I’m not going to pretend to know exactly what is going on behind those closed doors in Alameda. For all I know, Al Davis and Tom Cable are quietly plotting the most carefully executed rebuilding effort since The Tuna and Tony Sporano touched down in South Beach.
If you only read the headlines, it would appear that this offseason has been business as usual for the franchise perceived as the NFL’s most dysfunctional.
Therefore, I’m going to take you through some of the key moments of the 2009 Oakland Raider offseason and will attempt to explain the logic – or lack thereof – behind each move.
Nnamdi Asomugha and Shane Lechler cash in - Amazingly enough, when Albert Haynesworth inked a deal worth $100 million it caused less of a stir than Asomugha’s three year deal worth a reported $45 million and Lechler’s annual salary of $4 million for his punting services. While most will argue that Al Davis overpaid, keep in mind that these are the two best players at their respective positions. Sure, the Raiders could have easily lost 72 games in six years without the help of Nnamdi and Shane. It is just good business to let the rest of your roster know that the boss takes care of those who remain professional no matter the circumstances. Plus, after giving bloated deals to DeAngelo Hall, Javon Walker and Gibril Wilson, Al owed it to Raider Nation to place his chips on a proven commodity instead of again risking his portfolio on a Bernie Madoff inspired hunch.
Cutting Gibril Wilson – This was the first shockwave that reverberated through Raider Nation in 2009. Wilson was given a six year deal worth $39 million yet only made it through one season. He survived on Raider Island longer than MeAngelo but his public criticism of the franchise and his inability to be any kind of a factor defending the pass made him expendable. Yes, the ’08 season began in turmoil but it ended with a renewed belief in Raider football thanks to Tom Cable. Wilson didn’t appear to be on board with the new regime and was thus allowed to go freely to Miami where he is sure to be torched by Randy Moss at least twice this year. Dolphin fans enjoy!
Re-signing Isaiah Ekejiuba – He is listed as a linebacker but he’s a special teams player by trade. Ekejiuba’s deal is worth $5.4 million with a fifth of it being paid up front via his signing bonus. Is it crazy to give a special teams contributor a three year deal? From the outside many would think so. Behind the iron curtain in Oakland though, it is a solid move. Again, this is about rewarding those who lay it on the line and have a professional demeanor. This has been sadly missed in the East Bay for more than half a decade now. Yes, it is sad to have to rebuild your team on basic football principles. Just keep in mind that this is all about baby steps.
Cable keeps it competitive – Tom Cable is not a fan of scholarships. He wants his players to earn their keep by holding their feet to the flame with each practice. Thus, Khalif Barnes was brought it to push Mario Henderson. Jeff Garcia returned to the Bay to breath down the neck of JaMarcus Russell. Michael Bush was not traded so that Darren McFadden and Justin Fargas wouldn’t get complacent and Michael Mitchell was drafted to give Michael Huff one last chance to prove his worth (more on Mitchell later). The headline is the supposed position battle ensuing between Russell and Garcia but the fact is that Garcia’s job is to try and take snaps away from Russell. This is not to say he was acquired to replace Russell. Instead, Garcia is in town to push JaMarcus through the door that is keeping him out of the NFL Quarterback club.
The draft heard round the world – According to Cris Carter, Darrius Heyward-Bey “can’t catch the ball”. According to Chris Berman, Michael Mitchell was not even listed in his NFL Draft program. According to Tom Cable, Heyward-Bey is a perfect fit for the Raider system and Michel Mitchell resembles “Jack Tatum and Ronnie Lott“. Lost in the laughing and finger pointing is the fact that both are hungry, humble and hard working. Heyward-Bey’s potential is unquestioned and Mitchell’s hard hitting is an attempt to return to the Raider Way of football. Both are rolls of the dice. Both are unproven. Both have massive chips on their shoulders. The Raiders did miss out on the chance to address other needs in the draft. However, if this bet pays off, it will be a bold move to once again reestablish the Raiders as NFL mavericks. Should these two go bust, it will be yet another year of drafting in the top 10. This has the potential to be a make or break moment for Tom Cable’s tenure.
Lorenzo Neal’s in the house – Who doesn’t love this move? He’s got every quality Tom Cable and his staff has attempted to fill the locker room with and he’s the best blocking fullback in the history of the game. Since Al Davis is staying the course in attempting to resurrect the Raiders ways of old, Neal is the best acquisition this offseason.
Converting a tight end and waiving a defensive end – From the bizarre news department comes the stories of a tight end turned middle linebacker, a rookie who was waived before ever putting pads on and the release of a fan favorite who never even played single game. Frantz Jospeh was an undrafted free agent middle linebacker from Florida Atlantic with a heart warming story. Raider Nation was pulling for him to make the roster and become the feel good story of the Raider Rebirth. Instead, he was released before training camp and the Raiders opted to convert another UFA, Chris O’Neill, from tight end to middle linebacker. Then there was the news that the organization opted to part ways with 6th round selection Stryker Sulak before training camp began. Attempting to explain the logic in this whole scenario is daunting but it doesn’t seem to be as aimless as many assume. To begin, the Raiders still have to trim the roster down to in order to open camp. This is war and there will be collateral damage. Not giving Sulak a chance to compete in pads is a harsh move but his only hope was moving to linebacker. Many believe he is better suited to stand up in a 3-4. With the addition of Greg Ellis, the inability to trade Derrick Burgess and a few other defensive ends on the roster, Sulak was just squeezed out. As for O’Neill, well we’re going to have to wait and see if the former Boise State Bronco can transition to his new position.
Many question the methods. Most have already chalked up another 5 wins for the Raiders in 2009. If there is any method behind this madness it is the stubborn attempt to reconstruct the Raider Way. While it might not be the best formula, it is a blueprint none the less. With the way the past six years have gone, devising a plan – no matter how it is viewed – is a step in the right direction.
Now, it is time to live up to the adage that defines the Oakland Raiders.
Just win baby!
Otherwise, all of the above is simply the ramblings of a myopic fan who roots for a mislead organization.
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Topics: Al Davis, Albert Haynesworth, Bernie Madoff, Bill Parcells, Chris Berman, Chris O'Neill, Cris Carter, Darren McFadden, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Deangelo Hall, Derrick Burgess, Frantz Joseph, Gibril Wilson, Greg Ellis, Isaiah Ekejiuba, Jack Tatum, JaMarcus Russell, Javon Walker, Jeff Garcia, Justin Fargas, Khalif Barnes, Lorenzo Neal, Mario Henderson, Michael Bush, Michael Huff, Michael Mitchell, Nnamdi Asomugha, Randy Moss, Ronnie Lott, Shane Lechler, Stryker Sulak, Tom Cable, Tony Sporano