If the national sports media were to assign a country for each professional franchise, then the Oakland Raiders would be considered the North Korea of the NFL. The popular view is that the Raiders are an isolated organization under the tyrannical rule of Kim Jong-Al.
This is one Raider fan that is here to tell you that the rumors of Al’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
The running jokes of Al Davis sitting atop his billion dollar empire, lamenting over the NFL’s revenue sharing, speaking in an antiquated idiom that only Mr. Burns could appreciate, are in the end only jokes and not reality.
It is true that Mr. Davis runs his franchise on his terms. He is the proverbial genius whose success in a brutal business has created an untrusting paranoia and a need to be involved in every aspect of his company. His is the type of business practice that only the Corleones understand and which the likes of Jerry Jones admire.
While most owners sit on their wallets, unwilling to part with their precious capital. Al Davis is a benevolent spender willing to go the monetary lengths of Dr. Evil to see through his plans of football domination. His investments don’t always reflect the shrewd business acumen that has seen three Lombaris enter the Raider trophy case. But his desire to win can never be denied.
So here we are counting down the hours until the free agency signing period officially begins. For most fans this is a time of excitement. For Raider fans, this is a time of nervous anticipation.
It was last year, on the verge of free agency, that Al Davis began his $255 million spending spree by signing Tommy Kelly to a 7 year deal worth $50 million. If that move came as a surprise to the rest of the league, then what followed was certainly a shock to the system: $70 million to DeAngelo Hall; $55 million to Javon Walker; $39 million to Gibril Wilson; $16 million to Kwame Harris.
What did Al Davis get in return for a quarter of a billion dollar investment? 5 wins. Ill advised bets quickly became short lived contracts.
DeAngelo Hall only made it through the first 8 weeks of his 7 year deal before he was released. Gibril Wilson and Kwame Harris made it though the first year, yet both were given their walking papers just this past week.
Tommy Kelly did Al a favor by moving his money around a little, helping to save his job and helping Mr. Davis save a little face. It is rumored that Javon Walker is willing to do the same. The consequences of releasing Walker could be akin with committing cap suicide.
What has Al Davis learned from his $200 million bath? Hopefully he’s learned that he can’t do it all on his own.
The 2008 splurge revealed a sad defect in his Silver and Black clad armor. Al’s patience to evaluate has been blinded by his desire to win. There are no checks and balances in the Raider parliament. This organization needs a sound voice to temper the fiery passion of Mr. Davis. John Madden, I hope you’re reading this.
Thus far, the 2009 off-season has shown the promise of a new day. Whereas a year ago Al Davis opened his doors to homeless orphans looking for hand outs, he has instead fed and clothed his own children a year later. The hiring of Tom Cable along with the re-signings of Shane Lechler and Nnamdi Asomugha indicates a return to the Raider values of yore.
Now comes the hard part: Convincing Al not to go for broke in the casino of free agency. Early rumors suggest that he has turned the corner. When former Raider Jerry Porter was jettisoned by the Jacksonville Jaguars, the reports were swirling that he was knocking on Uncle Al’s door, begging for one more payday. The speculation is that Uncle Al invited Jerry in to listen to his sob story, but in the end, he stood and walked Porter to the door. There will be no free hand outs this year, not even to those who were once a part of the Raider family.
A lesson learned? I hope so. So few are lucky enough to survive a $200,000,000 mistake these days, even fewer can afford to make the same mistake twice.