Evidence suggests Al Davis is no longer working alone in making personnel decisions for the Raiders.
Davis would never admit that, of course, but the drafting and trading decisions this offseason don’t seem like the work of the same man who drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey last year, traded for cornerback DeAngelo Hall or signed wide receiver Javon Walker as a free agent.
This, in fact, sounds much more like Davis’ method of operation in the ’60s, when he built the team into one of pro football’s powerhouses for the next two decades.
Davis used various methods at that time. He stole cornerback Willie Brown, who became a Hall of Famer, from the Denver Broncos. He traded for Hewritt Dixon and moved him from a tight end into a fullback and turned Billy Cannon from a running back into a tight end. He grabbed Ben Davidson and Isaac Lassiter off the waiver wire and made them the team’s defensive ends. He traded for Tom Keating, an undersized defensive tackle but a fearsome pass rusher.
But he didn’t act as a one-man band. Coach John Rauch and general manager Scotty Stirling wanted quarterback Daryle Lamonica, so Davis made a trade with Buffalo. Ron Wolf talked him into drafting Ken Stabler.
This year has looked like a blast from the past. The Raiders draft has been universally praised. Their first pick, linebacker Rolando McClain, is a stud. Many mock drafts had predicted the Raiders would take Bruce Campbell, a Maryland
offensive tackle who was the workout king at the NFL combine, but not very productive on the field, in the first round. Instead,
Davis waited until the fourth round, and one publication called that the steal of the draft.
Finally, he traded for Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell, yielding only a fourth-round pick, and immediately extended his contract. Campbell is a proven NFL quarterback who can throw the deep pass that Davis loves.
Finally, he cut JaMarcus Russell. That was expected before the Raiders’ minicamp, but I believe Davis waited to see if Russell would renegotiate his contract, because $6.45 million is far too much to pay a quarterback who would be sitting. Russell refused, though any NFL team that signs him now will pay him little more than the veterans’ minimum salary.
If Davis is getting help, who might it be? It’s possible he reached out to John Madden for some information, but I’m certain Madden wasn’t in the draft room.
More likely, Davis listened to his scouting staff. They’ve done good work in previous drafts on the lower rounds. This time, he listened to them on everything. The 49ers’ example, when they didn’t miss a beat with Trent Baalke after Scot McCloughan left, shows that it can be done.
If Davis is listening to others, it’s good news. The Raiders’ only good period in Oakland came when Jon Gruden fought Davis to get rid of unproductive players and bring in Rich Gannon, the heart and soul of the Raiders’ last Super Bowl team.
Davis will be 81 in July. It seems that he’s finally realized he has to return to a winning formula. Good for him.