Oakland Raiders: LaMarr Woodley

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders' offseason workouts began on April 22. They concluded Thursday with the end of a mandatory three-day minicamp.

So what did Dennis Allen, entering his third season as the Raiders' head coach, glean from nearly two months of being around his team as it begins its reconstruction in earnest, especially with training camp about five weeks away?

Consider: Every Raiders draft pick is signed and every Raiders player under contract was in attendance for the minicamp. No contract haggling, squabbling or unnecessary drama.

"I like the direction we're headed as a football team," Allen said. "I think we've got a group of guys that are committed to winning. I think they're committed to this organization, and I think we have a lot of guys who have a lot to prove. That's an exciting thing for a football coach. That's an exciting thing for these football players.

"So I like our direction, I like our commitment and we've just got to keep working."

An infusion of veteran talent with past success, especially on the defensive side of the ball, such as Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith -- as well as Oakland taking linebacker Khalil Mack with the No. 5 overall draft pick -- has given the team a new identity.

And on offense, the Raiders have a seasoned, new quarterback in Matt Schaub and a hot prospect in second-round draft pick Derek Carr, who has overtaken Matt McGloin as Oakland's second-string signal-caller.

Injury-wise, guard Lucas Nix (knee) is the only player Allen sees as potentially missing the start of training camp, even though cornerback D.J. Hayden (foot) participated in just one organized team activities (OTAs) session and linebacker Kevin Burnett (ankle) and Smith (undisclosed) missed them all while recovering from injuries.

Allen was asked if there was a palpable feel on the practice field that this was, indeed, a better team than he had the previous two years.

"I don't think there's any question you can feel that," Allen said. "You guys have been around here too, so I think you've seen these practices around here for a while.

"I think we've had an outstanding offseason and I think our team from the day that we started the offseason program to where we're at now, we've improved tremendously. But we've still got to go out there and do it when we get to training camp and do it when we get to the regular season."
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- For LaMarr Woodley, part of the allure of signing with the Oakland Raiders after seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers was the chance to be on the ground floor of building something special.

But surely, it's a thin line between being something special and being a rebuilding project. After all, the Raiders are coming off consecutive 4-12 seasons and will also face the toughest schedule in the NFL in 2014.

Woodley
Woodley
And yet, there was still a special appeal for Woodley.

"After going back and looking at the film of the Raiders last year," Woodley said this week, "they were in ... a lot of games; they just didn't finish."

Indeed, the Raiders had second-half leads against Indianapolis, Washington, the New York Giants, Tennessee, Dallas and were also tied at halftime against Kansas City and San Diego ... and lost all seven of those games.

"I felt like during this offseason, they went and brought guys that ... knew how to finish games," Woodley added. "You bring that in here with the attitude that a lot of these players have and this team has and, I think, you go to the next level."

Which is why the Raiders made a concerted effort to sign veterans with championship pedigrees like Woodley, who played in a pair of Super Bowls with the Steelers and won a ring in his second season.

So Woodley is making no apologies for his take that the Raiders, these rebuilding Raiders who have not tasted the postseason since the 2002 season, are a playoff team.

"Anybody that plays this sport, that should be their main objective," Woodley said. "If you come in here and just say, ‘I just want to be 8-8,' I wouldn't want you part of my team. Anybody on this team, the objective ... should always be the top and and say, ‘Man, I want to win the Super Bowl.' Anything less, I wouldn't want you on my team.

"That's the winning attitude. That's the attitude you need to have ... if not, I wouldn't want to play with you."

The Raiders are also getting a former Pro Bowl veteran who will be re-inventing himself in his eighth season.

Woodley, who played left outside linebacker in the Steelers' 3-4 defense, is going back to his college position as a defensive end in the Raiders' scheme.

"The biggest difference for him is that he'll have his hand in the ground on the majority of the downs as opposed to standing up," said coach Dennis Allen. "But, all the things we're going to ask him to do, he's done at some point in his career. It's a great opportunity for him. He's excited about it, and we're certainly excited about it.

"We're looking forward to seeing what he can do as a 4-3 defensive end."

It is likely the 6-foot-2, 266-pound Woodley stays on the left side with Justin Tuck moving to the right defensive end spot.

Woodley's production the past few years has gone down, his sack totals going from 10 to nine to four to five, and he blamed it on an assortment of injuries -- calf, high ankle sprain, hamstring. Now?

"I'm ready to go right now," he said, "and haven't been having those issues."
Howie Long may have spent only one of his 13 Hall of Fame seasons in Oakland -- the other 12 years were when the Raiders called Los Angeles home -- but he still keeps tabs on the East Bay goings-on by his old team, and likes what he’s seen thus far this offseason.

I caught up with Long on the phone Wednesday for my upcoming book, “100 Things Raiders Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die,” and I also got the eight-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman’s take on current issues surrounding Oakland.

His eldest son, Chris, was the No. 2 overall pick of the 2008 NFL draft and is a standout defensive end with the St. Louis Rams, while his middle son, Kyle, was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie right guard last season with the Chicago Bears. His youngest, Howie Jr., works in football operations for the Oakland Raiders.

So, yeah, Long feels a certain kinship with Raiders owner Mark Davis.

“I’m really happy for Mark,” said Long, who is a longtime NFL host on Fox. “Having sons that are following a famous dad, I understand some of the pressures that we are under and he is under. He’s smart enough to understand the history [of the franchise], but he’s also smart enough to know what he doesn’t know. He wants to put the team in the best position to succeed. We had dug ourselves a big hole.”

Yes, Long said “we” and was referring to the salary-cap hell faced by his former teammate, general manager Reggie McKenzie, as well as a dearth of draft picks. Long said the Raiders had to take “four steps back just to get even” over the past few years.

And with Oakland going out and signing a cast of veterans who may have already seen their best days but still seemingly have something left in the tank, Long sees a certain similarity to the Raiders’ halcyon days when they found the likes of Ted Hendricks, John Matuszak, Jim Plunkett and Lyle Alzado.

“At a good price,” Long said of the current Raiders’ relatively cheap signings of Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith and James Jones.

“But you build through the draft. Would they have liked to have gotten that big receiver? Sure. But I don’t think they could have scripted it any better. To get [Khalil] Mack and then the quarterback [Derek Carr] in the second round? Wow, that kid throws a good ball.”

And after saying the Raiders’ offensive line and quarterback situations were “all over the place” last season, Long added, “now, it’s stable.

“I really like the direction we’re heading. We’ve got to get a stadium, though. That’s paramount. That’s paramount to success. Playing half your games on a baseball field? That was fine in 1981, when a number of teams were doing it.”

Long laughed. Oakland is the lone team in the 32-team NFL to share a stadium with a Major League Baseball team. In Long’s rookie season of 1981, 15 of the NFL’s then-28 teams shared a stadium with an MLB franchise.

Long, whose 84 sacks rank second in franchise history to Greg Townsend’s 107.5, even as the sack did not become an official statistic until Long’s second season, also had a challenge for current Raiders players.

“You want to be rich? You want to be famous? Win in that uniform,” he said. “That brand is as good as it gets.

“I’m a Raider for life, and I don’t apologize for it. That may be hard for some people to understand. But that’s how it is.”

 

Raiders set to open OTAs

May, 27, 2014
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders made a concerted effort to rebuild both of their lines this offseason, as well as to bring in quality veterans with championship pedigrees.

With OTAs beginning today at the Raiders’ compound, the team will see for the first time how exactly how it coalesces.

“We’ve gotten bigger and more physical on both sides of the ball,” coach Dennis Allen said during last weekend’s rookie minicamp. “We’ve got to be able to continue to run the ball effectively as an offense. We’ve got to be able to stop the run defensively. I thought the other thing we were able to [address] up front specifically defensively is we were able to get some guys that have had the ability or have the ability to rush the passer.”

And in regards to the rings guys like Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Kevin Boothe and James Jones toted with them to Oakland?

“We brought these players in primarily because they’re good football players, but secondarily, they’ve been great leaders on the teams that they came from,” Allen said. “We expect them to come in and provide that same type of leadership in our locker room. A lot of guys that we brought in do have that championship pedigree. They understand what it takes to win a championship. They understand what it takes to have success in this league.

“They’ll have a great influence not only the young players in the locker room, but some of the other players that have been here.”

Following are the dates of the Raiders’ OTA workouts, with media access highlighted:

May 27-28, 30, June 2-3, 5, June 9-12.

Mandatory minicamp: June 17-19.

Raiders offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Oakland Raiders' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeKhalil Mack
AP Photo/Michael ConroThe Raiders were happy to land versatile linebacker Khalil Mack in the first round.
Best move: Letting the NFL draft come to them. By sitting tight in the first round, the Raiders saw playmaking linebacker Khalil Mack fall into their laps at No. 5 overall. By sitting tight in the second round, the Raiders saw their quarterback of the future fall into their laps at No. 36 overall. General manager Reggie McKenzie gets high marks for not overthinking things and staying true to his gut and drafting for need as well as snagging the best player available a year after trading down and taking injured cornerback D.J. Hayden.

Riskiest move: Call it semantics or claim that someone -- either McKenzie or the player’s mom -- was not telling the whole truth as to whether the Raiders presented a respectable offer, but the Raiders allowing left tackle Jared Veldheer to leave and reunite with quarterback Carson Palmer in Arizona was not a good way to begin free agency. In Veldheer, the Raiders had a known commodity. In his wake Oakland had to rebuild the offensive line. Replacing Veldheer was seemingly an unnecessary distraction, and though Donald Penn seems a suitable replacement, left tackle will be a need again soon enough.

Most surprising move: Getting an established, respected and accomplished veteran like two-time Super Bowl-winning defensive end Justin Tuck to buy in early and sign with a rebuilding team in the Raiders. The signing of Tuck, who put pen to paper a day after Austin Howard was signed, gave legitimacy to Oakland’s efforts in free agency and opened the doors for the likes of other vets LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith, James Jones and Maurice Jones-Drew to also choose Oakland as their destination ... without Oakland overpaying. They are all on the back ends of their careers, but they should have enough left in the tank.

About face? Early in his tenure, McKenzie spoke of signing “high character” players with little to no baggage. So it was a surprise when he spent the third day of the draft taking players with questionable pasts, be it legal spats or getting kicked out of school or off a team. It reached a crescendo with this week’s signing of oft-troubled receiver Greg Little. But McKenzie believes he has built a strong enough locker room to withstand a wild card or two. Besides, if a guy can contribute and has convinced McKenzie he has changed, he deserves another shot, right?
On one hand, most observers believe the Oakland Raiders had a good, bordering-on-great, draft. Even ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. awarded the Raiders a B+ after their haul of eight players included the likes of linebacker Khalil Mack and quarterback Derek Carr and addressed needs with value.

So how does a successful draft, combined with Oakland’s strategy of signing successful-if-older free agents, jibe with our offseason power rankings?

Well, not how you’d think ... or necessarily like.

The Raiders actually fell one spot from the season-ending power rankings, checking in at No. 31 on Tuesday. Only the Cleveland Browns were lower as they fell four spots from February.

The comment on the Raiders’ placing: “Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith, LaMarr Woodley, now Khalil Mack. ... The pieces are in place to improve Oakland’s anemic pass rush. The defense could quietly be solid next year.”

The Houston Texans, who drafted Jadeveon Clowney first overall, improved from 32nd to 26th, the third-best improvement in the poll.

You can see the entire rankings here. But if you don’t believe in such things as grading drafts before said draftees have taken one NFL snap, then an offseason power ranking based on such a thing should not get your goat either, right?
The most poignant Oakland Raiders plea leading up to the new league year last month?

No doubt it was Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece saying the weekend before free agency began that he wanted general manager Reggie McKenzie to make “Raider-ass moves” in signing players. As in, bold moves.

Reece
So, after signing 12 free agents, acquiring a new quarterback in Matt Schaub and jettisoning QB Terrelle Pryor, does Reece, the new voice of the Raiders, think McKenzie has followed through on his, ahem, advice?

“I do feel he did that,” Reece said Tuesday, the first day of voluntary offseason workouts for the Raiders.

“We weren’t looking for any saviors to come here and get in this locker room. We were looking for help. We were looking for help to bring this tradition, the winning attitude and a championship pedigree back to this organization and to the locker room and I think we did that.”

Consider: Defensive end Justin Tuck, offensive lineman Kevin Boothe, linebacker LaMarr Woodley, defensive lineman C.J. Wilson and receiver James Jones are toting a combined seven Super Bowl rings to Oakland from their time with the New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers.

Surely that has to rub off on the Raiders, no? That’s the plan.

“Like I said, it’s a certain stature and pedigree that you have, only by winning a championship,” Reece said. “Things that even leaders like myself don’t have yet. I haven’t been able to experience the playoffs or a championship, and when guys like Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, when you bring guys like that in here, especially on the defensive side of the ball, it really helps. It brings a different aspect of leadership into a locker room and into a team.”

Reece served as a recruiter for the Raiders and said left tackle Donald Penn told him Tuesday he was “tired of me texting him two or three times a day” before he eventually signed.

“Obviously, we lost out on a few guys that we wanted to keep,” Reece said, likely referring to left tackle Jared Veldheer, defensive end Lamarr Houston and running back Rashad Jennings. “But I think other than that, we were fairly successful.”

As was the turnout for the first day of workouts, even if there was no official tally.

“Very close to 100 percent,” Reece said. “A couple of guys that aren’t here, I know why they’re not here and when they’re going to show up. There’s always things that come up, it’s life. It is 100 percent in my eyes. It means a lot to me, especially the veteran guys.”

And Reece’s thoughts on Pryor being traded a day earlier to the Seattle Seahawks?

“Nothing surprises me at this point in time in my career,” Reece said. “I’ve seen a lot happen in my seven years here in the organization. Nothing surprises me. As a team, we just wish him the best and thank him for what he did here and wish him the best.”
Fans and media types alike wondered why Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie was suffering from what seemed like paralysis by analysis at the onset of free agency.

Why was McKenzie, with close to $65 million in salary-cap room, seemingly sitting out the first day or so of the frenzy, allowing the likes of division rival Denver to swoop in and sign players with aplomb, while his two best young players -- left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston -- walked?

[+] EnlargeJared Allen
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJared Allen signed a deal with Chicago that could be worth up to $32 million.
It was, the harsher critics suggested, as if McKenzie was fiddling while Silver and Blackdom burned.

But all the while there was a thought that no one wearing silver-and-black-colored glasses wanted to face: What if, no matter how financially enticing an offer, a prime free agent simply did not want to come to Oakland?

Heresy or reality?

The Raiders got a dose of that Wednesday when NFL Network reported that veteran defensive end Jared Allen passed on the largest offer he received -- a $9 million per year bid from the Raiders -- and chose instead to go to the Chicago Bears, which, ironically enough, is where Houston went.

Early in the offseason, I suggested the Raiders re-sign Houston and make a run at Allen to play on the right side, while flipping Houston back to the left, his more natural position. Seems like the two will team up after all ... just in the NFC North.

Allen chose the four-year, $32 million deal offered by the Bears, in part because he was reportedly turned off by the Raiders not having a quarterback in place at the time, though Matt Schaub was acquired shortly thereafter.

Also, McKenzie has been saying this week that Veldheer and Houston simply did not want to return to Oakland. McKenzie told the San Francisco Chronicle that he struggled with the notion.

Of course, many will say that McKenzie could have simply slapped a franchise tag on either player if he wanted them back that badly or, on the other end of the spectrum, that he low-balled the two.

None of that really matters now, though. Not when McKenzie accomplished what he set out to do by getting high-character, veteran locker room leaders who are still productive such as defensive ends Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith, linebacker LaMarr Woodley, receiver James Jones and left tackle Donald Penn.

Besides, they all did want to be in Oakland.
Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen broached many topics Tuesday in his meeting with reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla.

Among then, Allen acknowledged that the Raiders signed LaMarr Woodley, who played linebacker in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 3-4 defensive alignment, to play defensive end in Oakland’s 4-3 defense.

That the Raiders still need to add “at least” one more cornerback to the roster as well as depth to the defensive line.

That recently signed right tackle Austin Howard could be moved to right guard, and that last year’s second-round draft pick, Menelik Watson, is being counted upon to solidify right tackle.

And that there is a certain sense of urgency for Allen and his staff after consecutive 4-12 seasons.

As such, and two weeks after free agency began, it’s never too soon to forecast starting 11s on both sides of the ball, no?

LT Donald Penn – Grew up rooting for the Los Angeles Raiders, now gets to protect the quarterback’s blind side.

LG Kevin Boothe – Should be an interesting camp battle between Boothe, a Raiders draft pick in 2006, and re-signed swing man Khalif Barnes.

C Stefen Wisniewski – The rock of the offensive line.

RG Austin Howard – Has not played here in a game yet, but Raiders believe career right tackle has versatility to make it happen.

RT Menelik Watson – So much trust being placed in Watson’s ability to stay healthy.

TE Mychal Rivera – Mentioned by name as one of the Raiders’ potential foundation pieces by Allen.

WR James Jones – Veteran pass-catching presence and chain mover, if not an explosive game-changer.

WR Rod Streater – Became Oakland’s go-to guy last year, but game is similar to that of Jones. Could be Denarius Moore here, or, perhaps, a playmaking receiver they draft. Sammy Watkins, anyone?

QB Matt Schaub – Will be the Raiders’ 16th different starting quarterback since Rich Gannon took his last snap in 2004.

RB Darren McFadden – Raiders got oft-injured back who teases with his potential to return on the cheap. Latavius Murray and Kory Sheets should stay warm.

FB Marcel Reece – How do we put this delicately? The new face of the Raiders needs to touch the ball more in 2014. That is all.

DE Justin Tuck – Brings pedigree, production, rings and respect to a locker room in need of all of the above. Plus, the sweetest face mask in the NFL.

DT Antonio Smith – Yeah, he’s technically an end, but that was in the Texans’ 3-4 scheme. Humor me for a minute here.

NT Stacy McGee – Raiders are very high on last year’s sixth-round draft pick, not only for keeping his nose clean off the field but also for improving on it as a run-stuffer.

DE LaMarr Woodley – Expect longtime linebacker to put on about 10-15 pounds so he can make the conversion to hand-in-the-dirt end, which is where he played in college ... eight years ago.

SLB Sio Moore – Best draft pick of McKenzie-Allen regime thus far. But what does that mean, exactly?

MLB Nick Roach – Steady, heady player in middle of defense who should only improve in second season with Raiders.

WLB Kevin Burnett – Lots of miles on the nine-year veteran, but should have relief with improved D-line in front of him. Should be pushed by Kaluka Maiava and Miles Burris ... if they’re healthy.

CB D.J. Hayden – Like Watson, so much is expected of the second-year player, especially since he’ll have the benefit of a full offseason program this time around after missing most of it last year recovering from near-fatal freak football accident.

CB Tarell Brown – Solid, knowledgeable veteran who should solidify the side of the field opposite Hayden.

FS Charles Woodson – Both he and the Raiders believe he has something left in the tank. We’re about to find out.

SS Tyvon Branch – Limited to a game-and-a-half last year, his return would be huge for the secondary, right?
Richie Incognito as a member of the Oakland Raiders is so, well, last regime. Or have you not noticed the trend and type of player general manager Reggie McKenzie has been signing thus far this offseason?

Incognito
They are guys not only with championship pedigrees but also locker room leaders. Guys like Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley and James Jones, and yes, the re-signed Charles Woodson.

Incognito exhibits none of those traits.

Sure, the left guard is a mauler on the offensive line who would have fit in nicely on the old-school Raiders’ island of misfit toys (imagine him and Lyle Alzado going at it in practice), but McKenzie is veering away from those types of players.

Asked at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Monday if he had seen the NFL.com report in which Incognito said he was “100 percent into” the prospect of playing for the Raiders, McKenzie smiled.

“I’ve heard about it,” McKenzie said, per the Bay Area News Group.

Asked what he thought about it, McKenzie smiled and said nothing.

Asked if he was interested in Incognito, McKenzie again smiled and was mute.

From a pure playing standpoint, Incognito does have relationships with Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tony Sparano.

“I’m a loyal guy,” Incognito told NFL.com, “and I’d love to play for them again. And, of course, the Raiders have that aura.”

But again, that aura is from a different generation. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, it just is.

Because the notion of Incognito -- who may still face league discipline for his role in the bullying episode in Miami involving Jonathan Martin -- joining the Raiders gave pause to even the progeny of Al Davis.

“I’d have to think about that,” Mark Davis told reporters.

He’d probably be wise to check in with recently signed defensive end Antonio Smith, who has a longstanding feud with Incognito going back to their college days in the Big 12, a bad blood grudge that’s included kicks to the head, helmets being ripped off and more-than-salty threats.

Yeah, Incognito would be a great fit for the old Raiders ... just not McKenzie’s Raiders, who have already added offensive linemen Donald Penn, Kevin Boothe and Austin Howard, to go along with center Stefen Wisniewski, the re-signed Khalif Barnes, second-year tackle Menelik Watson, veteran right guard Mike Brisiel, Matt McCants, Lamar Mady and McKenzie's first-ever draft pick, Tony Bergstrom.

As one anonymous Raiders player told me last season when I asked which player, Incognito or Martin, he would rather have as a teammate, “Neither,” was the reply.
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.
Mike Mitchell, LaMarr WoodleyGetty ImagesIn safety Mike Mitchell and linebacker LaMarr Woodley the Steelers and Raiders hope to find free-agent steals.
LaMarr Woodley is now a Raider as he signed with Oakland last week following his release from the Steelers. The Steelers, meanwhile, made an uncharacteristic signing on the first day of free agency, bringing in Mike Mitchell to take over for Ryan Clark at free safety. Mitchell played for the Panthers in 2013 but spent his first four seasons with the Raiders.

ESPN.com Steelers writer Scott Brown and ESPN.com Raiders writer Paul Gutierrez take a closer look at Woodley and Mitchell and what their signings mean for their respective teams.

Paul Gutierrez: The Raiders had many needs entering the offseason, perhaps none greater than pass rush. They seemed to address that by signing Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, but I’m sure Raiders fans are wondering just how much Woodley, who turns 30 in November, has left in the tank?

Scott Brown: The Raiders should be getting a player who will be extremely motivated following his release by the Steelers -- and by how his career played out after they had made Woodley the highest-paid defensive player in franchise history. It proved to be a rather stunning fall from grace for Woodley, and ultimately the Steelers picked Jason Worilds, whom they had been widely criticized for drafting in the second round in 2010, over Woodley.

Woodley’s inability to stay on the field led to the Steelers making that choice, and if he can stay healthy he could turn out to be a real bargain for the Raiders. Woodley played well until a calf injury sidelined him in the second half of the last season and ultimately shut him down. What has the reaction been to the Woodley signing, and do you think the Raiders view it as a low-risk, high-reward proposition?

Gutierrez: The reaction has been one of relief from Raiders fans, especially since Tuck had signed earlier in the wake of the Rodger Saffold debacle. Now, I’m not saying it “saved” the Raiders’ free agent-signing season, but it did wash away some of the bad taste because the Raiders had a huge need at pass rush. In Woodley (57 career sacks) and Tuck (60.5 career sacks) they addressed it even if both guys will be on the wrong side of 30 come midseason. Still, Woodley and Tuck, bring a championship mentality (two Super Bowl appearances) to a franchise that has not had a winning record since 2002. And yeah, the money is right (“only” up to $12 million) as is the length of the deal (two years).

Still, there are questions about how his skill set plays into the Raiders’ base 4-3 defense since Woodley was the left outside linebacker in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme. He says he’ll play with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end in a 4-3. Do you see that as a realistic possibility, or is that too much to ask of him at this stage of his career?

Brown: Woodley should be fine moving to defensive end as that is what he played in college when he tormented quarterbacks for Michigan. The move might help him regain some of his pass-rushing mojo as Woodley won’t drop into coverage nearly as often as he did with the Steelers. I like the signing for the Raiders, especially if Woodley prepares and plays as if a fire has been lit under him. Did complacency set in after he signed the six-year, $61.5 million in 2011? It sure seems that way and maybe getting released is what Woodley needed to get his career back on track.

The Steelers normally stay on the sidelines during the first wave of free agency but they made a significant signing when they lured Mike Mitchell away from Carolina with a five-year, $25 million contract. Mitchell spent his first four seasons in Oakland and I’m curious about your impressions of him. Did he simply need a change of scenery or did things click for him last season because he played on a better team?

Gutierrez: Yeah, it’s been a couple of years since I covered Mitchell on a day-to-day basis but he definitely left an impression as one of the best interviews in the Raiders locker room, win, lose or draw. The spotlight was on him from the day Al Davis used a second-round pick on a little-known player from Ohio University. Davis had visions of another undersized, hard-hitting safety from the Buckeye State in Jack Tatum but that was a tough bar to reach. Still, he had some flashes… especially in covering San Diego tight end Antonio Gates a few years back. A change of scenery, and being with a team that had a better pass rush, definitely helped him out in Carolina. Plus, he was able to freelance more with the Panthers as a free safety, rather than on the strong side. And with his outspoken manner, gritty disposition and, yes, rep as a hard hitter, he seems to fit the mold of Raiders and Steelers' DBs of yore, even if he’s not Tatum or even Donnie Shell.

Speaking of old school, Raiders fans still refer to “IT” as the Immaculate DE-ception… so when, if ever, is Frenchy Fuqua going to tell the entire story?

Brown: I just read a tremendous book on the 1970s Steelers, “Their Life’s Work,” and it sounds like he is taking that story to his grave. I’m sure Steelers’ fans would counter that the Immaculate RE-ception is history and in the books no matter how it went down. It certainly is one of the more intriguing chapters of that storied rivalry and remains so after all of these years. What are the chances that the Raiders and Steelers turn back the clock at some point and resume meeting regularly in the playoffs as they did in the 1970s?

Gutierrez: Well, that would mean the Raiders have to get BACK to the playoffs, a place they have not visited since 2002. Realistically, I can’t see it happening in the next year or two, but in the NFL, things do change quickly. Not sure the rivalry can ever get back to the days of the ’70s, though, when the Steelers and Raiders met in three straight AFC title games, which I wrote about in January.
After getting egg on his face Wednesday, Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie went back to work on Friday, signing former Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith, along with cornerback Tarell Brown, a day after inking linebacker LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck. Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Houston Texans reporter Tania Ganguli broke down Smith leaving Houston for Oakland to the tune of a reported two-year, $9 million contract.

Paul Gutierrez: What I’m wondering, Tania, is what kind of defensive end is Smith, the prototypical edge-rusher the Raiders so desperately need, or more of a run-stuffer on the edge?

Tania Ganguli: He's better at pass rushing than run stuffing. The Texans’ scheme under Wade Phillips, one he liked to call the Phillips 3-4, featured an attacking front. Most of their pass-rushing pressure came from their defensive ends, Smith and J.J. Watt, rather than their outside linebackers. That’s not exactly by design – they would’ve loved more pressure from those edge guys – but it spoke to the skill they had at their defensive end positions. Smith is strong and can overpower opposing linemen.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Smith
George Bridges/Getty imagesAntonio Smith recorded five sacks for the Texans this past season.
How do you see the Raiders using him?

Gutierrez: As a pass-rusher/run-stuffer. Cop out, I know. But last season’s sack leader, defensive end Lamarr Houston, had six sacks and was better at stopping the run, though he left for the Chicago Bears, and the Raiders have not had anyone with double-digit sacks since 2006. Still, it is interesting that Smith, Tuck and Woodley ALL play on the left side. They still have to figure out what they’re going to do with the right side, unless they switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense. Then, all bets are off.

Many Raiders fans have been screaming for Richie Incognito to join the Raiders and shore up the offensive line. But with Smith here now, kind of hard to see it happening with the bad blood, no? Could you explain it?

Ganguli: Oh, that would be interesting. Those two have a history going all the way back to college, when both of them played in the Big 12, Incognito at Nebraska and Smith at Oklahoma State. Then they played in the same division in the pros with Smith at Arizona and Incognito at St. Louis. They know each other well and Incognito knows how to goad him. In the 2012 season opener, Incognito engaged in some shenanigans with Smith’s ankle, in Smith’s view trying to twist and/or break it. He kicked Incognito in the head as he disengaged himself and landed a $21,000 fine. The fine was reduced to $11,000 after an appeal, but still went on Smith’s permanent record with the league. When they suspended him for what they viewed as him ripping off Incognito’s helmet and using it as a weapon during the 2013 preseason, they sent him a note detailing his history of discipline. Smith was again reacting to Incognito’s shenanigans, this time with his face mask and so his face, head and neck. Again, it cost him. It wasn’t the smartest move, taking off Incognito’s helmet, but I thought the talk that he “could have killed” Incognito was a little overwrought. One thing to know about Smith: He’s not the type of guy who gets into scuffles like this with everyone he faces. This is a specific deal between those two guys.

Another thing to know about Smith: He created an alter-ego called the Ninja Assassin while in Houston. Wore a ninja mask during pregame introductions. His sack celebration was him pulling out an imaginary sword from an imaginary sheath and brandishing it. Other times he’d say he was Tonestradamus, and make predictions about whatever came into his head. He’s silly, and even in the bad times I didn’t sense Texans fans tiring of it. How do you think Raider fans will respond to that?

Gutierrez: Put it this way: Raider Nation is going to love it. Or have you not seen how every home game is Halloween on Hegenberger, what with so many costumes and characters filling the Black Hole. He will be a fan favorite, so long as he produces. That being said, how much of his success was his being on the other side of Watt, and, with Smith, a 10-year vet turning 33 in November, how much tread does the Ninja Assassin have left on his tires?

Ganguli: I should note, unless he’s changed his mind, the Ninja Assassin is dead. Smith said that if he didn’t return to Houston he was going to leave it behind and find another character. I’m sure he’d love suggestions. I think a two-year deal was smart on the part of the Raiders. He’s got plenty left right now, but beyond 2015, that’d be tough to say. I think his fit, rather than his age, is why the Texans let him go. Watt and Smith had a symbiotic relationship. Two of Smith’s most productive seasons, sack wise, came after the Texans drafted Watt, but one of those was 2011, a season during which Watt hadn’t yet turned into what he is today.

Wrapping up, Smith was always happy to help younger teammates in Houston, taking an active mentoring role with some. Can you see that developing with anyone on the Raiders' roster?

Gutierrez: Poor Ninja Assassin. My dad actually toured the Far East on a martial arts expedition with Sho Kosugi, who starred in all of those ninja movies of the early 1980s. But I digress ... to answer your question, most definitely. Sure, the Raiders went the vet route with Smith, Tuck and Woodley, but they do have high hopes for defensive end Jack Crawford, who will be entering his third season and was initially drafted in the fifth round as a project, of sorts, out of Penn State. Plus, they kept undrafted rookie Ryan Robinson a year ago over seventh-round draft pick David Bass. So if Smith is up for some mentoring, the Raiders have some young bucks who would be wise to sit and learn at his knee. So long as they don’t ask any ninja-related questions, I surmise.

Woodley: This team can be good

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
8:30
PM ET
LaMarr Woodley had a taste of what the Oakland Raiders could be last season, what with his Pittsburgh Steelers losing in Oakland.

"Just with a few pieces added to this team," Woodley said in a conference call Thursday afternoon, "this team can be a good team.

"The past few years with the salary cap and the different things going on, Oakland wasn't in the situation, really, to go out and get free agents like they can get now -- or even in the draft, they weren't able to go out and draft a bunch of new guys because of the situation it was in. But I think now coming this year, those situations have changed."

And Woodley, who was released Tuesday by the Steelers, believes he is one of those pieces after signing a two-year contract worth a maximum of $12 million to come to Oakland.

Woodley, who signed the largest contract for a defensive player in Steelers history at $61.5 million for five years in 2011, has missed 14 games over the past three years due to injuries to his calf, ankle and hamstring. After signing that contract, he responded with 7 1/2 sacks in four games, but then injured the hamstring.

Last year, he had five sacks in 11 games -- a calf injury limited him -- and his 57 career sacks rank seventh on the Steelers' all-time list.

In Pittsburgh, he played left outside linebacker in the Steelers' 3-4 alignment. In Oakland, where the Raiders have used a 4-3 scheme, he said he'll put his hand in the dirt and play defensive end.

"I don't feel like it's any different than playing a 3-4 outside linebacker, where you are still kind of the defensive end," Woodley said. "The only thing about the 3-4 scheme is that you are asked to drop back and cover receivers and you are standing up rushing. You still have to play the run, you still have to get after the quarterback, and that's no different from a 4-3 end. So, your hand is in the dirt and you're not dropping back in coverage."

Earlier in the day, the Raiders signed former New York Giants left defensive end Justin Tuck to a two-year, $11 million deal.

"I feel like we bring leadership and experience to this defense," he said. "Me and Justin both have played in two Super Bowls. He has won two, I've won one Super Bowl, but we know what it's like to be on a winning team, and we know what it takes to get there. I think that we're both proven guys, had some injuries here and there that slowed us up, but when we're 100 percent out there on the football field, we bring it, and we just try to go out there and help our team win football games.

"Sometimes when you have to change the course of the locker room a little bit; you have to bring guys in that have been there and who have won and played in Super Bowls because, at the end of the day, guys in this league want to play in a Super Bowl, they want to have that feeling, and sometimes you have to bring guys in that know how to get there. Once you bring guys in that know how to get there, now you have to get the players to follow you, and you can have a better understanding of how to get to the next level."

Woodley tweeted out the following picture:

The Oakland Raiders entertained unrestricted free agents Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley late into the night Wednesday. And if general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen were able to convince the two to sign with the Raiders, wouldn’t that take the sting out of the Rodger Saffold fiasco?

A little bit. Sure, the Raiders would still have to address their offensive line after allowing left tackle Jared Veldheer to walk and then losing Saffold to a failed physical.

But Tuck and Woodley would address an immediate need on the defensive side of the ball -- pass rush. Sure, the departed-for-the-Chicago Bears Lamarr Houston led the team with six sacks last season, but he was more of a run-stopping defensive end playing on the right side.

Tuck, meanwhile, is coming off an 11-sack season after only getting nine total the previous two years while dealing with injuries. His 60.5 career sacks ranks sixth in New York Giants history.

He does turn 31 on March 29, so he’d add a veteran presence and two Super Bowl rings. Plus, he is more than a pass-rusher, as ESPN.com Giants reporter Dan Graziano noted: “Tuck also has a reputation as a strong run defender, and has often moved inside to play defensive tackle in the famed 'NASCAR' package the Giants use when they want to load up on pass-rushers on obvious passing downs.”

Woodley, meanwhile, has 57 career sacks but is coming off a five-sack season in which a calf injury limited him to 11 games. He played left outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their 3-4 alignment, so if the Raiders stick with a base 4-3, they’d have to figure out how to best utilize his talents as Woodley has 57 career sacks in seven seasons. He turns 30 in November.

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