move made no sense to Asomugha.
"When DeAngelo got fired after eight weeks of play, that upset me," said Asomugha, who is playing in his first Pro Bowl (he was a late selection in 2006, but couldn't make it to the game). "Coming into it, we knew he didn't play an extensive amount of man-to-man at Atlanta, but we knew he could make plays."
Apparently that potential wasn't enough – at least not as far as Hall was concerned.
"So I'm thinking, let's give it a chance; maybe it will grow on him, I didn't get it when I first got here; it's all man [coverage]," said Asomugha, whom many coaches and players now consider the finest cornerback in the game.
The treatment of Hall was a pressure point for Asomugha. Throw in the soap opera between former coach Lane Kiffin and Davis, along with a 24-72 record over six years, and it's apparent why Asomugha called for a private meeting with Davis.
"I was just real upset when that happened, and then there was this stuff with Lane and there's this that and the other thing going on. So I said, 'Look, we have to have a sit-down.' So I sat down with him, voiced my opinion," Asomugha said. "We had a conversation that we said we would keep between us, but I think there were a lot of things said to let him know how I felt about the direction we were going and what I felt needed to change. He voiced his opinion back and let me know the reason why things happen,"
In all likelihood, Asomugha will have to deal with the situation for the foreseeable future. He's likely to be franchised again this year after he and the team were unable to work out a long-term deal in 2008. Last year, Asomugha made $9.97 million. This year, because he would be franchised for a second straight year, he would be given 120 percent of either his salary from 2008 or the 2009 franchise number.
That would make Asomugha's salary for 2009 nearly $12 million. The lone hope for Asomugha to avoid the franchise tag is Oakland encountering such salary cap problems that it couldn't afford to franchise him again, but that scenario is unlikely.
Like most things, Asomugha takes that in stride – along with the ribbing from his Pro Bowl teammates about the situation.
"One of the guys looked at me and said, 'Are they threatening to franchise you again?' Me and [Raiders punter] Shane [Lechler] just fell out laughing because he used the word ‘threatening.' … It's the whole negative connotation that goes with franchise tags.
"I've never viewed the franchise tag as a positive thing as it relates to getting a long-term contract. I just never have. What is it, a wait-in-limbo period? It's never had this very positive thing in my mind. People say, 'Oh, look at the money in the deal for one year.' But there's a lot that goes into that one year. You better stay healthy; you must perform. There's so much that goes into it for it the next year to be worth it. So it's a difficult situation, but it's either going to happen or it's not, and I don't give it much thought."
In the backdrop is the specter of losing. Asomugha has become so great while the Raiders have become so bad that opponents don't feel compelled to throw at him. In 2006, Asomugha had eight interceptions, but he has had only one in each of the past two years.
When asked about the possibility that he could face a career of losing if he stays in Oakland, Asomugha said he preferred to look at it differently.
"I don't necessarily think it's being stuck on a team," he said. "That's a negative way of viewing it. I think if you're on the team, you can have a chance to turn it around. It's more so do I fear that I'm never going to be able to win in the league while I'm playing? I don't want that. I don't want to be that guy who was never able to win."
Not that the Raiders are the only team in the league struggling right now.
"I could go to five teams and never win," Asomugha said. "That would hurt because I know what winning means, and I know how much I put into the game and watching the Super Bowl every year and being in awe and being excited for the people who have that opportunity. But I don't want to look at it that way. I'm like the ultimate optimist that there's a chance that it will get better."
Moreover, he's trying not to let the losing overwhelm him and affect his play. After all, Asomugha can only help his team win by performing at a high level himself.
"Each game whether we've lost or whether our record is terrible or good, I'm always focusing on what I have to do. Pride has a lot to do with my performance. I'm never going to lower myself because of our record because I have a lot of pride in what I do," Asomugha said. "I'm trying to turn it around, so I'm going to do the things I need to do to make it work.
"But it's hard for guys to compartmentalize the negative things that are going on with the things you have to do. People are making them run all together. We're not going to worry about Al and Lane going back and forth and letters on projectors because we still have a job to do, to play on Sunday. So I think at a point, you have to just look at yourself and how you can keep getting better, and you won't be affected by that."
It takes a strong-minded person to handle that, doesn't it?
"I've been told that," he said. "Maybe I make it sound easier to do than it really is, but it's all I've known to do. So maybe what seems normal to me might be harder for somebody else. I've been in this all six years, you understand?"