By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Friday, February 29th, 2008 at 9:44 pm in Oakland Raiders.
This one, I get.
Any free agent acquisition is a gamble, but the signing of Gibril Wilson is worth the risk.
As stated last night, I’m fine with Tommy Kelly getting every dime he can get, but wonder about the wisdom of committing a guaranteed $18.125 million and more than $25 million over three seasons to a player who either has been part of the problem on defense or not special enough to raise the level of those around him.
The rest of the league can’t believe what the Raiders put out to retain Kelly, and maybe they’re right. Then again, no one else had Nnamdi Asomugha as a first-round draft pick, either _ some teams didn’t have him in the top three rounds. So it’s not out of the realm that Al Davis could be right.
But while Kelly’s deal is open to question, Wilson’s signing (six years, $39 million, $16 million guaranteed) is an aggressive move which addresses a chronic weakness in the Oakland defense.
Other than the last great season out of future Hall of Famer Rod Woodson in 2002, it’s been difficult to watch the Raiders’ safety play since they returned to Oakland in 1995. And that’s from the press box, without a rooting interest. Hard to imagine how tough it’s been for Raider Nation.
There have been considerably more whiffs than big hits, precious few interceptions (12 by safeties in 80 games since 2002) and very little in the way of the sort of intimidation Jack Tatum made famous.
Back in 2003, after the San Diego Chargers cut Rodney Harrison, the Raiders had their nemisis in for a visit. Tatum endorsed bringing him aboard, but Davis was lukewarm and Harrison went to New England and played a role in two championships.
Davis thought Harrison might have been near the end of the line. Wilson doesn’t have the rep of Harrison, but he is much younger and a physical presence. Whether he plays strong safety or free safety doesn’t matter. From here, it looks like the Raiders signed a football player, rather than a specimen.
A Raiders official told me that Wilson has more tackles than any safety in the league over the last four years. Tackles aren’t an official stat, so who knows if it’s true. What is true is Wilson played championship football for the Giants and played a role in attaining that championship.
He wasn’t Larry Brown, intercepting passes thrown directly to him by Neil O’Donnell. Nor was he Desmond Howard, breaking free on returns but offering next to nothing as a receiver.
Wilson had eight tackles and a pass defensed against Green Bay in the overtime championship game win. He was an integral part of a defense that shut down the most prolific passing offense in NFL history against New England in the Super Bowl.
During Super Bowl week, Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo talked about how Wilson adapted when moved from free safety to strong safety, asking him to model himself after Philadelphia’s Brian Dawkins.
“I remember giving him a whole collection of film on Brian and he studied it and has fallen into that position quite well,” Spagnuolo said. “The free safety in that system has to be a tackler, an active guy, an aggressive guy and that’s what Gibril is.”
Admittedly, it’s easier to look good as a safety with the kind of push the Giants were getting with their front four. The Raiders’ hope is that Kelly becomes Justin Tuck, Derrick Burgess is Michael Strahan and Jay Richardson takes a quantum leap in Year 2. Then if Terdell Sands can resurrect his game and a draft pick or two comes around . . .
All that happening is unlikely, but Wilson’s signing remains a positive move by Davis to address an area that has seen too many Marquez Popes, Anthony Dorsetts, Derrick Gibsons and Darren Carringtons over the years, and too many missed tackles the past three years by Stuart Schweigert and late-season replacement Hiram Eugene.
A few years back, I thought the Raiders made reasonable calculated gambles in signing LaMont Jordan and Burgess to positions of great need. Jordan didn’t work out as well as hoped, Burgess was a success. But it was worth taking a shot. I feel the same way about Wilson.
More impressions on the free agent frenzy:
– Back on Feb. 1, I made the case that the perception of dysfunction in the Raiders organization wouldn’t necessarily affect their ability to get free agents because what players were really after was money. Write the checks and they will come. At least one agent I respect disagreed, and thought it would be tough for Oakland to be a big player.
A little more than 24 hours into free agency, I think we have an answer. The $34 million in guarantees plunked down on Kelly and Wilson have free agents taking notice. Now all the Raiders have to do is pick the right ones.
– Maybe Jerry Porter will excel in Jacksonville, but he always did his best work in Oakland in a supporting role. It may be a reach for Jaguars fans who think he’s their new Jimmy Smith.
– Word is Chicago wide receiver Bernard Berrian could come to town if he gets out of Minnesota without signing a contract. Could be wrong, but he looks like a slightly younger version of Porter from here. An upgrade from what is on hand, to be sure, but don’t get crazy with the money.
– Another “talent” available is Javon Walker, who was released by Denver. But Walker tends to be high-maintenence when things don’t go his way, and the Raiders seem to bring out the worst in those kinds of players these days.
– Miami’s signing of Josh McCown makes you wonder if they’re thinking of drafting Matt Ryan, whether it’s at No. 1 or later if they trade down. McCown isn’t a consistent enough passer to lead an offense for 16 games, but teammates flock to him and he doesn’t mind being a mentor.
McCown is one guy who looked at the Lane Kiffin situation and decided he might be better off elsewhere. But it’s doubtul the Raiders were going to be in the financial ballpark anyway with what he got in Miami.
– Philadelphia delayed its visit with Chris Clemons as it was busy signing Asante Samuel, but Clemons is scheduled to take a physical today. The Clemons camp feels it got lowballed by the Raiders after the Kelly deal.
– So Randy Moss is on the open market. He could still end up a Patriot, but right now all the hearts, flowers and happily ever after talk during Super Bowl week looks pretty staged.
– Center Jeremy Newberry remains in play for the Raiders, and Tom Cable would like him back.