Cornerback David Amerson was a highly touted second-round pick who got cut with nearly two years left on his rookie contract. That’s a rarity, to be sure.
Washington dropped the guillotine after Week 2 last season, parting ways with an unproductive talent in startling fashion.
The swift slice was shocking but, looking back, Amerson wouldn’t change a thing.
Hitting rock bottom was the reality check required to get things right. Assuming, of course, he got a second chance. The Raiders gave him one, and the cover man took full advantage.
“It wasn’t really rocket science, to be honest with you. Once I got here, I matured,” Amerson said Tuesday in a conference call. “I came in the league and I was 21 years old. Not saying I’m much older now, but three years, I’m 24 now, I’ve learned a lot in three years. When I got here, I was in the right mindset. I was in the right mindset and the right maturity level and professionalism. I was taking that transition of becoming a professional. I think it worked out for the best.”
It certainly did. The Raiders claimed him off waivers and quickly made him a starter. Amerson rewarded their decision, producing 58 tackles, four interceptions (including a pick six), a forced fumble and 26 pass breakups in 14 games for his new team.
The Raiders inherited Amerson’s rookie deal, which was set to expire after 2016. That’s no longer the case. Amerson signed a four-year deal worth up to $38.8 million, with $17.5 million in virtual guarantees. According to Pro Football Talk, $4.5 million can only be earned by making the Pro Bowl and the deal’s final two years are pay-as-you-go. There’s still big money to be paid in Amerson’s deal, a far cry from the $838,000 left on his old contract and an uncertain future after that.
The Raiders locked up a talented player in his prime, one with greater focus than ever before. A switch flipped in Oakland, and Amerson realized he couldn’t coast on talent alone.
“Instead of going home and playing video games all night and stuff like that, it was a much different approach,” Amerson said. “I was going home and I was in my playbook or watching the film or looking at my notes on whatever team we were playing that week. It was really just the little stuff. That’s what football is; it’s a game of inches. It just gave me that extra beat that I needed on Sunday to make plays.
“It wasn’t rocket science. I knew what I had to do and it just clicked for me at a time where I was being released and coming here.”
Amerson didn’t choose the Raiders. He was assigned to them. Getting claimed off waivers meant he couldn’t cherry pick a perfect spot to continue a career, but that wasn’t necessary. Oakland was the best place for him.
The Raiders provided opportunity and a near-perfect scheme fit. Amerson’s a tall, physical corner who can also make plays off the ball, which is what his new team requires. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton keeps things simple, which allowed Amerson to hone in on execution.
“I remember when I got here the third game and I barely knew the plays,” Amerson said “We’re breaking the huddle, I’m asking the guys, ‘What coverage is this? What do I got on this play?’ But, I was still able to go out there and compete and play fast football.”
He thrived in that environment. According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks had a 140.2 passer rating picking on Amerson in Washington two years ago. In Oakland last season, that number dropped to 66.3.
Amerson’s transition to quality NFL cornerback was radical, with room to grow if his work rate remains high. His past year has been a juxtaposition of highs and lows, with a big contract signed roughly 10 months after getting axed.
Amerson still isn’t surprised to be in this position.
"I always had faith in my ability. Once I got released from Washington, it might have clouded up a little bit, but I always knew that I had the ability to be mentioned with some of the elite corners in the league or get to that point. I had my mind set once I got my opportunity I was going to take full advantage of it."