COMMENTARY | On Tuesday, the San Francisco 49ers took a flier on former All Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, signing him to a one-year contract reportedly guaranteeing him no money. The base package is $1.35 million if he makes the team, and he could earn up to $3 million with incentives. He plays for free until he makes the final roster.
And he may not make it. He was terrible the past two seasons on the Philadelphia Eagles. Opposing quarterbacks had a gargantuan 120.6 passer rating against him in 2012 according to Pro Football Focus. NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell says some scouts believe Asomugha actually "hasn't been a good player" the past three seasons, dating back to his time on the Raiders.
Here's how Cosell summed up the signing: "I think what you're dealing with is a 49ers team that would like to get better at the cornerback position and they brought in another body."
The 49ers' top three cornerbacks - Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver - are more than mere bodies, they're decent cornerbacks. Asomugha has to prove he's better than one of those three cornerbacks to make the team.
If Asomugha can't do that, if he's the fourth-string or fifth-string corner on the roster, then the 49ers should cut him. They might as well go with young backups who also can play special teams.
But let's say Asomugha, who turns 32 years old before the season starts, pulls it off. Let's say he tears it up in training camp, plays well for the first time in three years and cracks the top three. Let's run with that unlikely outcome. Where would he play? Whose position would he take? Who would be the odd man out?
Asomugha would not take Dashon Goldson's vacated free safety spot - let's make that clear. Asomugha cannot play that position for the 49ers next season, although he played it for the University of California more than ten years ago. Asomugha is a poor tackler, shies away from contact and has lost speed. He is an outside cornerback and nothing else.
He's best suited to play right cornerback, Tarell Brown's spot. It's Asomugha's natural position. He's always been better playing on the outside where he can use the sideline as an additional defender. And he's used to lining up on the right side, eye-to-eye with a split end on the line of scrimmage and jamming him. At this stage in Asomugha's career, it would be best to put him where he's most comfortable and where he's had most of his success. The Eagles asked him to play left cornerback and slot cornerback in addition to right cornerback, and he failed.
If Asomugha wins the right cornerback job, he will create a domino effect in the 49ers' secondary. Brown, arguably the 49ers' best cornerback last season, probably would move to left cornerback. At 28, he's young enough to make the transition.
And Carlos Rogers, the 49ers' left cornerback in the base defense the past two seasons, probably would get cut or traded after June 1 when his salary-cap penalty can be spread over two seasons.
Rogers, who is four days older than Asomugha, was the weakest link in the 49ers' secondary last season. He's on the decline. His main value to the team was his ability to cover the slot receiver in the nickel packages. He used to be a good slot defender, but he's lost the quickness, agility, balance, speed and ability to change direction needed to cover quick receivers like Percy Harvin, Danny Amendola and Victor Cruz.
Asomugha can't cover the slot, either. He's strictly an outside cornerback, always has been. In the nickel defense, if Asomugha stays and Rogers goes, Tarell Brown would have to cover the slot and Chris Culliver would play left cornerback.
But the 49ers probably will not have to make any of these accommodations for Asomugha. They'll probably just cut him.
Grant Cohn covers the 49ers daily. He writes the "Inside the 49ers" blog for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and has written columns and features for CSNBayArea.com. Follow him on Twitter @grantcohn.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Nnamdi Asomugha
- San Francisco 49ers
- Tarell Brown
- Carlos Rogers