NFL draft: Raiders finally show judgment in trying to be a real team again
By Monte Poole
The Oakland Tribune
The Raiders sent away the most loyal soldier of all, someone with a lifelong connection to the team, because he couldn't lift his unit to an effective level.
They followed that up by putting their colossally troubled quarterback on final notice, essentially showing him the door.
All the while, during the NFL's most dynamic weekend, Oakland's approach to the draft never wavered from a plan steeped in common sense. The Raiders evidently relied more on game evaluation than workout impressions. Player personnel officials utilized clear thinking to make sound choices to address urgent needs. They stayed well within the boundaries of reason.
This is, for the Raiders, a departure from the recent past.
But this is how a lost franchise gets into position to replant its flag.
The Raiders took steps to liberate themselves from quarterback JaMarcus Russell by sending a fourth-round draft pick in 2012 to Washington for Jason Campbell. In one move, they upgraded their most crucial position, going from epic failure to satisfactory.
Insofar as Russell, scheduled to be paid $9.45 million in 2010, has said he wouldn't renegotiate his contract — he'll get a $3 million bonus no matter what — it's altogether possible we've seen the last of the man that Raiders owner Al Davis drafted No 1 overall in 2007 and, 17 months later, described as a "great player."
Indeed, Russell's future was the team's most vexing issue entering this offseason. And they have minimized it. Should Russell make a miraculous transformation and is willing to return at a dramatically lower salary (and weight), the Raiders would listen. Should he decline to renegotiate, they can extend a $3 million handshake.
But something had to be done, and the Raiders did it. It's a smart move, whether Davis made it or authorized it.
Something also had to be done about Oakland's run defense, the heart of which was represented last season by tackles Tommy Kelly and Gerard Warren and middle linebacker Kirk Morrison. Only Kelly remains — for now.
Warren was released last month and Morrison, a five-year starter and captain, was traded Saturday, along with a fifth-round pick, to Jacksonville for a fourth-round pick. An Oakland native, Morrison led the team in tackles in each of his five seasons with the Raiders.
But as the defense continued to get pushed around, it jeopardized Morrison's childhood dream of spending his NFL career with the team he grew up rooting for. Though Captain Kirk was described by coach Tom Cable as an "honorable, honorable man," he was gone once Oakland used its first-round draft pick on Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain.
So it goes in what suddenly seems like a ruthless pursuit of improvement. Though we are years away from the outcome of the draft, from determining if the events of April 22-24, 2010, marked a new era for the Raiders, there is no questioning the organizational strategy of seeking reasonable solutions to identified problems.
"For a while I've said at some point things will start to change," Cable said. "The only way to do that is to do things that make people feel like there's change, make it feel like you're improving the team and doing what it takes to improve the team."
The way in which the Raiders drafted and dealt was so coherent that it was as if Davis, who for years has insisted on managing the draft, had secretly hired a knowledgeable, credible and authoritative general manager.
Or maybe Davis simply decided to leave most of the decisions to his coaches, scouts and other personnel officials.
In either case, it marks a dramatic change in the way the Raiders had been handling their business of late — and the wisest maneuver by Davis since 1998, when he united former senior executive Bruce Allen with a new coach named Jon Gruden, then drafted Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson.
"The one thing I'm really proud of," Cable said, "I think the team today, the organization, and that includes everyone — coaches and scouts and everybody involved, the owner — we were in sync."
All of which suggests Davis is disgusted enough, as he was after the 4-12 season in 1997, to listen to others. From the hiring of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to the moves of this weekend — especially the match to Russell's ample backside — the overall methodology is almost flawless.
Without winning a single game or even stepping onto the field, the Raiders have experienced their finest weekend since their AFC championship victory over Tennessee on Jan. 19, 2003.
If the Raiders want to rejoin the NFL, they're off to a pretty good start.