An offhand remark by Jerry Porter, made toward the end of a lengthy Friday practice session and loud enough to be heard by some coaches, is the foundation for the Oakland Raiders' decision Saturday to suspend the seven-year wide receiver for four games for conduct detrimental to the team, several NFL and team sources told ESPN.com.
Two league sources familiar with the basis of the suspension, and three Oakland players who participated in the practice, said Porter was one of several players who complained about the practice, which lasted more than two hours. For most teams, the Friday practice typically is a walk-through lasting 60-90 minutes.
But the winless Raiders aren't just any team right now and, given his status with the franchise, Porter isn't just another player.
With all that has transpired between Porter and the Raiders this year, and the obvious bad blood that exists between the unhappy wide receiver and beleaguered head coach Art Shell, the Friday remarks by Porter apparently were the last straw. But other Raiders veterans, those at practice said, made similar comments, and that might make it difficult for the team to defend its actions.
"That was way overboard," Warren Sapp said Sunday night after the Raiders' 13-3 loss to Denver. "There was nothing he did that warranted four games."
Another player suggested the Raiders "were looking for an excuse [to sanction Porter], and Jerry kind of [unwittingly] gave" them one. But, said the player, "it's kind of a [horsefeathers] move if they're basing it just on what he said [Friday]."
There were broadcast reports Saturday that Porter had a verbal altercation with Shell late in the week, but, according to sources, that was not the case. Both Porter and his agent, Joel Segal, declined to comment on the suspension. The Raiders announced the sanctions in a terse, 27-word statement and team officials said there would be no elaboration beyond that.
Porter, who was apprised of the Raiders' actions late Friday afternoon, will almost certainly appeal the suspension through the NFL Players Association next week. The union is likely to contend that the punishment is too severe for the kind of innocuous remark made hundreds of times every season by players complaining about practices. Sources told ESPN.com that Porter could not argue his case Friday, since he met with neither Shell nor owner Al Davis after being informed of the suspension.
If the suspension is upheld, Porter will forfeit $235,294 of his scheduled $1 million base salary. "Conduct detrimental to the team" is a fairly wide-ranging and often nebulous sanction made available to franchises under the collective bargaining agreement. The maximum penalty for conduct detrimental to the team is four games, so the Raiders suspended Porter to the full extent permitted.
After a tumultuous spring, one in which he warred with Shell and wide receivers coach Fred Biletnikoff in a much-documented incident, Porter missed the opening weeks of training camp with an injury. Porter was demoted from the starting lineup and has not dressed for any of the Raiders' four games this season.
Oakland gave Segal permission to seek a trade this summer, but his efforts have not been productive, and there does not appear to be significant interest in Porter from other teams. The league trade deadline is Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET. It is not known if the suspension might prompt the Raiders to ratchet up efforts to deal Porter or if Shell and Davis will simply "freeze" him for the entire season by deactivating him every week.
Earlier this week, Shell actually acknowledged that Porter had been doing his job, working on the "scout" team and apparently keeping his grievances private.
"He's working," Shell said. "It's not that he's not working. I've never said that he hasn't worked. He's doing what he's asked to do, and you can't ask anything more than that."
A second-round pick in the 2000 draft, Porter has averaged 70 receptions, 970 yards and seven touchdowns over the past two seasons. For his career, the former West Virginia University standout has 239 receptions, 3,215 yards and 24 touchdowns in 85 games, including 46 starts.
The Raiders re-signed Porter to a lucrative five-year contract in the spring of 2004, keeping him off the unrestricted free-agent market. But Porter has already met thresholds that permit him to void the contract after the 2007 season.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.