AFC West: Darren McFadden

NAPA, Calif. -- Marcel Reece was about to be presented with the Oakland Raiders “Commitment to Excellence Award” in March and NFL free agency was about to begin.

The two-time Pro Bowl fullback wanted general manager Reggie McKenzie to make “Raider-ass moves” with his signings, fearless moves, though Reece, who has been in Oakland since 2008, was also leery

“I’m not expecting them to come in and set the tone on how to be a Raider; they don’t know how to be a Raider,” Reece said that evening. “I’m looking forward to setting that tone and whoever comes in that locker room is going to work like us.”

[+] EnlargeJustin Tuck
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJustin Tuck is one of a handful of new Raiders who has been to and won a Super Bowl.
Paging the likes of Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith, James Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew, Kevin Boothe and Donald Penn, while summoning the acquired-in-a-trade Matt Schaub .

Together, the eight tote a combined six Super Bowl rings and 10 Pro Bowl appearances. Yeah, they know how to win.

The likes of Reece, Darren McFadden, Tyvon Branch and Jon Condo, meanwhile, know what it means to represent the Raiders, but they have never experienced a winning season in Oakland.

“In years past, the leadership was not the best,” Condo said. “Guys that are coming in…the young guys are looking at them and the vets are showing them, this is how you practice. This is how you study. This is how you prepare your bodies for the 16-game season. The way people go about their business, you see true professionalism on and off the field, doing the right things.

“Not to rag on what’s been here in the past, but it just seems like there was just a cycle with how veterans would act and young guys would look at that and think, ‘That’s what it takes to be a pro.’ And it wasn’t really the right way to be a pro.

“Now, you bring in the right guys and they are teaching the young guys how to be a pro and they’re going to carry it on three, four, five, six seven, eight, 10 years … to the draft classes.”

According to Tuck, there has been no push back from the older Raiders players.

“It’s not like we’re coming in here acting like we know everything; we don’t,” Tuck said. “We’re still learning ourselves. It’s never going to be a situation where, ‘Oh, y’all doing this wrong.’ We’re trying to work together

“At the end of the day, it has to be the Raider way … all the guys that they brought in know the history of the Raiders. … You found yourself fascinated by the silver and black and all the great players that played here and Al Davis and all the characters in Raider history.

“Now, it’s just a work in progress.”

Jones-Drew grew up in the East Bay a Raiders fan. So his coming home carried extra meaning, even if it meant playing for a team that has not been to the playoffs or won more than eight games in a season since 2002.

“The Raider way has always been winning,” he said. “But I think every franchise goes through some tough times. The guys they brought in had that Raider mentality already … doing whatever it takes to win. It was a great mix of guys, the correct mix of guys.”

And it’s not just the longer-tenured Raiders or youngsters who are paying attention to the new silver and black Jedi in town.

“We won one year in Jacksonville, so if Tuck comes in and says something, I’m going to listen … regardless if it’s against what I want to do or not,” Jones-Drew said. “They know what it takes to get to that next level, so you’ve got to be selfess and listen. And I think we’ve got a lot of guys that are doing that and it’s awesome.”

But will it translate into more than moral victories?
NAPA, Calif. -- It's only been three years since Chimdi Chekwa came into the NFL as a fourth-round pick of the Oakland Raiders. Yet he's already had so many ups and downs as a player you could not blame him if the frustration became too much to bear.

Consider: After recovering from a wrist injury in his final season at Ohio State that had him wondering if he'd ever play football again, Chekwa dislocated a shoulder in his first padded NFL practice ... hitting a pad. Then he was flip-flopped from cornerback to safety and back again before being cut at the end of his second training camp and then being stashed on the Raiders' practice squad.

Last year, he appeared in a career-high 15 games, mostly on special teams, as he bulked up. Now, he is one of just nine Al Davis draft picks remaining on the Raiders' 90-man training camp roster, along with free safety Charles Woodson, kicker Sebastian Janikowski, offensive lineman Kevin Boothe, running back Darren McFadden, strong safety Tyvon Branch, center Stefen Wisniewski, cornerback Taiwan Jones and receiver Denarius Moore (long-snapper Jon Condo and fullback Marcel Reece were both free agents).

But perhaps most impressive, Chekwa is in line to start at cornerback, in place of the injured DJ Hayden as the No. 12 overall pick of the 2013 draft recovers from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right foot.

"I'm very comfortable," Chekwa said following practice Thursday. "It was a difficult road but that's what builds character in the individual. When you're out there and you're having a difficult time out there, that's what helps you dig deep and be able to finish plays. It's all part of my road to doing what I want to do out here, so I'm comfortable."

And he's been raising eyebrows along the way as a pleasant surprise.

"He did some things in the spring that we were impressed with," coach Dennis Allen said. "Since I've gotten here, he's continued to get better and better every day.

"He's very, very valuable to us on special teams, so if he continues to improve, I think Chimdi's a guy that can help us this year."

Thursday, Chekwa nearly picked off Matt Schaub on a pass to receiver James Jones. Instead, he batted the ball away. With every rep, you can see Chekwa's body language growing with confidence.

He's at peace with his station in life -- the 25-year-old was married this past summer -- and with the way his skill set fits into Allen's vision for the Raiders secondary.

"We play some zone where you can see [the ball] and break," Chekwa said. "We play some man where you can get up there and press. I like to mix it up. That's what I did in college.

"To be honest, I think I can do it all. But I think one of my strengths is breaking on the ball, attacking the receiver, attacking the ball."

Yes, he has been taking advantage of the in-house tutoring afforded by the bump-and-run master himself, Willie Brown. And taking the lessons onto the field as well.

"If I didn't get better today, then I didn't accomplish anything," Chekwa said.

"I want to be here, so I'm going to do everything I can to stay here."

Raiders Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
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NAPA, Calif. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming of of Oakland Raiders training camp:
  • Charles Woodson has always been a fan favorite of Raider Nation and he endeared himself further on Thursday. First, he celebrated mightily an interception of Matt Schaub along the left sideline by running into the stands to revel in the pick with the fans. It was a high-arcing floater that was easily Schaub's worst throw of camp, granted, in real time he would have been sacked by Khalil Mack so he threw up a duck instead. One play later, Woodson picked off Schaub again, stepping in front of a bullet to the left flat, and, yes, taking it to the house for a , wait for it, pick-six. "I know how this whole thing is going to work," bristled Raiders coach Dennis Allen. "Anytime Schaub throws an interception, everybody's going to want to try to hit the panic button and act like the sky is falling ... I'll let you guys push the panic button. I'm not going to. He's still doing a great job." So there.
  • It was the third straight practice in pads -- the Raiders were off Tuesday -- and it was also the chippiest and hardest-hitting practice of camp thus far. No, there have not been any fights ... yet, but we finally got a glimpse of rookie linebacker Khalil Mack's power. Tight end Mychal Rivera had the task of blocking Mack on a handoff to Darren McFadden, but Mack popped Rivera so hard he ran into McFadden in the backfield.
  • Austin Howard returned to practice a day after leaving early with a tight back and showed no ill effects. In fact, the 6-foot-7, 330-pounder looked the part of an absolute beast as a pulling right guard. In one drill, he swallowed up Mack and cleared space for Maurice Jones-Drew to pick up a sizeable gain.
  • A day after LaMarr Woodley gave right tackle Menelik Watson the business, fellow defensive end Justin Tuck was putting on an exhibition against left tackle Donald Penn. Yes, you could say the defense won the day, because besides Woodson's two picks of Schaub, safety Brandian Ross also had an interception of rookie Derek Carr. And rookie Jonathan Dowling had an interception in individual drills. Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver was more than pleased following practice.
  • Linebacker Kaelin Burnett called his hard hit on running back George Atkinson III a "get-back shot" for a blow the rookie delivered to Burnett a few days earlier on what was supposed to be a slower walkthrough kickoff return drill. "I said, ‘I'm going to get him back,'" Burnett said with a smile. "Nah, we're all just out here competing to make us all better."
  • Receiver Juron Criner (hamstring), linebackers Kaluka Maiava (hamstring) and Marshall McFadden (hip) and safety Usama Young (quad) worked on the side with a trainer before practice. Receiver Greg Little (hamstring) did not participate, nor did defensive lineman Antonio Smith, who underwent sports hernia surgery this offseason and tweaked his groin on Wednesday. Defensive lineman C.J. Wilson (hamstring) came off the non-football injury list and practiced for the first time.
  • The Raiders practice again Friday at 3 p.m. PT

Camp preview: Oakland Raiders

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
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» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Paul Gutierrez examines the three biggest issues facing the Oakland Raiders heading into training camp.

Matt Schaub: Dennis Allen told anyone who would listen this offseason that Schaub, a two-time Pro Bowler who once passed for 4,770 yards but is coming off a nightmarish final season in Houston, is a top-10 quarterback. And even if a project by ESPN.com found that NFL insiders ranked Schaub 25th in the 32-team NFL, that will not dissuade Allen. Far from it. Schaub is his guy. Still, the question of Schaub's confidence after he threw 14 interceptions (with four pick-sixes in four straight games) and lost his job with the Texans will continue to hound Schaub and the Raiders until he proves it is not an issue. To his credit, Schaub, who looked impressive in the offseason non-padded practices open to the media, insists it's in the past. Besides, a change of scenery might do wonders for him. It's not like the Raiders are putting everything on the 10-year veteran; a running attack spearheaded by Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew should get the play-action passing game going … unless Schaub is shot. Which brings us to the intriguing figure that is Derek Carr, Oakland's second-round draft pick who was elevated to second string in minicamp. But Allen appears ready to ride or die with Schaub, for better or worse.

Khalil Mack: You could say that Mack, whom many saw as the most versatile defensive player in the draft, simply fell into the Raiders' lap at No. 5 overall. And that would be just fine with Oakland. Because in remaking the defense, Allen has compared Mack to Denver Broncos All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, whom Allen coached as a rookie. If Mack, who has stepped in at strongside linebacker, shows a smidgen of Miller's pass rushing acumen -- 35 sacks in 40 career games -- the Raiders have a cornerstone. Mack's blend of size, speed and athleticism were evident in the offseason workouts as he appeared to be a physical marvel with quick feet and balance. Alas, the game will change in camp when the pads come on. No, he's not nervous; Mack is looking forward to knocking heads with the pros. Or did you miss his declaration that he is most looking forward to sacking the Broncos' Peyton Manning? Mack has impressed the staff and teammates alike by constantly being in veterans' ears, picking the brain of players such as Justin Tuck. Mack is a sponge. Yes, similar praise was heaped upon Rolando McClain when the middle linebacker was drafted in 2010. This just feels different.

D.J. Hayden: The Raiders were impressed enough with Hayden to make him their top pick last year, even though he was still recovering from the practice injury to his heart at the University of Houston that nearly killed him. After an up-and-down rookie season that ended with a trip to injured reserve, Hayden again hit a speed bump. This time, he missed the second and third organized team activities (OTAs) sessions as well as minicamp due to a sprained ankle. Allen has said that the only player he expects to be a question mark health-wise entering camp is offensive lineman Lucas Nix. But with so many hopes tied into Hayden -- he was penciled in to start at right cornerback -- his injury history has to have Oakland worried. Even if he is a full go at the start of camp, he missed valuable reps in the offseason. Sure, Hayden got mental reps, but they are not nearly as important or effective, especially for a player who many in the organization see as a bonus draft pick since he appeared in only eight games (two starts) last season.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- So what, exactly, is the Oakland Raiders' reputation across the NFL, according to three of the teams’ more respected free-agent veteran signees?

“Man, the impression was they had a lot of talented players but they couldn’t finish,” receiver James Jones said Tuesday, the first day of the Raiders’ voluntary offseason workout program. Jones spent the first seven years of his NFL career with the Green Bay Packers.

Tuck
Jones
Jones
“Obviously, the record speaks for itself. I wasn’t part of the team back then but as we talked today, 4-12 is not good enough. When we played the Raiders in the past, we’re kind of putting that ‘win’ on the board already. Now, everybody’s got to look at their self in the mirror and we’ve got to understand that we really don’t get no respect, and you’re not going to get no respect when you’re 4-12, so we’ve got to go out there and take it this year. And I believe we’ve got the right guys to do it.”

The Raiders have been among the more busy teams since the new league year began on March 11, having signed 12 free agents and acquiring a new quarterback in Matt Schaub in a trade with the Houston Texans.

Granted, most of the new guys are on the backside of their careers, but to a man they believe they still have a lot in the tank, while acknowledging they have a lot to prove.

“You hear, 'This is a great team, in 2009,'" offered running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who had been with the Jacksonville Jaguars since 2006. "Whatever."

There are more chips on these guys’ shoulders, though, than questions ... or whatevers.

"Being a fan of the Raiders," added Jones-Drew, who grew up in the East Bay and still lives in Oakland, "I was always envious of Darren (McFadden) because he got to wear that (silver and black) jersey and he played well, when healthy.

"We brought the right guys in."

Meaning drama-free vets with championship pedigrees, so to speak. And a knack for knowing how to win, as defensive end Justin Tuck's two Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants attest.

And yes, Tuck thought the same as Jones when it came to the Raiders, who have not had a winning season since 2002 and are coming off consecutive 4-12 seasons.

"I would say 'talented,' but hadn’t played together as far as knowing how to win," Tuck said of the recent Raiders. "Beating themselves a little bit. Just like the game up (in New Jersey) last year. They had an opportunity to win, but they couldn’t close it out. That’s the M.O., I guess."

That’s what the veterans were brought to Oakland to do -- reverse the course and teach the team how to win.

“That’s our mentality,” said Tuck, who envisions the Raiders making like last season’s Kansas City Chiefs, who were 11-5 a year after going 2-14.

“A lot of people always say you go to Oakland for your career to die. I’m not looking at it like that. I’m looking at it like this is an opportunity to revive a storied franchise in a city with a great fan base behind this football team. The energy and excitement around this football team should be good. I’m excited about it.”

The biggest question regarding the Oakland Raiders signing free-agent running back Maurice Jones-Drew to a three-year contract on Friday is this: How exactly do they plan to use him in their retooled offense? As the bellcow? In tandem? As insurance?

Jones-Drew said he was told by the Raiders he was coming in to compete.

"We have different running abilities," he said in a conference call Friday. "But the competition is what's going to make us better. We'll push each other."

He joins a crowded if somewhat unsettled backfield.

Since being the No. 4 overall draft pick in 2008, Darren McFadden has been the Raiders' starter ... when healthy. And Oakland re-signed him to an incentive-laden deal to do just that in 2014, even though he has missed 19 of the Raiders' previous 41 games and has never played more than 13 games in a season.

The Raiders are also high on Latavius Murray, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury after being drafted in the sixth round. Plus, they signed Canadian Football League Grey Cup MVP Kory Sheets, and the Raiders still have Jeremy Stewart on the roster.

Or, as Murray tweeted:

Jones-Drew, a diminutive three-time Pro Bowler who has a lot of mileage on his powerful legs, has had health issues himself of late. It just so happens that in the past two seasons, those injuries occurred in Oakland.

In 2012, after holding out in the preseason, the 5-foot-8, 205-pound Jones-Drew broke his left foot on the Jaguars' second play from scrimmage against the Raiders in Week 7 and did not play another down all season. He underwent what he termed "major" surgery that offseason.

Last season, Jones-Drew sprained his left ankle on a touchdown-saving flying tackle by Charles Woodson in the first quarter of the Week 2 game.

"It was a hell of a tackle," Jones-Drew said, "there's nothing I can say."

Jones-Drew, 29, missed the rest of that game but played the rest of the season, rushing for 803 yards while averaging a career-low 3.4 yards per carry. His previous low was his 4.2 in 2008.

"I feel like I have a ton left in the tank," he said, and maybe splitting time with McFadden would keep both off the injury report. Or perhaps it limits their efficiency and productivity in smaller-than-usual roles.

Whatever the case may be, Jones-Drew grew up in the East Bay a fan of the Raiders, prepped at high school powerhouse De La Salle and has lived in the Bay Area every offseason since Jacksonville selected him in the second round of the 2006 draft out of UCLA. Playing home games in front of his grandmother now, he said, would be a bonus.

Jones-Drew said the other teams that reached out to him wanted him to join them in a mentor role, or as a backup.

"But the Raiders," he said, "gave me an opportunity to compete.

"It just feels like home."
Three-time Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew is scheduled to make a free-agent visit with the Oakland Raiders on Friday, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported.

Jones-Drew
Some might see it as a curious development, in that the Raiders’ current biggest needs are on the interior of the defensive line and at cornerback.

But the bowling ball-like Jones-Drew, who grew up near Oakland and went to high school at powerhouse De La Salle, would also bring explosiveness to the running game ... so long as he stays healthy.

He missed 10 games in 2012 and one last season, after a flying tackle by the Raiders’ Charles Woodson, and is coming off a career-low 3.4 yards per carry average with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He rushed for 803 yards and five touchdowns in 2013.

Still, the Raiders do have questions at running back as they re-signed the oft-injured -- but just as tantalizing and teasing -- Darren McFadden, who has averaged 3.3 yards per carry the past two seasons. They are hoping for big things from Latavius Murray, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury after being a sixth-round draft pick. Oakland also signed Kory Sheets, the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup MVP.

Jones-Drew, 29, was a first-team All-Pro in 2011 after leading the league with 1,606 yards rushing. He played for current Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson when Olson was the Jaguars’ assistant head coach/QB coach in 2012.
Reggie McKenzieAP Photo/Johnny VyOakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie is doing what he can to bring in veteran leaders.
What started out as nothing short of embarrassing -- the Rodger Saffold debacle -- has leveled out quite nicely for the Oakland Raiders and third-year general manager Reggie McKenzie, thank you very much.

No, McKenzie has not made what Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece called for the weekend before free agency began, when he told me he wanted McKenzie to eschew "safe" signings in favor of "smart, calculated, fearless, Raider-ass moves."

As in bold, outside-the-box transactions that would make opponents once again quake in their cleats at the thought of the Silver and Black. But anyone who thought McKenzie was going to make a splash, like some reckless spendthrift at worst or high-stakes poker player at best, with the near $65 million in salary-cap space was simply not paying attention.

Besides his words -- he said last year he was not necessarily going shopping at Macy’s -- his actions have had a decided "Moneyball" feel to them, almost as if the bargain-hunting ways for undervalued vets of the Raiders' Coliseum co-tenants, Major League Baseball's Athletics, have been transferred to McKenzie from Billy Beane by some sort of East Bay osmosis.

For the Oakland faithful, then, the Raiders losing free agents Jared Veldheer, Lamarr Houston and Rashad Jennings was akin to the A’s saying adios to the likes of Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada and Barry Zito. Kind of.

And with that as your backdrop, and in not only signing eight veteran free agents, plus re-signing three of their own in safeties Charles Woodson and Usama Young and running back Darren McFadden, and acquiring quarterback Matt Schaub in a trade for a sixth-round draft pick before he restructured his contract to make it more cap-friendly this season, McKenzie is following his blueprint to a T.

Now, whether that translates to something better than a third straight 4-12 record remains to be seen. But McKenzie is doing what he set out to do, Saffold be damned.

"What we're trying to do is add some veteran leadership, guys who have some production, and just make sure we upgrade this team," McKenzie told the Bay Area News Group last week. "And that's the bottom line, trying to upgrade the team through production and the leadership."

Defensive end Justin Tuck comes with two Super Bowl rings and turns 31 on March 29. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley has a ring in two trips to the Super Bowl and turns 30 in November. Receiver James Jones beat Woodley in the Super Bowl and he turns 30 on March 31.

Offensive linemen Kevin Boothe, originally a Raiders draft pick who won two rings with the New York Giants, and Donald Penn, a Pro Bowl left tackle, both turn 31 before the season opens.

[+] EnlargeJustin Tuck sacks Kirk Cousins
AP Photo/Julio CortezThe Raiders hope Justin Tuck still has something left in the tank.
Defensive end Antonio Smith, who has 27 sacks the past five seasons and has gone to a Pro Bowl, turns 33 in October, while cornerback Tarell Brown, who has started 42 of his past 45 games, is 29 and right tackle Austin Howard, seen as a rising star on the line with only two sacks allowed last season, is the relative babe at 27.

Even Schaub -- a two-time Pro Bowler who was due to make $11 million this season before the restructure lowered his base salary for 2014 but still enables him to make between $15 and $20 million the next two years, per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter -- turns 33 in June.

"I definitely can see Matt Schaub being the quarterback of the Oakland Raiders for more than just a year or two," coach Dennis Allen said. "You look at Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, all these guys are beginning to get up there in age, so I think that [Schaub] can play for a while."

Yes, things have quieted down a bit around the Raiders' compound since that initial Saffold fiasco angered more than a few at 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway and had more wondering what, exactly, McKenzie was doing in the initial hours of free agency. He had lost the Raiders' two best free agents in Veldheer and Houston and agreed to a massive five-year, $42.5 million deal, with $21 million guaranteed, with an injury-prone right guard in Saffold before the Raiders medical staff flunked him with a bad shoulder and the deal was off.

With McKenzie already having a bad run with injured players in drafting D.J. Hayden last year as well as acquiring a sore-armed quarterback in Matt Flynn, throwing so much cash at an offensive lineman who may have required surgery and missed the offseason programs was too much to stomach.

And while one report had owner Mark Davis vetoing the Saffold deal amid rumors of "buyer's remorse," a Raiders source told ESPN.com that Davis merely let his feelings be known that he was not entirely on board with signing another injured player, but the personnel staff could do whatever it, ahem, liked.

Semantics? No doubt. But this much is true: McKenzie has rebounded after a rough start to free agency two weeks ago and stayed his course as he and Allen prepare for what could be a make-or-break season for both.

"The good news is that we've had some experience in that area," Allen said of roster turnover. "When you look at the guys that we're bringing in here, they're guys that have been a part of championship teams and they understand what it takes to win and win at a high level in this league. They're guys that can help us bring along some of these young players that we feel like have a chance to develop into good football players for us.

"It's a challenge, but that's the fun part."

It was 1960s activist Jack Weinberg who made popular the slogan, "Don't trust anyone over 30." McKenzie, though, is seemingly putting all of the Raiders' trust there ... and in guys about to turn 30. It's part of his plan, for better or worse.
The Oakland Raiders have lost what many saw as their top three unrestricted free agents in left tackle Jared Veldheer, who is headed to the Arizona Cardinals, defensive end Lamarr Houston, who is going to the Chicago Bears, and running back Rashad Jennings, who Tweeted he was in line to play for the New York Giants.

Plus, the Raiders are set to pay oft-injured offensive lineman Rodger Saffold a contract worth $42.5 million, with $21 million guaranteed, over five years, and they re-signed oft-injured running back Darren McFadden to a one-year deal worth up to $4 million.

Fans are scratching their heads. Especially in light of comments made by general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen this offseason.

Asked in January if he felt “good” about the chances of both Houston and Veldheer returning, McKenzie said simply, “Yes, I do.”

Allen was more expansive about Houston at the NFL combine, saying, “He’s certainly one of the guys we would like to have back. Anytime you have a young player that has the potential to continue to get better, and there were some things he was able to do this year ... he’s really a multi-dimensional player. He plays the run really well and he also has the ability to affect the passer, although he hasn’t had huge sack numbers throughout his career, he has been up there as far as pressuring the quarterback and being able to get hits on the quarterback. He’s certainly one of the guys that we want to try and get back.”

Asked if Jennings was somebody he wanted to retain, McKenzie said, “Yes.”

But when asked about McFadden, McKenzie gave the impression the Raiders were done with him. “Darren’s going to be a free agent and there’s been communication with his agent, [who’s] going to see what his market is,” McKenzie said. “And that’s the thing, when you’re talking about the games that he’s missed. He has no idea ... what his market value will be and I couldn’t tell you what the other 31 teams think, and his agent is leaning toward trying to figure out what that its. So, we’ll see.”

McKenzie, who entered free agency with nearly $65 million in salary cap space, has seemingly gone against everything he’s said on the record regarding his key free agents.

Of course, no personnel person worth their salt is going to let you know exactly what they’re thinking. That affects bargaining power, right? Then again, with the Raiders’ moves on the first day of free agency, it’s hard to figure out exactly what McKenzie is thinking ... unless, of course, Veldheer, Houston and Jennings simply wanted to move on.

But Veldheer’s mother Tweeted out the following to inquisitive fans:



and this:



and this:



and finally, this:



Oh, and keep in mind what McKenzie said about Charles Woodson, who has also made it clear he wants to return to Oakland: “I thought he was very solid and could contribute and I told him so. And I told him I would like to talk about getting him back here.”

Stay tuned.

Free-agency primer: Raiders

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: LT Jared Veldheer, DE Lamarr Houston, RB Rashad Jennings, FS Charles Woodson, CB Tracy Porter, RB Darren McFadden

Where they stand: With 17 remaining unrestricted free agents -- Oakland re-signed offensive tackle Khalif Barnes last week -- the Raiders chose not to use the franchise tag on Veldheer or Houston. That should not surprise anyone; general manager Reggie McKenzie said he wanted to avoid using it, and Veldheer said he did not want to be tagged. With nearly $65 million in cap space, the Raiders are primed to be players during free agency. They need help especially on the defensive line -- all four starters are free agents -- and in the secondary, and ditto with both cornerbacks and the free safety. The primary need on defense is a prototypical edge rusher.

What to expect: As McKenzie said last year, just because he has money to spend does not mean he’s going shopping at Macy’s. And as he restated this year, just because he has money does not mean he’s going to spend it on junk. True, it’s time for McKenzie to make like Macklemore and “pop some tags,” but don’t expect him to break the bank. He’ll use the money judiciously, and although the Raiders have the most cap space, they also have the most needs. It makes sense for Oakland to find a veteran quarterback to serve as a bridge, of sorts, while McKenzie strengthens to team around said quarterback, someone the staff trusts and already knows. Targets could include Josh Freeman, Josh McCown and Mark Sanchez (if and when the Jets cut him). Defensively, Jared Allen could fit the bill at defensive end.

Raiders sign Jones to extension

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
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Oakland Raiders special teams ace Taiwan Jones, who has made the transition from running back to cornerback and back again, signed a three-year contract extension to keep him with the Raiders through 2017, the team announced Monday.

Jones
Jones, a Raiders fourth-round pick (No. 125 overall) in 2011 out of Eastern Washington, went to Deer Valley High in nearby Antioch.

“I was excited when they came to me about the extension,” Jones said in the release. “It is definitely a blessing for a local kid to be part of the Raiders’ turnaround. I’ve been an underdog all my life, so I think it’s very fitting for me to remain here. I’m definitely excited about it.”

Jones was being promoted for the Pro Bowl by the Raiders last year as a “gunner” and, after making the switch to cornerback last year, went back to running back when Darren McFadden, Rashad Jennings and Jeremy Stewart were all injured.

In his career, Jones has 117 yards rushing on 27 carries with six catches for 91 yards and 810 yards on 36 kickoff returns. He also has 32 special teams tackles and has recovered two fumbles.

“It’s rare to see and to know that my local team wants me to stay home, and it’s just a blessing,” Jones added. “I’m glad to be a part of it, happy to remain here and there are big things coming that I am happy to be part of it. I feel good about next year. Obviously, I was able to do a lot of good things on special teams last year. Unfortunately, I didn't make the Pro Bowl last year, but that is something I’m shooting for this year.”
Kory Sheets, the reigning Canadian Football League Grey Cup MVP and newest member of the Oakland Raiders, insists he is a different running back than the last time his name dotted an NFL roster.

“I'm a more complete player,” Sheets told ESPN radio affiliate 95.7 The Game on Friday. “Now I'm a lot more patient runner and a lot better blocker than I was back then.”

Sheets, who signed with the Raiders on Wednesday, initially came into the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Purdue in 2009, signing with the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad. The Miami Dolphins signed him to their active squad later in the season and he appeared in two games and had one carry for 5 yards. He was on the Carolina Panthers' practice squad in 2011 before heading north for two seasons with the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders.

In two years there, the 5-foot-11, 208-pound Sheets rushed for a total of 2,875 yards, on 516 carries, while averaging 5.6 yards per carry and he scored 23 rushing touchdowns. He also had 86 receptions for 781 yards and two TDs.

“I started out fourth on the depth chart,” Sheets said. “I went up there and earned a starting role and basically had great success and never looked back.”

He rushed for a Grey Cup-record 197 yards, on 20 carries, with two touchdowns in Saskatchewan's 45-23 defeat of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last November.

With two of the Raiders' tailbacks unrestricted free agents -- Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings and 2013 draft pick Latavius Murray spending last year in injured reserve -- Oakland has questions at running back. And while Sheets said nothing was discussed about making him a featured back, there will be an opportunity to compete.

“I'm a runner, basically, when I get the ball in my hand it's a non-stop thing,” Sheets said. “You never know what you're really going to get when a man's trying to tackle me. It could be a stiff arm or I could try to run through a guy or shake him.”
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders are scheduled to have 18 unrestricted free agents and conversations with the agents of the players general manager Reggie McKenzie wants to retain have already begun.

Among those McKenzie is hopeful will return to Oakland next season are left tackle Jared Veldheer, defensive end Lamarr Houston, free safety Charles Woodson and running back Rashad Jennings.

[+] EnlargeMcFadden
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDarren McFadden is a player the Raiders may not bring back next season.
McKenzie, who met Thursday with six reporters who cover the team regularly, was asked if the franchise tag would be a possibility in retaining a certain player.

“It's always a possibility, yeah, but I don't like to really go there as my (first) option,” McKenzie said. “I would like to negotiate a deal. But the franchise, the transition, those tags, the franchise tag is just one of those deals that is made available for you. You don't want to use that as, 'This is our (only) option.'

“Hopefully we wouldn't need to.”

Woodson, 37, meanwhile, made it known late in the season that we wanted to return, so long as the Raiders would have him.

“I thought he was very solid and could contribute and I told him so,” McKenzie said. “And I told him I would like to talk about getting him back here.”

On whole, the defense played with 10 new starters last season and defensive linemen Jason Hunter, Vance Walker, Pat Sims and Daniel Muir, along with Houston, will be free agents, as well as cornerbacks Mike Jenkins, Tracy Porter and Phillip Adams and safety Usama Young, as well as Woodson.

So yeah, there is a feeling that the Raiders might have to start over again next season on defense, right?

“I don't think we'll have 10 new guys (again),” McKenzie said. “Hopefully there will be a few of the guys coming back and whether it's that same role or whatever, at least we'll have some guys to choose from if we can get them back. If not, we're going to upgrade.

“But the continuity part of it on defense, that's tough ... you still want to get better and if we can, if whatever that number is, six, seven, eight, it's still going to be some changes. But continuity helps, but great players and really good players will help more.”

One player McKenzie seemed ready to part with was oft-injured running back Darren McFadden.

“Darren's going to be a free agent and there's been communication with his agent,” McKenzie said. “He's going to see what his market is. And that's the thing, when you're talking about the games that he's missed, he has no idea -- and when I say ‘He,' I'm talking about his agent -- he has no idea what his market value will be and I couldn't tell you what the other 31 teams think.”

McFadden has missed 19 of the Raiders' past 41 games and 29 in his six-year career.

“And his agent is leaning toward trying to figure out what that is,” McKenzie said. “So, we'll see.”

The Raiders' other five pending UFA's: receiver/kick returner Jacoby Ford, tight end Jeron Mastrud, and offensive linemen Khalif Barnes, Tony Pashos and Andre Gurode.
McFaddenKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDarren McFadden is confident he can still be a productive running back in the NFL.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Truly, over the course of Darren McFadden's star-crossed six-year career with the Oakland Raiders, the only coach to get consistent production out of the running back was Hue Jackson.

And it began with Jackson simply asking McFadden what kind of plays he liked to run upon Jackson's arrival as the Raiders' offensive coordinator prior to the 2010 season.

Of course, a litany of injuries turned Run DMC into Limp DMC over time and Jackson, who was the Raiders' offensive coordinator under Tom Cable in 2010 and Oakland's head coach in 2011, sent packing by Reggie McKenzie altered things.

But with the Raiders apparently tired of being unable to count on McFadden, McFadden due to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11 and Jackson just promoted as the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator, might McFadden find a new home in Ohio?

“You guys know how I feel about Darren McFadden; he's still one of my favorite players,” Jackson told ESPN affiliate 95.7 The Game in San Francisco on Friday.

“What a tremendous talent. But I really like my little guy Gio [Bernard]. He had a real good season. But I don't think you can ever have too many good backs.”

The 5-foot-9, 208-pound Bernard, a second-round draft pick from North Carolina, averaged 4.1 yards per carry for 695 yards and five touchdowns and caught 56 passes for 514 yards and three scores as a rookie this past season. But he had a costly fumble for the Bengals in their wild-card weekend loss to the San Diego Chargers.

It's also interesting to note that Bernard was selected with a pick the Bengals gained from the Raiders -- in the infamous “greatest trade in football” that sent quarterback Carson Palmer from Cincinnati to Oakland.

Of course, it was a deal engineered by Jackson himself.

And it should be noted that McFadden and Palmer never ran a single play together under Jackson as McFadden, who had been playing at a league-MVP level, was lost for the season with a Lisfranc injury to his right foot before Palmer debuted.

So does Jackson still think McFadden, who missed six games this past season with an assortment of ailments, can be a game-changing player?

“I would have to be around him again but I think it's still no different with Darren,” Jackson said. “Darren is still a downhill runner, he's a one-cut runner. He has the ability to split out and catch balls and do those things but I think, with any football player, you've just got to build their confidence and let them know you believe in them and create an environment for them to be as good as they can be and normally good things happen. And I don't think it's any different with him.

“Somebody's going to get a really good football player here in the future if he doesn't stay there in Oakland and I just wish him the best.”

McFadden's agent, Ian Greengross, has represented him since the Raiders took the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up fourth overall in 2008. Greengross acknowledged his client has had injury issues, though there is a silver (and black?) lining since it's not the same injury every time.

“Unfortunately, it's always been a little knickknack of injuries here and there at different body parts,” Greengross told 95.7 The Game. “So, injury prone? Sure. I mean, unfortunately, in six years he has yet to play 16 games [in a season].”

McFadden has never appeared in more than 13 games, which he did as a rookie and in 2010. And before suiting up for the Raiders' last two games this season, he had missed 19 of Oakland's previous 39 games.

In his career, McFadden has missed 29 games with toe, knee, hamstring, toe, foot, ankle, hamstring and ankle injuries.

“I don't want to say he's unlucky, but at some point you've got to figure that he's just not going to have that bad luck,” said Greengross, who added that his agency would look into McFadden's history to see if his offseason training program should be modified. “It's not like there's one weak spot that's always being injured and will never be healthy.”

Greengross said McFadden would “certainly love” to return to Oakland but that no conversations had taken place.

“He's always been a Raider at heart, he's never looked to leave so he would certainly come back,” Greengross said. “A lot's going to depend upon the circumstances and how he sees [himself] fitting in, and how they see him fitting in. And certainly we'd probably be wise to talk to some other teams as well once free agency begins.”

Even if the Raiders did have interest, McFadden's price tag would seemingly have to be lower than the $5.8 million he made this past season, when he also had a salary-cap number of $9.6 million and ended with a second consecutive per-rush average of 3.3 yards -- equaling his career low.

But under Jackson, McFadden's average went from 3.4 the year before Jackson arrived to 5.2 and then 5.4.

“When they ran that straight power [blocking scheme], for running backs that had 200 or more carries over those two seasons in total, Darren led the league in rushing average,” Greengross said.

But since then, with the Raiders going back to more of a zone-blocking scheme in 2012 and a combo this past season? Not so much.

“As long as he gets a little hole, I know that speed is still there,” Greengross said. “Even though he hasn't been out there as much as he would have liked to be because of the injures, the one thing the injuries haven't done is taken away that speed.”

And yes, Greengross said McFadden is open to playing a complementary role.

Which brings us back to Jackson and the Bengals -- when the time is right, of course.

“I think Darren can play with anybody,” Jackson said. “If it's the Darren McFadden that I used to know, there's no question -- whether it's in Cincinnati, Oakland or San Francisco or anywhere. He's talented enough to play anywhere in the National Football League.”

But will he be healthy enough?

Oakland Raiders season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 30
Preseason Power Ranking: 29

Biggest surprise: Now, no one is suggesting that Matt McGloin is the Raiders’ quarterback of the future, but the undrafted rookie who initially joined Oakland as a fourth-stringer and training camp arm did acquit himself well in starting six games and appearing in relief in another. So much so that coach Dennis Allen said McGloin has a future in Oakland, even if it’s not as the heretofore mentioned QB of the future. What the Raiders may have lost in athleticism when McGloin replaced Terrelle Pryor was gained in pocket presence. McGloin’s skill set simply fit the type of offense the Raiders wanted to run this season.

Biggest disappointment: It seems harsh to pinpoint a rookie who nearly died the previous time he stepped on a football field, but that’s the bull’s-eye the Raiders placed on cornerback D.J. Hayden when they selected him 12th overall -- and said they would have used the No. 3 pick on him if they were unable to trade down -- despite his heart issues. Hayden was playing catch-up from Day 1 and seemed overmatched by the speed of the game at times. A groin injury ended his season after just eight games and one interception. Only because expectations are so high for an early first-rounder does Hayden surpass oft-injured running back Darren McFadden in this category.

Biggest need: Let’s start with the obvious and continue down the list: a franchise quarterback, or at least, a vet who can bridge the gap to said franchise QB. Neither Pryor nor McGloin is that guy. And while defensive end Lamarr Houston did an admirable job switching from the left side to the right and had a team-high six sacks, the Raiders also need a pure beast of a speed rusher. The Raiders could also use a playmaking wide receiver, because while Rod Streater and Andre Holmes flashed as possession pass catchers, they are not your prototypical playmakers, either. An offensive lineman would do as well. Maybe even a center, that way Stefen Wisniewski could move back to left guard. Of course, the biggest O-line need is to re-sign left tackle Jared Veldheer.

Team MVP: When Rashad Jennings signed as McFadden’s backup, you knew Jennings simply had to bide his time before McFadden went down to injury. He did, and Jennings made the most of his opportunity, leading the Raiders with 733 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns, including an 80-yard TD scamper on a direct snap at Houston, and averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Jennings also caught a career-high 36 passes for 292 yards and blocked a punt. Perhaps most impressive: He never fumbled the ball and his 2.2 yards per carry after first contact ranked second in the NFL. Jennings, who will be an unrestricted free agent, missed one game in tying a career high with 15 games played, starting eight.

 

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