AL DAVIS has
always loved speed. The Raiders owner once signed a Jett (first name: James)
and negotiated with a Rocket (last name: Ismail) in the same off-season. And
his rosters have included college sprint champions and Olympic gold medalists.
� Still, it's doubtful that any of them ever displayed the kind of separation
Davis has attempted this off-season. In trying to put a fifth consecutive
losing season behind him as quickly as possible, he has handed out contracts
worth more than $300 million—$296 million of that spread among seven players.
More noteworthy, the deals for those seven include nearly $120 million in
guarantees and first-year salaries.
The Raiders say
this is evidence that Davis plans to be aggressive in remaking the roster.
Others wonder if it's an example of recklessness, pointing out that $36 million
in guarantees and first-year salaries is going to three players coming off knee
surgery: defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who has never been to the Pro Bowl and
has just 13 sacks in 49 career games with Oakland; former Broncos wide receiver
Javon Walker, who has had three knee operations in as many years and has played
only one full season during that time; and running back Justin Fargas, whose
seven starts last season matched his career total for his previous four years
as a Raider.
"There's a lot
of risk involved," coach Lane Kiffin said last week at the team's minicamp.
"But I don't have anything to do with the money. I just give my evaluation
of players. That's Al's deal. He paid them what he paid them, and we've got to
get the most out of them."
is to restore the luster to his once-powerful franchise, which had only six
losing seasons from 1965 to 2002 but is 19--61 since reaching Super Bowl XXXVII
in '03. The team has lost at least 11 games in each of the last five years
after going more than four decades without back-to-back seasons of double-digit
When DeAngelo Hall
met with Davis two months ago while Oakland was finalizing a trade for the
Falcons' two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, he came away convinced that Davis,
buoyed by a cash influx from three new silent partners, was going to make a
play to win now. "He said, 'I'm mad I even let things get that bad,'?"
recalls Hall, who signed a seven-year, $70 million contract ($24.5 million
guaranteed) after being traded to the Raiders.
Hall of Fame
receiver Fred Biletnikoff, who spent 14 years as a player and 18 as an
assistant coach in the Oakland organization, said in a recent radio interview
that the team's biggest problem is its personnel—a matter upon which Davis has
final say. "There isn't quality," Biletnikoff told KHTK. "You can
stumble around for words and say whatever you want, [but] the quality is so
declined to be interviewed, is attempting to change that by retaining core
players such as Kelly and Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, and bringing in
proven performers such as Hall, Walker and former Giants safety Gibril Wilson,
who received a six-year deal worth a potential $39 million. Davis also signed
big-play running back Darren McFadden of Arkansas, the fourth pick in this
year's draft, to a six-year contract worth a potential $60 million.
that every player go up there and talk to Al before the season starts because I
guarantee you they'll play with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,"
Hall says. "That guy really cares about his players, and he'll do anything
for us. That's the kind of guy you want to play for and win for. It ain't about
us or anybody else. It's really about him."
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