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FILE -- Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha has accomplished just about everything with the Raiders, except be on a winning team. (Ray Chavez/Staff)

It was touching, the support Tom Cable received from inside the Raiders locker room after being dismissed as the team's head coach. As lovely parting gifts go, it was better than a silver and black watch.

Punter Shane Lechler called it a "huge setback" and predicted the move could cost the team a chance to re-sign free agents such as Robert Gallery and Michael Bush.

Gallery called it "definitely a step back." We could go on, but you get the point. By and large, the Raiders liked Cable. They enjoyed playing for him. They're going to miss him. But a mass exodus?

Look, Cable gets high marks for being a realist, for understanding the Raiders' peculiar dynamics, for acting as a firewall between the players and the madness, and for doing it well enough to lead the team to its first non-losing season since 2002.

But 8-8 isn't to be confused with 13-3. And even in the unlikely event that the pro-Cable sentiment doesn't subside over the next few months, how many free agents would you fear losing from an 8-8 team? Bush? Gallery? Johnnie Lee Higgins? Not likely.

Richard Seymour? Zach Miller? We're getting warmer.

Nnamdi Asomugha? Whoa.

It was reported Sunday, and confirmed by the Raiders, that Asomugha's contract voided after the recently completed season. In part because of injury, he failed to reach a number of incentives during the 2010 season that would have triggered his contract for 2011.


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This changes things. For starters, Asomugha is the Raiders' best every-down player. Another reason he failed to reach incentives such as interceptions and fumble recoveries is that he is so well-regarded as a cornerback that opposing teams rarely throw in his direction.

In addition, he exudes professionalism. You can never have enough in a locker room. More than a few Raiders teams of recent vintage haven't had nearly enough.

He's also a thoughtful and articulate team spokesman after games. He's a little like Cable in that he acknowledges the organizational idiosyncrasies without using them as an excuse or allowing them to affect his play.

As good as he is, he still may not be worth the $38 million the Raiders have paid him the past three years. His $16.8 million-plus salary for 2011 would be a tough squeeze under a salary cap (assuming one is part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement).

But in terms of psychic value to the team, no one is as valuable to the Raiders as Asomugha. If he left, the odds on a mass exodus go up. But don't take our word. Take Michael Huff's tweet:

"Looks like Nnamdi is on the market," Huff, a Raiders free safety, wrote on his Twitter account. "So he's a free agent. I'm a free agent and (cornerback Stanford) Routt is a free agent. This is gonna be interesting."

There are different flavors of interesting. Huff has never lived up to the faith the Raiders showed in him by making him the seventh pick in the 2006 draft. Eight defensive backs drafted lower than he was have more career interceptions. Six have more tackles. Two have more sacks.

Routt handled himself credibly this season given that he sees a high volume of passes from teams that avoid Asomugha's side of the field. But with six interceptions in 93 career games, he isn't what you would call an impact player.

Of the three, only Asomugha would leave a hole too big to be filled. If all three left, it says here, Huff and Routt might be disappointed in the level of interest they receive from other teams. They might find, as they did on their respective draft days, that no one loves them more than do the Raiders.

Wouldn't that be interesting?

Of course, whether Asomugha stays or goes won't be determined until the NFL's owners and players reach a new labor agreement. But if you were he, wouldn't you want out? You've satisfied whatever individual ambitions you had coming into the NFL -- money, awards, adulation.

The only thing left is team success. Since Asomugha came to Oakland, the Raiders are 37-91. During his career at Cal, the Bears were 11-23. With Asomugha set to turn 30 just before training camp starts this summer, it's easy to imagine him seizing this opportunity to see what winning tastes like.

If he does that, it's easier still to imagine his departure making any Tom Cable blowback seem like last year's news.

Contact Gary Peterson at gpeterson@bayareanewsgroup.com.