Tough ending to great era in Oakland

Oakland was never really serious about re-signing Nnamdi Asomugha. Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

This has to be a difficult day in the Raider Nation.

It lost its best player in an agonizingly long departure.

In the end, Nnamdi Asomugha -- arguably the best cornerback in the NFL and, by far, the top free-agent prize of 2011 -- departs the Oakland Raiders and becomes a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. He agreed to a five-year, $60 million deal with $25 million in guaranteed money.

But there is much more to the story. Asomugha’s saga took three days to unfold and several teams, including the New York Jets, Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys and (gulp) even the San Francisco 49ers all made a push for Asomugha. They were all waiting for him. He kept holding off on his decision.

It cruelly gave Raider Nation hope that perhaps, somehow, Asomugha could come back to Oakland. In the end it appears Asomugha and the Raiders were never close to re-joining forces.

In a way, it’s stunning. Al Davis rarely loses his top players. He is known for overpaying his players to stay. He paid Asomugha $30 million in the past two seasons before Asomugha’s contract voided in January.

Asomugha was a great Raider and a true shut-down corner. Even playing in Oakland’s man-to-man defense, Asomugha excelled. He only saw 50-plus passes thrown his way in the past three seasons combined.

Even though it’s surprising to see Davis allow a top talent to walk, there were plenty of tell-tale signs that Asomugha was likely on his way out.

At the news conference to announce the hiring of Hue Jackson in January, Davis said that he’d try to keep Asomugha but the money spent on him could be used for two or three players. Prior to the lockout, Oakland was, by far, the most aggressive team in the NFL when it came to securing its own free agents. The Raiders locked up several players including Richard Seymour, Stanford Routt, John Henderson and they gave Kamerion Wimbley the franchise tag,

The deal to Routt was telling. He was given $30 million for three years. That’s No.1 cornerback money. Then, the Raiders took cornerbacks in the third and fourth rounds of the draft.

Now Asomugha is gone and all the Raiders have are memories of a great defender and a probable third-round comp pick next year.

There has been reasons for hope in Oakland. The team is stocked with young, exciting talent and the Raiders went 8-8 last season -- breaking a seven-season spell of 11 or more losses, which was an NFL record.

The Raiders still have high hopes, but it will be difficult to improve without their best player. Their young cornerbacks must improve and the promising front seven has to flourish to make up for the lack of the shut-down presence of Asomugha. They could pursue a veteran cornerback such as Antonio Cromartie or Nate Clements. While neither player is in Asomguha’s class, they are both proven veterans.

While money is clearly an issue, the Raiders have to find a way to make some moves. They are trying to work out a long-term deal with Wimbley (the pass rusher wants big money) to open up cap room. They must lock up Pro Bowl tight end Zach Miller and there have been reports of a potential deal for tackle Jared Gaither to shore up the offensive line, which is Oakland’s weakest spot.

I know enough about Davis to know, he clearly will not stop trying to win. But there’s no doubt, it did get tougher with Asomugha’s departure.