Word broke this weekend that the contract of Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, one of the top defensive players in football, will become null and void, meaning he will enter free agency for the second time in two years, a rarity in the NFL.
I remember during the Combine in 2009 when news broke that Asomugha and CAA, using the great leverage of being days away from free agency with numerous teams waiting to bid, negotiated an astonishing contract that:
(1) Outpaced – by a good margin — the APY (average per year) for what was already one of the highest-paid positions in football. Top corners at that time – and now –were making between $10-11 million per year and this contract averaged $14.5 million over two years and north of $15 million over three; and
(2) Had a potential length of two or three years, allowing him another bite at the free agency apple at the still prime ages of 29 or 30!
My thought upon seeing the deal was “How does an agent even ask for that deal?” The common answer that came back agents and team management people was: “It’s the Raiders.” Well, ok.
Let’s take a closer look at the deal, as it now comes to an end.
2009: $12 million
Asomugha received $4.5 million in guaranteed salary and a signing bonus of $7.5 million.
2010: $17 million
Asomugha received a $755,000 guaranteed salary and an option bonus of $15.837 million.
2011: $17 million
Were the contract not to void in a couple of weeks – see below – Asomugha was to earn a 2011 salary of $16.874 million or the amount of the 2011 Franchise tag for the quarterback position, expected to be a number between $16-18 million.
The Void, part one
The first void nullifies the remainder of the contract after the 2010 season if three conditions are met:
(1) Asomugha’s performance in 2009 or 2010 does not improve from his performance in 2008 in any of the following categories:
Interception return yards
Touchdowns on interception returns
Fumble return yards
Touchdowns on fumble returns
With offensive schemes avoiding him and missing a couple games this season, Asomugha did not improve in any of these categories from 2008 in either 2009 or 2010.
(2) The Raiders must have exercised the option in the contract in 2010, the one for $15.837 million described above. They did.
(3) Asomugha must be on the Raiders roster five days following the upcoming Super Bowl. He will (contrary to some reports that the contract has already voided).
Thus, the contract will become null and void five days after the Super Bowl, on February 11. At that time, Asomugha will be a free agent – the timing of which will be subject to a the resolution of the labor dispute – with two-year earnings from this contract of $28.952 million, or an average of almost $14.5 million per season, almost $3 million a year above the top cornerback market.
The Void, part two
In the event Asomugha’s performance in 2009 or 2010 did improve from his performance in 2008 in any of categories above, then the contracts years 2012, 2013 and 2014 would void automatically.
Thus, if Asomugha played the 2011 season for the Raiders, which he will not, his three-year earnings would have been a total of $45.466 million.
Practically speaking, Asomugha was going to be a free agent one way or another this year. I wrote about this when discussing the Darrelle Revis-New York Jets negotiations in August.
Although the void was inserted in the contract to give the Raiders some protection against injury in 2009 and/or 2010, it is unlikely that – even if the contract did not void – that they would have kept Asomugha on the roster at the rate of the Franchise tag for a quarterback. In other words, they would have set him free to the market whether the deal voided or not.
During the Revis negotiations, the Jets were convinced that when Asomugha was set free into the market in 2011, which he would be, there would be a “market correction” and the true number for top cornerbacks would be set. Since that time, Charles Woodson and Revis both negotiated contracts for APY’s of $11 million and $11.5 million, respectively.
As to those who think the Raiders would have kept Asomugha at that price for 2011 because “It’s the Raiders!”, my sense is they would not. They didn't expect the market to not respond to their deal, as top cornerback deals have maintained a similar level over the past few years, excluding this deal. I have also heard that the team is embarrassed about a couple of recent contracts –more so the Javon Walker and DeAngelo Hall deals than that of Asomugha — and are not willing to continue with an outlier deal like Asomugha knowing he would be free in a year anyway.
The contract that caused so much buzz at the Combine two years ago and created a major sticking point in the Revis negotiations is a few weeks away from termination. NFL general managers and front offices everywhere, especially those with cornerbacks coming up for contract, all say in unison “Rest in Peace.”
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