ALAMEDA

"THE HOSTAGE" stands inches away from the most conspicuous symbol of his imprisonment, two strips of adhesive tape forming a large white X across the front of his cubicle in the Raiders locker room.

"The Hostage" is the most proficient soldier in the room. He's skilled, smart and his work habits are second to none. He might be the best in the world at what he does.

But he's addressing the conditions in his midst. He's acutely aware of the unrelenting chaos, the gross mismanagement, the daily schizophrenia — the whole, weird, wild, crazy, unhinged, masochistic ways of the Raiders.

The losing, the diabolically orchestrated firing of the head coach, the staged event to announce his dismissal, the opposing agendas, the mind games, they all add up to discontent. That it's only halfway through the season suggests, "The Hostage" says, this is the most disturbing of his 51/2 years in Oakland.

Not once, though, does Nnamdi Asomugha plead for his release.

Though logic dictates the cornerback would want out of this swamp, he can't say it. Won't say it. He deserves better, but he won't say it. He's too professional.

In no position to prosper, The Hostage endures through the despair, resigned to his fate.

"You can only bite your lip and play football," he says.


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This was Wednesday afternoon, only hours after the Raiders officially dumped cornerback DeAngelo Hall. He was the marquee acquisition in the most dynamic offseason in the organization's 48-year history. He was highly paid, a two-time Pro Bowler, identified as one of the leaders of the fortified defense.

Hall was underwhelming on the field. Coming from Atlanta, where he played a lot of zone, he struggled with Oakland's man-to-man coverages. Opponents targeted him, found him and usually scorched him.

And now he's gone, a swift and sudden departure coming eight months after a heralded arrival.

Which leaves his ex-teammates wondering why the organization's increasingly erratic leader, Al Davis, traded two draft choices for Hall, then signed him to a seven-year, $70 million deal. Hall gets at least $8 million, for eight games. If he was a poor fit, as coach Tom Cable indicated, it's an example of mismanagement.

If Hall was whacked prematurely, as The Hostage believes, it's another impulsive move by the boss, another example of Al having lost his aim yet still eager to grab his pistol and pull the trigger in search of a "solution."

That Hall is a skilled athlete and capable of improving was of no consequence.

"I couldn't make any sense of it," Asomugha says. "He had eight games to prove himself. I don't think that was enough."

The Hostage is addressing the Hall matter, but his comments are broader than that. They address the general disease within the Raiders.

"I don't agree with what happened," Asomugha says. "I don't agree with what's going on. But I'm just a player. So I can't speak on it. I don't make the decisions. All I can do is play. But I don't agree with what happened at all."

The Hostage toils in a place where the sense of insecurity is spreading. That's OK, given the team's performance. But the randomness of Hall's firing is symptomatic of an organization spun off its axis.

It has many Raiders, Asomugha says, playing "on their heels." Asomugha, 27, is left to ponder his own future in this dreadful environment. Why wouldn't he or any reasonable individual want out of Oakland?

Despite developing into an elite player, as the team's franchise player — binding him to the Raiders for one year at premium pay — he's attached to misery. The Raiders are 21-67 during his term. There is no legitimate reason to expect improvement.

When asked about his future beyond 2008, Asomugha politely declined to address it.

He plans to play out the year and likely will be placed in the same confining position next season. Thus, his remarks are a blend of courage and prudence, a diplomatic way to seek freedom. That's how a hostage who is a great soldier copes with powerlessness.

Not long after the cameras shut off, The Hostage, having unburdened himself, left the room. Behind him was the cubicle with his gear, behind strips of tape on which three words were written:

"Franchise for Life."

Freedom never seemed to far away.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.