From 2005 to 2010, the Oakland Raiders’ Nnamdi Asomugha was one of the premier shutdown corners in the NFL.
Bring back Nnamdi Asomugha Raiders pic.twitter.com/7i4RUNegqW
— just run baby ! (@reytheraider64) March 13, 2013
In 2006, Asomugha had a career-best eight interceptions, and for the next few years, opposing quarterbacks rarely challenged him.
When he became a free agent before the 2011 season, there was a bidding war among teams for his services.
Asomugha eventually signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and become part of what looked like a super team.
It wasn’t long, however, before that notion came crashing down.
In fact, by 2014, Asomugha himself was no longer in the league.
Since retiring, Asomugha has taken up a second career that may make him more renowned than he was as a pro football player.
This is what happened to Nnamdi Asomugha.
Nnamdi Asomugha was born on July 6, 1981, in Lafayette, Louisiana to parents who had immigrated to the United States from Nigeria.
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) July 6, 2022
Specifically, Asomugha’s parents were from Nigeria’s Igbo ethnic group.
Nnamdi’s first name in Nigerian means “Jesus Lives.”
Not long after Nnamdi was born, the Asomugha family moved to California where Nnamdi grew up in Los Angeles.
When Nnamdi and his brother wanted to play Pop Warner football, their parents supported the idea, even if they had no idea who, or what, Pop Warner was.
“My husband called a colleague to explain it to him,” Asomugha’s mother, Lilian, said in 2002. “I didn’t want them to grow up and not know what’s going on.”
When he was 12, Asomugha’s father passed away from a heart attack.
Asomugha originally attended two high schools before settling at Narbonne High School.
Nathaniel Narbonne High School (Harbor City, Los Angeles, CA)@BonneFTBL
Nnamdi Asomugha '99
Dashon Goldson '02 pic.twitter.com/D7N9D0d7JO
— Prep2ProDB (@Prep2ProDB) December 13, 2021
As a prep athlete, Asomugha participated in football and basketball.
He was also expected to get good grades – a by-product of both his parents having doctoral degrees.
At one point during his junior basketball season, Asomugha had a ‘D’ in Algebra.
That was enough for Asomugha’s mother to keep Nnamdi from the hardwood until his coach intervened.
“That killed me,” Asomugha said in 2009. “Growing up, basketball was the sport I loved the most. Finally, one night my coach called my mom and pleaded with her to let me back on the team, and thankfully she allowed it.”
Asomugha’s mother continued to ensure her son devoted just as much time to academics as he did to athletics.
When he graduated from Narbonne High, Asomugha had a stellar 3.8-grade point average.
Highly Recruited DB
Meanwhile, Asomugha was a terror on the gridiron.
As a senior in 1998, he had seven interceptions along with 86 tackles.
Asomugha returned one of his picks 98 yards for a touchdown, setting a school record.
He was also active on offense and special teams.
As a kick and punt returner, Asomugha had three touchdowns.
He also pulled in 23 catches for over 400 yards and six touchdowns as a receiver and passed for two scores as a quarterback.
By the end of the ‘98 season, Asomugha had a host of honors bestowed on him including first-team All-State and a SuperPrep All-American designation.
Furthermore, Asomugha was one of the top-rated defensive backs in the nation.
He had his choice of schools to attend and Asomugha picked Berkeley, California becoming a member of the University of California Golden Bears.
It was a choice that Lilian Asomugha approved of.
“I was most concerned with a good school, rather than a good football school,” said Dr. Asomugha.
Slow Start Leads to Productive College Career
As a freshman in 1999, Asomugha didn’t see the field much except to play special teams.
During a game against USC, Asomugha broke his ankle and was lost for the remainder of the year.
In his sophomore year, Asomugha returned from his injury with a vengeance.
That season, as a free safety, he led the Golden Bears with 76 total tackles including three tackles for loss and a sack in his first ever start.
Halfway through the 2000 season, Asomugha intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown against 13th-ranked UCLA.
The score would help Cal beat UCLA 46-38 in three overtimes.
Unfortunately, the win against the Bruins was one of only three that year.
In 2001, Asomugha missed parts of three games.
That didn’t stop him from collecting three picks, including one returned for a score against Stanford.
Asomugha had the third-best tackle total for Cal, finishing the season with 54.
When Asomugha arrived at Cal in 1999, he expected to be on a winning team every year.
“I myself was thinking we were the class that could take us to the Rose Bowl,” Asomugha said in 2002.
Instead, he endured losing seasons during his first three years at Berkeley that included a 4-29 record from ‘99 to 2001 under Tom Holmoe.
After the ‘01 season, Holmoe was fired and replaced with Jeff Tedford.
During Asomugha’s senior year in 2002, Tedford guided the Golden Bears to a 3-0 record to begin the season including an upset of 15th-ranked Michigan State.
Les Raiders choisissent CB Nnamdi Asomugha de Cal pic.twitter.com/Fj32Eursku
— George Boole / Hunter Renfrow Fan Account (@rhaydde) March 30, 2021
Beginning with the team’s fourth game, however, the team lost five of their last nine games to end the year 7-5.
Asomugha began the year at safety, was switched to a rover, and then ended the year as a corner.
He had three picks for 85 return yards including a return for a touchdown.
In his three years as a starter, Asomugha collected totals of 187 tackles, seven interceptions, three return touchdowns, three sacks, and 15 passes broken up.
Drafted by the Raiders
Just as he was at the end of his high school career, Asomugha was a highly regarded defensive back coming out of college.
With the 31st overall pick in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders selected Asomugha.
Earlier in the draft, the Baltimore Ravens had selected Asomugha’s college teammate, quarterback Kyle Boller.
— Cal Football (@CalFootball) April 27, 2021
Not long after reporting for camp, the Raiders moved Asomugha permanently to cornerback.
As a rookie in 2003, Asomugha only started one game and played on special teams.
The following year, he started seven games and tallied a sack, three passes defended, and 45 total tackles.
Then, in 2005, Asomugha established himself as a top-flight corner, starting all 16 games of the regular season.
He was held without an interception during the year but did break up 14 passes and had a career-high 60 total tackles.
Asomugha Becomes a Star
Everything came together for Asomugha in 2006.
In addition to 51 total tackles, 19 passes defended, and a sack, Asomugha was a turnover machine.
He pulled down two interceptions versus the Cleveland Browns in Week 4.
The two picks just happened to be his first interceptions as an NFL player.
A few weeks later, Asomugha snagged another interception and returned it for a score, his first touchdown as a pro.
October 29, 2006:
One of the only highlights in an abysmal 2-14 season. Ben Roethlisberger throws two Pick 6’s to Nnamdi Asomugha and Chris Carr as the Raiders beat the Steelers 20-13. #RaiderNation #LVvsPIT pic.twitter.com/ByDDaEHfQs
— Raiders Reels (@RaidersReels) September 14, 2021
At the season’s end, Asomugha had eight interceptions, which tied him for second best in the league.
He was named a second-team All-Pro after the season, and Oakland honored him with their team MVP award.
In 2007, Asomugha, now a captain for the team, broke up seven passes, had an interception, and had 34 total tackles.
NFL scouts observed that opposing quarterbacks were challenging Asomugha less than any corner in the league.
They also realized that he was challenged less than any defender in the past decade.
While Asomugha was asserting himself as one of the best corners in the NFL, the Raiders were establishing themselves as one of the worst organizations.
During Asomugha’s first five years as a pro, Oakland had a losing record each season and cycled through four head coaches.
That didn’t change in 2008 when Lane Kiffin was replaced after four games with offensive line coach Tom Cable, and the Raiders went 5-11.
At the time, Kiffin was only in his second year as the coach of the franchise.
The secondary was in good hands, however, as Asomugha had nine passes defended, an interception, and 40 total tackles.
— Beaner Nation (@nomaambundy92) October 17, 2014
His stats were recognized by his peers, and Asomugha was named a first-team All-Pro and voted to his first Pro Bowl.
Oakland also named him co-MVP of the team.
More Recognition for Asomugha
For the next two years, Tom Cable did not fare much better than his predecessors.
In 2009, he went 5-11 followed by 8-8 in 2010 and was fired after the ‘10 season.
Asomugha, however, continued to provide some consistency for the Oakland defense.
Before the ‘09 season, he was given a hefty pay raise that included $28.5 million guaranteed.
— Raiders History (@Oaklraiders1976) February 24, 2018
In 2009 and 2010, he broke up nine total passes, got an interception, and posted 53 tackles.
Even more remarkable was the fact that Asomugha rarely allowed a catch anywhere in his area code.
Opponents completed only 13 passes against him in 2009 and a paltry 10 in 2010.
“He made himself a superstar,” said then Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. “He made himself the best corner in football by his work ethic, the way he studies tape, and he’s so smart.”
Furthermore, Asomugha did not give up a single touchdown during the ‘10 season.
“He has extraordinary speed – great speed,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He has tremendous length, he is just as long as you can get. That wingspan that guys have – broad shoulders and long arms – allow them to almost just envelop guys as they come off the ball.”
He was recognized as a second-team All-Pro in 2009 and first-team All-Pro in 2010 and was voted to his second and third Pro Bowls during that span.
After the 2010 season, Asomugha was a free agent once again.
This time, he decided to test the waters and was courted by several teams.
Eventually, Asomugha narrowed his list to the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Jets.
Then, in late July of 2011, he surprised everyone by signing a $60 million contract for five years with the Philadelphia Eagles.
On this day in 2011, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Nnamdi Asomugha to a 5 year $60 million contact. pic.twitter.com/DimmG701R8
— Word On The Birds (@WordOnTheBirds) July 29, 2021
Philadelphia was rebuilding a team that had come up short the year before with a 10-6 record and loss in the Wild Card round to Green Bay.
One of the glaring weaknesses of the 2010 Eagles was the defense.
To improve that area, in 2011 Philly signed a bounty of free agents.
With Asomugha on board, the Eagles also signed defensive back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, tackle Cullen Jenkins, and end Jason Babin.
The offense also saw a boost with the signings of running back Ronnie Brown, guard Evan Mathis, receiver Steve Smith, and quarterback Vince Young.
As the ink dried on his new contract, Young made a declaration for the ages, calling the Eagles a “dream team.”
On paper, Young wasn’t far off.
The secondary alone was getting a huge upgrade with Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie joining veteran Asante Samuel.
“We think we have a great situation right now,” Philadelphia General Manager Howie Roseman said at the time. “We’re excited about our team.”
The 2011 season began well enough as the Eagles crushed the St. Louis Rams 31-13 in Week 1.
For all intents and purposes, the Dream Team was on its way to great things.
Unfortunately, one week later the Eagles lost. Then, they dropped their next three games.
When the team reached its bye week, they were 2-4 and looked hopeless.
Young couldn’t be counted on because he was injured in the preseason, and Asomugha suddenly looked mortal.
“The Dream Team thing is over,” said quarterback Michael Vick in early October.
By December, Philly had lost eight games, and the franchise looked ready to throw in the towel.
— Philly Informer (@phillyinformer) August 27, 2018
Thankfully, the Eagles rebounded to win the last four games of the year and finished 8-8.
The record was two wins less than in 2010, before all the free agent signings.
Asomugha put together a decent season, finishing with 40 tackles, three interceptions, and five passes defended.
However, it was obvious he was not the same corner that he had been in Oakland.
More of the Same in 2012 and 2013
Then the bottom fell out in 2012, and Philly’s defense plummeted to 29th in the NFL.
Asomugha started every game, defended 12 passes, made an interception, and tallied 55 tackles.
The problem was that he was beaten deep by opposing receivers several times and quarterbacks no longer seemed to fear him.
Philadelphia management lost faith in Asomugha and tried to restructure his contract after 2012.
Unable to do so, the Eagles released him.
— Sports Moments (@HistoricalPlays) July 30, 2014
Asomugha was picked up by the San Francisco 49ers in April of 2013.
Whatever plagued him in Philadelphia continued to linger in San Fran.
Asomugha played in three games, defended one pass, and had two combined tackles.
In November of ‘13, the Niners released Asomugha, and he retired a month later.
What Went Wrong?
To outside observers, it is baffling how a player can be one of the best in the game one year and retire barely two years later.
By the end of the 2010 season, Asomugha looked to be a future member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He was paid a king’s ransom and then struggled mightily.
— New York Post (@nypost) July 20, 2022
According to former Philly players LeSean McCoy and Asante Samuel, they realized Asomugha was less than advertised on his first day as an Eagle.
“So when we had Nnamdi, it was his first one-on-one at practice, it was camp. Everybody’s like, ‘Oh we’ve got Nnamdi,’ he signed a big-ass deal, so we’re all looking,” McCoy said in July of 2022. “But when he went against the tight end Brent Celek … the tight end hit him with, like, a post corner. We was like, ‘Awwwww.’”
Not only were teammates like Celek able to race past Asomugha, but opponents were beginning to do the same thing.
After rarely giving up a catch in Oakland, let alone a touchdown (exactly one in 45 games with the Raiders), Asomugha gave up nine touchdowns in 32 games as an Eagle.
Opposing quarterbacks could see something was up with the alleged all-star and started challenging him more.
As they succeeded, they kept piling on more to see if Asomugha could stop them.
In other words, quarterbacks lost all respect for Asomugha.
“Before Nnamdi Asomugha came to Philly, he was a great player right?” Samuel asked in 2022. “Then he came to Philly, they start throwing the ball at him. They weren’t throwing the ball at him [in Oakland].”
Asomugha held quarterbacks to a 72.6 QB rating between 2008 and 2010.
In 2011, the QBR raised to 88.6 and ballooned to 120.6 the following year.
Pro football pundits excused Asomugha’s issues initially by noting that the Eagles used a zone defense in 2011.
— Khandyman Sports (@KhandymanSports) February 25, 2013
That likely contributed to Asomugha’s issues as he had played man-to-man in Oakland.
Philly returned to a man-to-man coverage scheme in 2012, and Asomugha only got worse.
Rob Ryan and Pete Carroll noted earlier in his career that Asomugha had good speed and was technically sound.
By 2012, it was obvious to defensive coordinators that Asomugha had lost a step (or several).
When that happens, it doesn’t matter how technically sound a corner is if they can’t keep up with their man.
Essentially, it appears that Asomugha had lost confidence and respect. He made no attempt to play again after being released by the Niners.
A day after Christmas in 2013, Asomugha signed with Oakland for a day so he could retire as a Raider.
In 11 years, he totaled 15 interceptions with one returned for a touchdown, 79 passes defended, two sacks, and 408 combined tackles.
Asomugha was a first-team All-Pro twice, a second-team All-Pro twice, and a three-time Pro Bowler.
While he was still playing football, Asomugha began acting and appeared in various television shows.
As his NFL career was ending, he threw himself into charity work and even more into television and movies.
Asomugha added a producer label to his work schedule including credit for producing and acting in Crown Heights, a movie released in 2017 by Amazon.
— best of jessica chastain (@bestofchastains) February 28, 2022
In 2013, Asomugha married actress Kerry Washington, and the couple have two children.