The speed with which the Raiders moved to sign No. 4 overall pick Darren McFadden — and the manner in which it was accomplished — reinforces the belief that Al Davis knows this may be his last chance to put a positive stamp on his résumé.
The Raiders simply threw a lot of money at McFadden. His deal was 40 percent richer than that for the No. 4 pick last year and almost as good as the deal for the No. 1 overall pick last year, Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell, over which both sides haggled so long that Russell didn’t sign until Sept. 12. Russell got a six-year contract for $61 million, with $32 million guaranteed. McFadden’s deal is six years for $60 million, with $26 million guaranteed. (The guaranteed money is the more important figure because a team can end a contract after any season.)
When you offer that kind of money to a draft pick, it’s easy to make a deal. Other teams around the league will not like it because it will probably force other contracts for first-round picks higher, but Davis has never been terribly concerned about the rest of the league.
This approach has been Davis’s M.O. in the offseason, as he’s given free agents and even one of his own players, defensive end Tommy Kelly, rich contracts. Kelly, who has 13 career sacks, got a contract for seven years and $50.5 million. The Raiders’ best pass rusher, Derrick Burgess, has 43½ career sacks, but his contract (five years for $17.5 million) is only fourth among Raiders defensive linemen. That kind of inequity can create team problems, but that doesn’t seem likely with the Raiders because Burgess has not complained nor asked for a renegotiation of his contract.
Davis will be 79 on July 4 and, though his mind is still sharp, his body is failing him. Because of leg problems, he has gone from a cane to a walker to a wheelchair and he makes few public appearances, aside from games. But he watches game videos endlessly and, more than ever, he is running the organization. As coach Lane Kiffin has noted, sardonically, Davis is the team’s general manager, personnel director and even sometimes the defensive coordinator.
In the offseason, Davis made an attempt to force Kiffin to resign; failing in that, he stripped Kiffin of much of his authority, including the right to make changes among the assistants.
On any other team, that would be a recipe for disaster, but for the Raiders, it’s just another day in weirdsville. Kiffin has ridden out the storm. He’s been more subdued at practice sessions than he was last spring, but that’s a good thing. His college rah-rah attitude wore thin with players and irritated the media last season.
Meanwhile, Davis has made a series of flashy moves in the offseason, trading for cornerback DeAngelo Hall and signing wide receiver Javon Walker and safety Gibril Wilson. (He also signed offensive tackle Kwame Harris, a puzzling move because Harris had proven as a 49er that he doesn’t have the quick feet necessary to pass protect.)
These moves, except for the Harris signing, will make the Raiders a more exciting team, but will they be enough to make them a playoff team in what may be Davis’s last hurrah? Probably not, but you have to give him an A for effort.