OAKLAND CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Nnamdi Asomugha #21 of the Oakland Raiders warms up against the St. Louis Rams during an NFL game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 19 2010 in Oakland California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
(I want to preface this by saying that it is my personal belief that the NFL Lockout will eventually wind up taking so much time that the league will have no choice but to use last year's lack of Collective Bargaining Agreement rules when it comes to matters of service time and free agency. In this scenario Johnathan Joseph is not an option, nor is Eric Weddle.)
The Houston Texans have begun to cure themselves of misguided notions. In baby steps, yes, but a step is a step. Wade Phillips may have once coached for the Broncos, but as he did not fluff Gary Kubiak's pillows in Denver, I'll consider him a qualified outsider for the purposes of this exercise. That was a reasonable first step. I didn't necessarily agree with some of the Texans draft picks, but they have made a concerted effort to improve the defense and have added three players who can reasonably be expected to contribute right away in some role. This is a good start.
Let's put aside the fact that Phillips seems to be perfectly content with Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell at the nose tackle, which seems akin to being perfectly content with Hot Pockets because they are technically edible. Phillips has set up the gambit which will move Glover Quin to free safety with the addition of a new free agent cornerback. Indeed, while cornerback was technically addressed in the draft with the addition of Miami's Brandon Harris, the obvious weak point to any casual observer is that the Texans desperately need a top-tier cornerback to be what Dunta Robinson was before he was hurt.
But the real reason the Texans must sign Nnamdi Asomugha isn't specifically his pure talent. It's about the psychology of signing him. It's about actually wanting to be the best.
Bob McNair is not a foolish owner. His franchise is one of the most valuable in the world, and his business acumen cannot be doubted. But for years he has anchored the Texans to a gameplan that just doesn't enable them to fully succeed. Building from within, that's the strategic choice, and Houston has been content to be players on the fringe areas of the free agent market. Signing players like Ahman Green, Jacques Reeves, Antonio Smith, and Todd Wade has been the furthest that the Texans have been willing to go.
But, coupled with the massive talent gap that was brought about by poor drafting over the years, the Texans have wasted just as much money as any other team. David Carr alone was a waste of tens of millions of dollars, and he is hardly the only bust the Texans have selected. For all the impressive offensive talent these current Texans have right now, the only young players they have on that side of the ball are Arian Foster (running backs are one of the most attrition-riddled positions in the NFL, by the way) and Duane Brown. This is a win-now offense that needs win-now support on defense so that the team can finally reach the upper echelon.
Still, the murmurings continue to be that the Texans won't set the market. That Ike Taylor or Carlos Rogers are more "realistic" options. Well of course they are. There's a reason players like Taylor and Rogers are allowed to hit the market without an extension: they just simply aren't that good. Oh sure, you might find a good season or two out of them. But they aren't going to be actual difference makers; your goal in signing them is to just be "solid."
McNair needs to strive for something more than solid. The Texans have done solid. It hasn't been enough of a boost. If the Texans get a solid corner, move Glover Quin to safety, and fill the other safety spot with solid as well, they'll be an interesting team. That's all. Maybe they'll win 10 games. Maybe they'll win eight. Maybe they'll catch fire in the playoffs and surprise some teams, maybe they'll hit the worst case scenario and be back at six wins again. You know what they won't be, either way? A legitimate perennial Super Bowl contender. Strive for solid, and you'll get solid. Strive for greatness, and you might just be surprised by how far you get.
The Texans have had the serendipity to watch one of the league's very few shutdown cornerbacks become an available commodity. Asomugha has no character issues. The only flaw you could really come up with for him is that he's getting older, as he'll be 30 before the season starts. He is a premium player at the position the Texans most need a premium player. He would rectify years of middling results on stop-gap attempts and future stop-gap attempts after a player like Taylor or Rogers wore out their welcome.
Most importantly though, he would change the culture of the Houston Texans, an organization that is always developing its talent rather than winning. There aren't many better ways to show your commitment to winning then by bringing in an All-Pro to solidify your weakest position. He would bring habits and knowledge that would rub off on the young Texans secondary. That goes double for fixing their off-the-field image, where Texans fans have suffered through enough heartbreak over the past few years to send the Clorox heirs on a three-month backpacking tour through Europe. Signing Asomugha would provide instant credibility to a jaded fanbase that doesn't understand why Gary Kubiak is still around, is ready to lob out the phrase "same old Texans" the minute they fall behind in a game, and in some cases, wants to see the long-form version of Matt Schaub's birth certificate to make sure he can rightfully be the Texans QB over Vince Young.
I'm not saying the Texans will win Asomugha's services if they go after him. It may just be that after years stuck in Oakland, he's ready to play for a sure-fire contender rather than a team that could be one with him on board. But given their relative standing in the success cycle, the win-now nature of their offense, and the disappointments of the last few years, if they aren't the team with the highest bid on Asomugha, then I think it's fair to question if this franchise really wants to win. If Nnamdi turns down McNair's millions, then so be it, but not making a serious run at him would be a mistake.
One last thought: Five offseasons ago, an All-Pro Oakland Raiders cornerback was a soon-to-be-30-year-old free agent looking for a new home. Despite being big on developing talent, an organization decided to take a chance on him. While it didn't pay immediate dividends, the Green Bay Packers would have one of the best teams in the NFL in 2007, and would come within an overtime interception of going to the Super Bowl. Eventually, the team reconciled its youth and, with the help of their no longer dominant but still very solid veteran cornerback, won the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, Jacques Reeves is not employed in the NFL as of the writing of this post. Nothing personal, Jacques. Just saying.