FEATURES

In the Cards: Nnamdi Asomugha

By sharing some of the football cards from my collection, my goal is to put a spotlight on defensive backs who may have become underrated or have been forgotten by history.

Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Philadelphia Eagles (Topps 2012)

Nnamdi Asomugha’s NFL legacy is complicated.

At one point in his career, the Cal-Berkeley alum was widely considered the best cornerback in football, even though he played for teams that were not good.

When Asomugha finally did land on a team that was supposed to be good — with a massive contract in tow — he didn’t perform up to expectations and the team became worse during his time with them.

And then, it was like his career suddenly ended sooner than it should have.

Possessing Hall of Fame talent and a borderline Hall of Fame resume, Asomugha could find himself immortalized in Canton, Ohio, as an NFL legend … or we could look up in 20 years and realize he’s been forgotten in the shadows of other elite DBs from his era. Either scenario seems just as likely.

Asomugha was a four-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler in his 11 NFL seasons. He was also named to the 2000s All-Decade Team by USA Today and FOX Sports.

Asomugha spent the majority of that decade with the Oakland Raiders, who took him in the first round of the 2003 Draft. Lockdown man-to-man coverage was his calling card. Quarterbacks rarely tested him, and when they did, they paid for it. During the 2006 season, Asomugha tallied eight interceptions; usually he was good for only one or zero in a season because he simply didn’t get many opportunities.

The Raiders never made the playoffs during Asomugha’s tenure, however. They never even had a winning record. Oakland’s 8-8 record in 2010 was the only time they didn’t have a losing record.

In 2009, Asomugha signed a three-year contract with the Raiders that made him the highest-paid defensive back in NFL history. It included a third-year team option, and Oakland declined to exercise it — because it would have meant they had to pay Asomugha a salary on-par with an elite quarterback — which made Asomugha a free agent in 2011. Asomugha was still playing like the best corner in the league, but it’s understandable why a bad team wouldn’t want to pay QB money to a DB when it’s not getting them any closer to the Super Bowl.

Asomugha then signed a five-year, $60 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. Unlike the Raiders who were stuck going nowhere, the Eagles were coming off three straight playoff appearances and an NFC East division title, aiming to get to the next level of serious championship contention.

However, Asomugha never reached that same All-Pro level in Philly that he had in Oakland.

There are a few theories.

Some say that he simply ran into Father Time. Asomugha turned 30 years old in 2011, and a lot of skill position players have rapidly slowed down once they hit that age.

Some say he wasn’t as motivated, whether it was due to the big contract (lack of hunger to prove himself) or because he had been dabbling in acting and his mind wasn’t fully dedicated to football.

There could be some truth there. But the most logical explanation is a simple one of style and system.

In Oakland, Asomugha played in a scheme where he was primarily asked to be a press-coverage corner, where his skill set shined. He excelled at being physical at the line of scrimmage and shadowing a receiver downfield.

In Philadelphia, Asomugha was put in a system where he played more zone coverage. Backing off the line and giving receivers a running start didn’t fit his strengths, and Asomugha didn’t make as big of an impact as he did with the Raiders.

Asomugha played two seasons with the Eagles, and the team missed the playoffs both years. He was voted a Pro Bowl alternate and had three interceptions in 2011, but overall he failed to live up to the expectations that came with his reputation and with that big contract.

The Eagles released Asomugha after the 2012 season after being unable to agree on a restructured contract, and he signed with the San Francisco 49ers. Before the 2013 season was over, when he’d played just three games for the team, the Niners waived Asomugha. Later that year, he signed a one-day deal with the Raiders and retired with that franchise.

Since his playing days ended, Asomugha has made a name for himself in Hollywood. He has acted in movies and TV, and he’s worked on the other side of the camera as a producer and writer.

During and after his football career, he has also been recognized for his commitment to serving the community and working with youth.

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2018-19 Football Season Awards

Eddie Jackson, Kyle Fuller

The 2018-19 football season is in the books.

The New England Patriots are the Super Bowl champions for the sixth time in their franchise history. The Calgary Stampeders took home the CFL’s Grey Cup for the eighth time.

Clemson won college football’s FBS national championship for the third time, unofficially (depending on who you ask) unseating Alabama as the amateur level’s elite program. North Dakota State won the FCS national title, Valdosta State earned the Division-II national crown, and Mary Hardin-Baylor earned the Division-III national title. Continue reading

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In the Cards: Martin Mayhew

By sharing some of the football cards from my collection, my goal is to put a spotlight on defensive backs who may have become underrated or have been forgotten by history.

Martin Mayhew, CB, Washington (Pro Set 1991)

Martin Mayhew won a Super Bowl and intercepted more than 20 passes and scored a couple of touchdowns in his eight-year NFL career, but his post-playing career has been equally, if not more, impressive.

Coming out of Florida State in 1988, where he and Deion Sanders were teammates, Mayhew was a 10th-round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills. As the 262nd overall pick, he wouldn’t have gotten drafted today in the seven-round draft era.

A wrist injury cost Mayhew the ’88 season, the Bills cut him, and he didn’t make his pro debut until ’89 with Washington. Continue reading

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Pick Six: Players of the Week (Sept. 10, 2018)

Denzel Ward

Six secondary standouts from football’s week that was:

Denzel Ward, CB, Browns (NFL) — Despite being the No. 4 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Ward is not even the most talked-about rookie on his team. That’s because the Browns also had the No. 1 pick in the draft, and they used it on Heisman-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield.

But in Cleveland’s season opener, Ward stepped into the spotlight while Mayfield never stepped onto the field. Ward started at cornerback and intercepted two passes to go with six tackles and three pass breakups in the Browns’ 21-21 tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ward also spent some time covering Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, who happens to be probably the best receiver in the league.

A tie usually isn’t something worth celebrating, but considering the Browns went 0-16 last season, a tie almost felt like a win on Sunday. Continue reading

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NFL’s Top 100: Jalen Ramsey (#17)

Jalen Ramsey

In the same year that he became widely recognized as the NFL’s best cornerback, Jalen Ramsey is apparently gunning for another title as the game’s preeminent trash-talker.

Last season, Ramsey’s second as a professional, he was voted first team All-Pro and a Pro Bowl starter after racking up 63 tackles, four interceptions and 17 pass breakups. Ramsey and A.J. Bouye formed the league’s top cornerback tandem (Bouye was also a Pro Bowl starter), helping the Jacksonville Jaguars win the AFC South and advance to the AFC Championship game.

Ramsey was then voted No. 17 on the NFL Network’s Top 100 player ranking for 2018, a list ordered according to the opinions of NFL players. Ramsey was the highest-ranking defensive back on the list, and only five other defenders — DE/LB Khalil Mack, DE Calais Campbell, LB Luke Kuechly, LB Von Miller and DT Aaron Donald — finished higher. Continue reading

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NFL’s Top 100: Patrick Peterson (#23)

Patrick Peterson

The parallels in the careers of superstar cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Aeneas Williams are adding up the longer Peterson remains with the Arizona Cardinals.

As Williams built the majority of his Hall of Fame career with the Cardinals, his individual accolades — six of his eight Pro Bowl nods, four of his five All-Pro nods — greatly outpaced his team’s success. The Cardinals made the playoffs just once in Williams’ 10 seasons with the squad, and won just one playoff game.

Peterson is entering his eighth season with the Cardinals. In that time he’s been a seven-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All-Pro. But the Cardinals have only made the playoffs twice in Peterson’s career, and have won just one playoff game. Continue reading

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NFL’s Top 100: A.J. Bouye (#35)

A.J. Bouye

A.J. Bouye either played the contract-year game brilliantly, or his emergence as an elite NFL cornerback just happened to come at the perfect time.

After three years as a backup with the Houston Texans, Bouye shined in his first year as a starter in 2016, which was also his last year under contract. He parlayed that one impressive season into a lucrative free-agent deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars worth a reported $67.5 million over five years.

In his first season getting paid like a superstar, Bouye played like one. Continue reading

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NFL’s Top 100: Earl Thomas (#42)

Earl Thomas

With this offseason’s expected but early retirement of strong safety Kam Chancellor, and the surprising release of cornerback Richard Sherman, suddenly free safety Earl Thomas was the last man standing from the Seattle Seahawks’ original “Legion of Boom” secondary.

The LOB was the heart, soul and soundtrack of the 2010s’ Seahawks squads that made five straight playoff appearances, two Super Bowl appearances, and won Super Bowl XLVIII win a rout of defensive dominance against the Denver Broncos.

The original crew that made the nickname famous was Thomas, Chancellor, Sherman and cornerback Brandon Browner, who left Seattle in 2014 but returned two years later, only to be waived during training camp. Continue reading

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NFL’s Top 100: Harrison Smith (#46)

Harrison Smith

Harrison Smith always seems to be around the football, which is impressive considering that he often lines up farther away from it than anyone else on the field.

The Minnesota Vikings’ free safety notched 78 tackles (seven tackles-for-loss), 1.5 sacks, five interceptions and 12 pass breakups in the 2017 regular season, and recorded another 13 tackles and a sack during the team’s playoff run to the NFC Championship game.

Arguably the best player on arguably the NFL’s best defense, Smith was voted first team All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl for the third time in his first six pro seasons. Continue reading

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NFL’s Top 100: Darius Slay (#49)

Darius Slay

Darius Slay’s breakout season happened a whole year after it was originally scheduled.

In 2016, the Detroit Lions signed Slay to a four-year, $48.1 million contract extension, making him one of the NFL’s highest-paid cornerbacks. He proceeded to have a good season, helping the Lions make the playoffs, but not great.

In 2017, Slay really showed why Detroit made the big investment in him. Continue reading

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