History is a cycle, something that the National Football League experiences more often than most observers care to recall or acknowledge. Learning from the past doesn't always make for a better future, but it can typically steer the participants away from certain avenues previously proven unwise.
In 1982, a six-time Pro Bowl cornerback had his contract expire with the New England Patriots. He had won the 1976 Defensive Rookie of the Year Award and had snared 28 interceptions with 11 fumble recoveries in his seven seasons. Not only was he considered one of the very best players at his position that season, an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was in his future.
Mike Haynes played in an era before free agency, but he was not returning to New England. The teams owner was well known for not paying his players on scale and would later lose such key players like offensive tackle Leon Gray because of his stance on players salaries.
Haynes had been teaming with Raymond Clayborn to give New England the very best pair of cornerbacks in the league and the team a top-notch defense. They were drafted in the first-round in consecutive seasons by the Patriots and had grown together over the years. Clayborn finished his career a Patriots legend who went to three Pro Bowls and picked off 36 passes in 13 years with the team.
Al Davis, the Hall of Fame owner of the Raiders knew that Haynes was just what his team needed. Lester Hayes was the star cornerback of the team, having just been named to the second of five consecutive Pro Bowl games. Davis realized this would give him the best set of cornerbacks in the NFL and Raiders history.
Giving up a first and second-round draft pick to New England, the Raiders acquired Haynes and them promptly went on to win Super Bowl XVIII that year as Haynes and Hayes dominated opponents. Haynes intercepted a ball in the win. He lasted seven years with the team and intercepted 18 balls as well as making three Pro Bowls and the only two First Team All-Pro nods of his career.
Davis has recently told Nnamdi Asomugha, his three-time Pro Bowl cornerback whom he drafted with a first-round pick in 2003, that the final year f his contract was voided. Davis hinted he might have cut Asomugha instead of picking up the option. Like Haynes was in 1982, Asomugha is just 29-years old and considered one of the very best at his position in the game today.
What makes Asomugha different from Haynes is the way the game is played today. Both are players who shut down opponents of any size and skill set, but Haynes spent several seasons defending in the 10-yard chuck rule as opposed to the five-yard rule Asomugha is stuck playing in.
Cornerbacks in Haynes time had to have the ability to play man-to-man defense, shadowing a receiver all over the field. There are just a very few cornerbacks with that ability in the game today, and Asomugha is probably the very best in the game right now.
Defenses today play zone defenses most of the time, mainly because of the rules. With only five yards to work with, a cornerback typically lays off and the art of the bump and run defense has almost become extinct today. Asomugha is one of those cornerbacks you can put against the other teams best wide receiver and leave him alone on a island all game without concern. Teams fear him so much that he has just three interceptions and 26 passes defended in the last four seasons.
The list is so small of cornerbacks who can play the best one on one all game in the game today, you can count them on one hand. Darrelle Revis, of the New York Jets, Champ Bailey, of the Denver Broncos, and Charles Woodson, of the Green Bay Packers, are generally considered to be part of that group.
Blame the offensive friendly rules, not the castrated defenders, for this dearth in excellence. This makes the Raiders decision to terminate the contract of a player in his prime at the top of his game even more curious. Davis said, "Can that $17 million (that Asomugha would have made if Oakland had picked up his option) bring you two or three quality players to help you win?"
What teams could vie realistically for Asomugha is the question. He has not canceled out Oakland because he likes newly hired head coach Hue Jackson and he has been heavily involved in the rebuilding of the team, believing the Raiders future is bright. He has also lived in California his entire life, even going to college in the state.
What makes him extra special is not just the fact he was just honored with his second First Team All-Pro nod. Asomugha is extremely generous and active in his local community for those less fortunate than him. He won the 2009 Byron "Whizzer" White Award for his humanitarian work with orphans, widows, homeless people, and his own foundation that takes selected high school students on college tours across the country.
If he does not return, the team across the Bay could really use his services. The San Francisco 49ers could provide stability for his home base and foundation while Asomugha could team with veteran Pro Bowler Nate Clements and provide a significant upgrade over Shawntae Spencer. That is, of course, Asomugha prefers to stay in California.
The Patriots could get from Asomugha what Haynes provided the Raiders in 1983. Though New England struggled mightily against the pass for much of last season, the player they picked in the first-round in 2010, Devin McCourty, excelled and would have won Defensive Rookie of the Year if it were not for the great season Ndamukong Suh had with the Detroit Lions.
New England is not getting much from 2009 second-round draft pick Darius Butler. He was replaced by Kyle Arrington, a second-year undrafted player probably best suited as a nickle back. The Patriots pass defense gave up two key touchdown passes to wide receivers in their 28-21 playoff loss this year on plays an excellent cornerback like Asomugha may have prevented.
The impending players strike will have impact on where many free agents go and how much they earn next year, but New England should strike while the iron is hot. Asomugha is an intelligent and educated man who understands the history of the game and how being on a team like New England would give him a very good chance at earning a Super Bowl ring.
They would not have to give up draft picks like the Raiders did for Haynes, and New England has a boat load of draft picks this year that they attained from wheeling and dealing over the years. Asomugha would put them over the top and make them instantly a favorite to win it all in 2011 because their main weakness would be shored up.
He has already indicated by his interest in possibly returning to Oakland that money does not rule him and the highest bidder will not necessarily win his services. Winning games is what he wants to do, something he would achieve on a Patriots team that has won at least ten games every year Asomugha has been in the league. Oakland had never had a season where they won more than five games in his career until winning eight in 2010.
The game is played to win championship. This brings immortality because it is forever emblazoned in the history books who was the best. New England has been a dominate team since 2001, winning three of four Super Bowls. Solid coaching and player selection has helped them maintain this consistency.
Getting the 6'2" 210 lbs Asomugha to shut down the opponents best receivers as the rest of the young secondary learns from them will probably bring them more trophies and further the legend they are currently writing in the history books.