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Thursday, February 19, 2009
It's a banner week for Oakland

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Nnamdi Asomugha is still in Oakland and it is by his choice.

 
  G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images
  Nnamdi Asomugha signed a three-year contract with Oakland.

Instead of being stuck in Oakland by getting the franchise tag placed on him for the second straight year, Asomugha has agreed to a record contract with the Raiders.

He signed a deal Thursday for three years worth more than $45 million. If Oakland keeps him for the third season, the entire deal will be guaranteed.

No longer is Asomugha, perhaps the best cornerback in the NFL today, going to be looked at as a great player stuck in a bad situation. He is in Oakland for the next three years because it is his choice. That's big for the Raiders, a team that is in the midst of a great offseason, even if it does nothing else.

Oakland's best player just told the football world he wants to be a Raider. With so much negativity swirling around the team the past few years, this move begins the process that, yes, it is OK to be a Raider. Players around the league will take notice.

Couple Asomugha's long-term deal with the long-term deal Oakland gave Pro Bowl punter Shane Lechler on Wednesday, and the Raiders are having a banner week. The moves, which owner Al Davis deemed as difficult earlier this month, are huge for a team coming off a 5-11 season. 

Both Asomugha -- who rarely gets tested by opposing quarterbacks -- and Lechler were in Oakland for the six seasons in which the Raiders won an NFL-low 24 games. So they don't make the Raiders better. But the moves help change the culture of a franchise that is in dire need of an image makeover.

This is a major change from last year when Oakland wildly spent on several free agents. Oakland spent $255 million in salary and bonuses last year. Most of the moves were disastrous. This year, Oakland, which locked in right cornerback Chris Johnson last week, is keeping its own players. It is a smart move. 

Now the Raiders may have difficulty doing other major business this offseason, even though they likely will cut players such as Ronald Curry, Kwame Harris and Javon Walker. Still, they probably could figure out a way to get a couple of some other teams' free agents. But Oakland might be more focused on the draft.  The Raiders, who need a receiver and a left tackle, have the No. 7 pick.

But for now, the team needs to glow in the aftermath of getting Lechler and Asomugha signed. This is a major step for a team that needs to make quality, major steps.