Exclusive: 1-on-1 with Raiders CB Asomugha


Exclusive: 1-on-1 with Raiders CB Asomugha

Paul Gutierrez

KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- A gentle trade wind blew across the Ihilani Resort and Spa Wednesday afternoon. How appropriate, given Nnamdi Asomugha is at the eye of a potential hurricane for the Raiders.

The face of the franchise shockingly saw his contract voided at the conclusion of the season when he was not able to meet certain on-field incentives and yet, was named to his fourth Pro Bowl and was, this week, announced as the top vote-getter at cornerback in All-Pro voting.

After the first day of Pro Bowl practices at Kapolei High School, I caught up with Asomugha poolside at the team hotel and resort in West Oahu. He spoke on a variety of topics, from the dismissal of Tom Cable to the elevation of Hue Jackson. From last years trade rumors to this years free agency revelation. From people reading into his comments, to his refusal to read into Raiders owner Al Davis comments on him.

Following then, is an unplugged Q&A with Asmougha, with Raiders fans hoping the South Pacific trade winds dont necessarily mean change for their favorite team and player
Gutierrez: A lots happened since the end of the season, starting with Tom Cable being shown the door. You surprised by that move?

Asomugha: "When it happened I just figured that there was something that they talked about as far as management and that there was some areas that they thought that they needed some improving in coaching. I mean, that was the only way that I could really understand why Cable was let go. Obviously, we dont know all the reasons why decisions are made but it was one that I thought going through the year, the way we were playing, OK, at least well get to the end of the year and this wont be something that well talk about. This wont be an issue like it has in the past.

Gutierrez:Talk to Al Davis about it at all? He has been known to reach out in years past to get players opinions.

Asomugha: Yeah, but the thing is, this was one of those years that, you know, the players wouldnt have expected that. When you go 2-14 then youre like, OK, something might happen. So maybe it might be good to talk and see what can happen. But you go 8-8 and you think youre maybe on the upswing so no one was really thinking about that. But then it happened and when its done, I think (there is) no better guy to take over than Hue because Hue was a part of the 8-8 season.

Gutierrez: Hues part of the continuity you have talked about needing?

Asomugha: Its still there. Its still there so its not one of those things where youve done well and then youve cleaned house, so its definitely a step that makes sense.

Gutierrez: Speaking of cleaning house, six coaches are no longer with the team.

Asomugha: I dont know which coaches were going to be brought back.

Gutierrez: Six are definitely gone (Ted) Tollner, (Paul) Hackett

Asomugha: Tollner? Hackett? OK Wow.

Gutierrez: (Jim) Michalczik, (Chris) Morgan and (Mike) Haluchak and (John) Marshall.

Asomugha: So everyone else is still there?

Gutierrez: Theyre still on the Raiders Web site.

Asomugha: Oh, so theyre there for now?

Gutierrez: Yeah.

Asomugha: Well, I think continuity, a lot of it, the majority of it stems from the head coach. You can change the pieces that are in between and you can change some of the coaches that are assistants and are position coaches but when the head coach is the same, or that philosophy is the same, that really can be passed down to whoever is brought in.

Gutierrez: You see that press conference last week?

Asomugha: Als? Heard about it; didnt see it.

Gutierrez: It was epic. Have you talked to Al since the season ended?

Asomugha: No, havent spoken to him.

Gutierrez: You were brought up, obviously, and he talked about how he called you last year to ask if you wanted to be traded to New York but you said you wanted to come back. You remember that conversation?

Asomugha: Oh yeah, 100 percent thats a true story. Thats a true story. He called me. He called me and he asked me, What do you want to do? You want to be traded? I didnt know that was something that was going to be discussed to the media, but it was and its a true story. Everything he said was true. He asked that, asked me if I wanted to be traded because he was hearing that I wanted to be traded. I said, No, I dont want to be traded. I told him, Everything you heard, you didnt hear from me. Ive never been quoted saying I want to be traded. So it was upsetting that it hit so many people in that way when it was such a fabricated story. Were here at the Pro Bowl and no one ever says that, and no one ever alludes to it. Its just (Darrelle Revis saying), Oh, its fun to play with this guy, joking around, and the guy writes a story because hes trying to find a story. And you see the power of the media after doing that. No offense, but something can start off as a little flicker and then just blow up and then you just see it everywhere, Oh, Nnamdi wants out. It reminded of that Dwyane Wade commercial where hes in the closet and hes trying to get out and he yells, I want out! Now its spread and Im like, I never, ever said that. Never felt that. Never would have said that and it hit (Davis). So when I heard him ask me, do I want to be traded, I cant believe that this is even coming to this because this is such a crazy story.

Gutierrez: Is it crazy, or strange, then, to be here at the Pro Bowl wearing Raiders gear since youre technically a free agent?

Asomugha: No, its not strange at all. In fact, I wanted to. Theres no other way that Id have it. Ill represent the Raiders and Ill continue to represent the Raiders while Im there no mater what. They asked me about the Walter Payton Award stuff, How do we recognize you? I said, Im with the Raiders. List me as the Raiders cornerback.

Gutierrez:; Fans have Tweeted me, asking me to tell you that youre still wanted in Oakland. Not sure if that was ever in doubt, but could fan support be a factor in your decision?

Asomugha: That feels good. The fans have always shown support. I know in my early years, it wasnt that way (laughs). But its that sort of tough love and I struggled the first couple years. Since Ive been playing, and since Ive been starting and theyve seen and theyve watched me work my hardest to try and turn things around, theyve always supported me. Its great. Even when I got hurt, the support I got from the fans was great.

Gutierrez: I know youve said that the prospect of being a free agent didnt hit you until after the season ended, but going into that last game wasnt it strange knowing that if you picked off one pass, recovered one fumble, got one sack, the Raiders were going to be on the hook for a pretty big chunk?

Asomugha: Going into the game, that never crossed my mind.

Gutierrez: But you were aware of it?

Asomugha: Its one of those things that you might be aware of because you were told two years ago. First of all, if no ones throwing at you, that might be able to be factored into not getting a step. But the thing that jumps out is no one would have guessed that I would have missed two games because of an ankle injury. What are the odds that that would happen? Its a 16-game season and you go through that and you finish the season and you move on. But the thing was, if you play less than you did the year before. And no one could have guessed that that would have happened, and it happened. And it was on a fluke play (the ankle sprain), one of those uncontrollable things and then it left us in the place where were at.

Gutierrez: Is it a weird feeling where youre at now?

Asomugha: Its strange, yeah.

Gutierrez: Youre a California guy -- went to high school in L.A., went to college at Cal, have played only for the Raiders, have developed a huge fan base. Youre also a worldly guy with your foundation and social work. Being a free agent and being untethered could be a scary thing, or are you excited about the potential of dipping your toes in the waters of free agency?

Asomugha: I would say that its notits not one of those things that I was super happy about, you know? Not one of those things that I was happy about when I found out. Just because of everything that weve been through and how far we have gotten, to now have all these decisions be made and its not how its been every year. Its never been like this before. A couple of years ago it was like, Oh, well, youre going to be a free agent. Then I get franchised. And then the next year its like, Oh, youre going to be a free agent. And then I sign the contract. And then the next year, Oh, youre going to be traded. And Im still back. Now, this year, Oh, youre going to be a free agent. Like I said, weve seen so many different scenarios happen, I just dont know what to expect. We dont know whats going to happen.

Gutierrez: Would it be tough to leave?

Asomugha: Easily. Of course. Of course it would be tough to leave.

Gutierrez: You see where Al Davis essentially complimented you for being worth 17 million, but wondered aloud whether he could get two or three decent players at that price?

Asomugha: Yeah, I heard about that. I cant read too much into that, because(Chargers LB Shaun Phillips approaches and the two exchange hugs and pleasantries)

Gutierrez: So you were saying you cant really read into what Al said about the 17 million?

Asomugha: I dont want to do it because its been done to me. I never told that reporter I wanted to leave. I never told him I wanted to be traded but people tried to read into something and took something from it. Im not going to read into that. I know that people then said, Oh, well the hint is, he was giving a hint that he was going to cut you. He was going to cut Nnamdi. I dont deal with hints. I dont work on hints. So Im not going to read into anything that he said. The fact of the matter is, we are where we are. You cant go back and try to replay it.

Gutierrez: Youre hanging with Ray Lewis, and who else is at your table?

Asomugha: Reggie Wayne, Brandon Meriweather.

Gutierrez: You see Shane (Lechler) and Zach (Miller) in the pool?

Asomugha: Ive got to find Shane. Weve got a karaoke bet that hes got to live up to.

Gutierrez: Footballs the most violent of sports, youre literally trying to take each other out on the field. And yet, guys from different tams are like long-lost brothers hanging out here.

Asomugha: Were all humans. Because people dont know us and they just know us as football players, they think were football players all the time. Were not. And so when we dont have helmets on, we know how to get along with each other. When we put the helmets on, I have no business getting along with them if theyre not on my team. But we take them off, we can all hang out and have a good time. I know youre enjoying yourself.

Raiders sign rookie OT Sharpe, LB Lee, all four seventh-round draft picks

Raiders sign rookie OT Sharpe, LB Lee, all four seventh-round draft picks

The Raiders signed several members of their 2017 draft class, the team announced on Friday. Later round picks put pen to paper following the first week of OTAs, which began on Monday.

Fourth-round offensive tackle David Sharpe and fifth-round linebacker Marquel Lee highlight this group of signings, as both players inked four-year rookie contracts.

All four seventh-round picks also signed their first professional contract. That group includes running back Elijah Hood, safety Shalom Luani, offensive lineman Jylan Ware and defensive tackle Treyvon Hester.

These deals aren’t hard to work out. The NFL and the league’s players union agreed on a rookie wage scale in the last collective bargaining agreement that slots salaries by draft order, which leaves little negotiating room within the set payment structure.

The team’s top picks remain unsigned, though they’ll get done in time. First round cornerback Gareon Conley, second-round safety Obi Melifonwu and third-round defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes remain unsigned.

Here’s a list of estimated contract values over a four-year rookie deal for each signed draft pick, per spotrac.com:

OT David Sharpe (No. 129 overall): $2,986,415 total; $586,415 signing bonus
LB Marquel Lee (No. 168 overall): $2,653,693 total; $253,693 signing bonus
S Shalom Luani (No. 221 overall): $2,494,414 total; $94,414 signing bonus
OT Jylan Ware (No. 231 overall): $2,484,295 total; $84,295 signing bonus
RB Elijah Hood (No. 242 overall): $2,469,750 total; $69,750 signing bonus
DT Treyvon Hester (No. 244 overall): $2,468,601 total; $69,750 signing bonus

Marquel Lee gets to play for his father's favorite team: 'He started bawling'

Marquel Lee gets to play for his father's favorite team: 'He started bawling'

ALAMEDA -- Marquel Lee’s NFL draft weekend wasn’t always fun, a byproduct of high hopes unrealized. The former Wake Forest linebacker wanted to go early, but slid into Saturday and waited well into the fifth round before his phone lifted spirits.

A 510 area code brought Lee out of an emotional rut, one so deep he started wondering whether he’d get drafted at all.

“When I got the call from the Raiders, everything changed,” Lee said in the latest episode of NBC Sports California’s Raiders Insider Podcast. “I was so excited to play for this organization.”

Marquel Lee wasn’t the only one. His father jumped over the moon.

“He might’ve been more excited than I was,” Marquel Lee said. “He started bawling. I’ve never seen my dad cry like that.”

Corey Lee’s tears don’t come easy. He’s a no-nonsense military man who served 11 years in the Navy before entering the private sector. He was a strict but fair father and football coach who instilled the discipline and work ethic required for his son to realize great potential.

Corey Lee is also a lifelong Raiders fan. Seeing his son get drafted by his favorite team created a perfect emotional storm.

“I’m as die-hard as they get,” Corey Lee said. “When they called his name in the fifth round, it was such a great, powerful moment. There was some relief, because he worked so hard and sacrificed to reach this point. When families were on vacation, we were in summer camps and working out hard.

“Everything we did was to prepare him for the next level. I was so proud to see him achieve a goal he had.”

Corey Lee didn’t break down completely when Marquel Lee officially became the Raiders’ fifth-round selection. This proud papa let emotion overcome for a beat, and then darted for his bedroom. He returned to the party with a brand new Raiders hat and a No. 89 Amari Cooper shirt from his vast Raiders collection.

Marquel Lee threw on dad’s gear to honor his new team and the golden opportunity to play for a linebacker-starved Raiders team.

That wasn’t Marquel Lee’s first time in silver and black. He rocked a full Raiders uniform at age 2, complete with a helmet, football pants and a Tim Brown jersey.

He donned one again when rookies reported to the Raiders offseason program earlier this month. The full-circle moment wasn’t lost on Marquel, a man proud of his past and excited about an NFL future.

“There’s a picture of me in a Raiders jersey, pants and a helmet on my second birthday,” he said. “I look at it now and think, ‘Wow. It really happened.’ I’m wearing a Raiders uniform for real. My dream is becoming a reality.”

Corey Lee grew up a Raiders fan in Southern California, going to games with his family at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Pardon Marquel for not following in those footsteps. He grew up on the East Coast when Donovan McNabb was a superstar and gravitated toward the Eagles. Ray Lewis performed in Lee’s Maryland backyard and became an athletic role model.

Marquel watched tons of NFL football with his dad, complete games where father and son would talk about strategy and scheme. Marquel would watch game tape with his father at an early age and when Corey Lee deployed with the Navy, his mother Katanya – she, too, understood football -- made sure that practice continued.

Marquel Lee was armed with natural athletic gifts and cultivated knowledge of the game, allowing him play quarterback and middle linebacker as a junior at Westlake High in Waldorf, Md. His dad was a guiding light as youth instructor, a JV head coach and a varsity linebackers coach, but took steps to separate family and football.

“As a father, I never would allow him to call me dad on a practice field or anywhere,” Corey Lee said. “I was always ‘Coach’ during the season, whether we were at home or at practice, because I wanted to keep him in that mindset.”

Football was a primary focus back then, when the family often traded summer vacations for skills camps. Despite buzz around Marquel’s talents, Corey was against his son doing interviews with recruiting websites or ranking services. Father wanted his son’s head on straight, and it has remained that way. 

Top schools were slow to come around, but gravitated after Marquel fully recovered from a torn patella and stood out early in his senior year. He chose Wake Forest, a commitment his father wanted upheld even with late interest from other programs.

His growth continued as a collegian, and took a real spike during the 2016 season. Wake Forest’s defensive captains graduated, leaving him to assume a leadership role and put team over stats. Lee considered his junior season at Wake Forest subpar, and vowed to do better.

“I was pressing a lot, trying to rush my time and trying to get to the NFL,” Lee said. “I was on a road where I thought I wanted to leave (school) early. I was so hard on myself, especially if I didn’t produce. That’s why I said it was subpar. I don’t think I played like a team player that year.

“(The next season) I made a decision to finish what I started and be the leader I always knew I could be. I wanted to help my team get to a bowl game. I hadn’t played in one. That was a major part of me coming back in 2016. … I grew up a lot. I feel like I gained respect as a team leader, and really understood what it took to own that responsibility.”

Lee might have major responsibilities as an NFL rookie. The Raiders don’t have many options at middle linebacker, and Lee will be allowed to compete for a starting spot. It’ll take a solid spring and summer to earn it and give the Raiders confidence to hand an important starting spot to a rookie. The Silver and Black could add a veteran to that position group, though they have high hopes for their fifth-round pick. Lee could well make an instant impact. 

“We definitely think he has the potential to start,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said in an interview with 95.7-The Game. “He’s a long ways away from that. We haven’t even begun to get the pads on, so a lot will be determined in training camp and the preseason. So far, he has looked very good.”

Lee considers himself well prepared for the challenges ahead, and believes he can compete at the professional level.

“I’ve been getting ready for this a long time,” Marquel Lee said. “My dad has been telling me that this experience will be different. It’s not like college anymore. It’s a job, and I have to be mentally prepared for everything I’m about to do. I’m here and I’m learning and I’m trying to do my best.”