Ten years ago the Raiders made Sebastian Janikowski the No. 17 pick of the first round of the NFL draft, and you wonder if they’d do it again.
It wasn’t simply that Janikowski was a place-kicker. Janikowski was a place-kicker with a rap sheet. He had a well-deserved reputation as a party boy at Florida State, complete with run-ins with law enforcement that included involvement with the date rap drug GHB which were yet to be sorted out in court.
Al Davis was undeterred. He selected Janikowski, who held his conference call in a bar from a golf course. After a few incidents that included DUI and a mysterious fall on a dance floor, Janikowski has stayed out of police reports for a few years now. Everyone lived happily ever after.
You still read about the Raiders being the natural destination for any player who has issues with law enforcement or behavioral problems. But as their disinterest in Santonio Holmes illustrates, the Raiders aren’t looking for renegades anymore.
Holmes is the kind of player the old-style Raiders would have pursued in a heartbeat. A young, speedy receiver at his peak who was a standout in the Super Bowl. A difference-maker who gets in trouble from time to time and is considered of questionable character.
The word is Holmes was shopped all over the league, and all the Jets had to give up was a fifth-round draft pick.
The Raiders, or anyone else, could have had Holmes with a better offer.
The closest thing to high-maintenance in their current receiving corps is Louis Murphy, a fourth-round pick who is an earnest but moody talent who sometimes lets his emotions get the better of him on the field, with no hint of trouble off it.
Second-year receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, as is third-year receiver Chaz Schilens. Johnnie Lee Higgins is laid-back and easy-going, not one to utter a discouraging word if his performance slips or his playing time is down.
There has apparently been no thought given to bringing in Terrell Owens, one of the most productive problem players of this or any era.
It goes further than the position of wide receiver.
Setting aside JaMarcus Russell’s motivational issues, look at Raiders draft picks over the past few years and it’s apparent they not only want to look good coming off the bus, but they want to look like professionals as well.
Other than an incident with some teammates in a car involving Tyvon Branch and a pellet gun in college _ a transgression which would have made the 1970s Raiders laugh out loud _ the Raiders are more choirboy than bad boy.
Darren McFadden came with some baggage for a parking lot brawl at a bar (coming to the aid of his brother) but has been pleasant, friendly and trouble-free since he arrived. In no particular order, players such as Zach Miller, Mike Mitchell, Matt Shaughnessy, Trevor Scott, Mario Henderson, Thomas Howard and Kirk Morrison measured up on only on the height-weight-speed criteria but as players who aren’t going to be a problem in the locker room or outside of it.
UPDATE: The Raiders announced they have brought back linebacker Sam Williams, another problem-free locker room influence . . .
When and how did the Raiders change?
The guess here is it was a gradual thing that started with Randy Moss.
In trading for Moss, Davis had himself the NFL’s most explosive offensive player. Even as some of his coaches and former players wondered if Moss’ skills were slipping, Davis held fast to the belief that he was as good as ever.
Davis even said it after Moss was dealt for a fourth-round draft pick, which be became the forgettable John Bowie. Davis said he made the deal at the behest of his coaches. Sure enough, Davis was right _ Moss was immediately a dominant player.
Yet Moss wouldn’t play for the Raiders, and there was nothing anyone could say to get him to change his mind.
To a lesser extent, Jerry Porter was a solid receiver who let his personality get in the way of production as well.
If Moss was the start of a Raider revelation, the trade for DeAngelo Hall and the signing of Javon Walker were two more costly acquisitions that cost the Raiders some $20 million for nothing in return.
Hall and Walker were distractions at their previous stops _ Hall in Atlanta, Walker in Green Bay and Denver _ and not much changed in Oakland. Their character issues were secondary to their poor play, but on some level Davis may have come to believe or been sold on the idea that the two things are connected.
Since then, the Raiders have concentrated on retaining the players they already know, such as Nnamdi Asomugha, Shane Lechler and Janikowski. They’ve bought in veterans with impeccable credentials in terms of work ethic and dedication, most notably defensive end Richard Seymour, but the same idea applied to the departed Greg Ellis, Lorenzo Neal and Jeff Garcia.
Their lone outside acquisition this year, linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, showed up immediately to the offseason program and began punching a clock.
As prospective draftees are picked apart in the coming days, expect anyone with a character question to be immediately associated with Oakland, although the reality is it’s more punch-line than fact.