DURING AN online chat with commissioner Roger Goodell on NFL.com last week, Jerry McDonald, a reporter with Alameda Newspaper Group, asked the league's no-nonsense sheriff if he had the authority to step in and do something about the "instability" in Oakland. The question never made it past the moderator, but if ever an NFL team needed an intervention, it's Al Davis's Raiders. Since 2003 they're a league-worst 21--68, a direct result of Davis's management decisions.
Take, for example, the waiving of cornerback DeAngelo Hall last week. A two-time Pro Bowl selection in four seasons with the Falcons, the 24-year-old Hall was acquired by Oakland in a March trade for two draft picks and was signed to a seven-year, $70 million contract. Hall excelled in off-man coverage for Atlanta, yet the Raiders plugged him into their predominantly bump-and-run scheme. He struggled mightily and was cut after eight games—for which he collected $8 million.
This move by the 79-year-old Davis, who maintains total control over personnel decisions, follows the firing on Sept. 30 of coach Lane Kiffin only four weeks into his second season on the job. Six of the past seven Oakland coaches have failed to last more than two years.
A league source told SI last week that the commissioner does have the power to intervene in a team's operation in extreme circumstances. What's not clear is the definition of extreme. Front-office executives for other teams privately say that the Raiders' dysfunction doesn't sink to the level that would call for the commissioner to act; also, those execs don't want the precedent set.
November 17, 2008
Players and fans, however, do expect their team to do everything it can to win, particularly while the club is still in playoff contention. Oakland safety Gibril Wilson said last week, "It's almost like we're throwing in the towel" for the season, even though at the time of the Hall decision the Raiders were two games out of first place in the woeful AFC West. Despite Hall's struggles, some Oakland players and coaches say privately that he was far better than any of the team's reserves. And just the week before, interim coach Tom Cable had publicly praised Hall, saying he was returning to Pro Bowl form. So why was he cut?
Is it a sign that Davis is ready to rid the team of overpaid underachievers? If so, then why are wideout Javon Walker and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, two other veterans who signed big deals this year and have been major disappointments, still around?
Was it a decision based solely on money? Under terms of his contract, if Hall had sustained a season-ending injury over the last eight games this year and was unable to pass a physical by mid-February 2009, the Raiders would have been on the hook for $16.55 million in guarantees next year even if he was not on the roster.
Whatever Davis's motives, the Hall decision could have long-term negative implications for the club. Talented cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, the team's designated franchise player, said last week that he didn't understand or agree with the move, and raised some doubt about signing a long-term deal with Oakland in the off-season. (The team could retain him for one more year by franchising him a second time.)
Worse, future marquee free agents will remember how the Raiders treated Hall, who was quickly signed by the Redskins (one year, $492,000). While Davis saved some money, he ultimately may pay a heavy price for his decisions in another valuable NFL currency: credibility.
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