Raiders get payoff for offseason investments |

Raiders get payoff for offseason investments

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) – Even as his peers recognized him as one of the top defensive players in the NFL, Oakland Raiders defensive back Nnamdi Asomugha wasn’t convinced he’d be making a return trip to the Pro Bowl.

Having been passed over in the voting process several times before and with his team barreling toward a seventh consecutive season with double-digit losses, the Raiders’ veteran cornerback knew the odds might be against him.

Asomugha shouldn’t have worried.

He and punter Shane Lechler were the only two Oakland players named to the AFC team when the Pro Bowl voting results were announced. It is Lechler’s fifth such honor while Asomugha was chosen as a starter for the second straight year.

“I don’t take anything for granted, just based off of things that have happened in the past,” Asomugha said Wednesday. “In 2007, I had pretty much the same numbers I had in ’08 and ’09 but wasn’t in there, so I didn’t know what was going to happen. I wasn’t worried at all but I was like, ‘Let me wait and see before I make plans for anything.”‘

Raiders owner Al Davis shelled out nearly $60 million to keep Asomugha and Lechler off the free agent market this past offseason, a move meant to keep the core of the team’s talent pool in place.

The investment was a wise one.

Heading into Oakland’s season finale against Baltimore, Asomugha, whose three-year $45.3 million deal made him the highest-paid defensive back in league history, hasn’t put up big numbers (34 tackles, one interception) but his presence on the field has been enough to convince opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators to direct their game plans away from him.

A Pro Bowl alternate in 2006, Asomugha – who finished second to Denver’s Champ Bailey in the fan voting this year – is also the anchor of the Raiders’ secondary and a key influence in Oakland’s locker room.

“He made himself a superstar, made himself the best corner in football,” said Cleveland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who coached Asomugha for five seasons in Oakland. “The thing about him is he’s a better person than he is a player so that’s a pretty good combination. It’s fun when he’s on your sideline.”

Lechler, who signed a four-year contract worth more than $12 million, has a league-leading 51.1-yard average and is within reach of Sammy Baugh’s single-season NFL record of 51.5 despite having already punted 91 times, the second most of his career.

“It’s kind of hard to say that an individual award takes off the edge off our team,” Lechler said. “I’m still disappointed in the way the season went. Yes, this does help take the edge off of it and the pressure of the contract I signed, but as far as the team goes, I wouldn’t say we have as far to go anymore. We’re headed in the right direction, definitely, but we still have some work to do.”

Oakland tight end Zach Miller and defensive end Richard Seymour were both named alternates on the AFC team.

NOTES: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey practiced for the first time in more than three weeks but is still questionable to play against the Ravens. Heyward-Bey, Oakland’s first-round draft pick, was wearing a walking boot on Monday but progressed enough to practice on a limited basis. … The Raiders placed wide receiver Nick Miller (foot) and linebacker Slade Norris (hamstring) on injured reserve, and activated defensive end Greyson Gunheim and safety Jerome Boyd from the practice squad.