The biggest question regarding the Oakland Raiders signing free-agent running back Maurice Jones-Drew to a three-year contract on Friday is this: How exactly do they plan to use him in their retooled offense? As the bellcow? In tandem? As insurance?
Jones-Drew said he was told by the Raiders he was coming in to compete.
“We have different running abilities,” he said in a conference call Friday. “But the competition is what’s going to make us better. We’ll push each other.”
He joins a crowded if somewhat unsettled backfield.
Since being the No. 4 overall draft pick in 2008,Darren McFadden has been the Raiders’ starter … when healthy. And Oakland re-signed him to an incentive-laden deal to do just that in 2014, even though he has missed 19 of the Raiders’ previous 41 games and has never played more than 13 games in a season.
The Raiders are also high on Latavius Murray, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury after being drafted in the sixth round. Plus, they signed Canadian Football League Grey Cup MVP Kory Sheets, and the Raiders still have Jeremy Stewart on the roster.
Or, as Murray tweeted:
— Latavius Murray (@LataviusM) March 28, 2014
Jones-Drew, a diminutive three-time Pro Bowler who has a lot of mileage on his powerful legs, has had health issues himself of late. It just so happens that in the past two seasons, those injuries occurred in Oakland.
In 2012, after holding out in the preseason, the 5-foot-8, 205-pound Jones-Drew broke his left foot on the Jaguars’ second play from scrimmage against the Raiders in Week 7 and did not play another down all season. He underwent what he termed “major” surgery that offseason.
Last season, Jones-Drew sprained his left ankle on a touchdown-saving flying tackle by Charles Woodson in the first quarter of the Week 2 game.
“It was a hell of a tackle,” Jones-Drew said, “there’s nothing I can say.”
Jones-Drew, 29, missed the rest of that game but played the rest of the season, rushing for 803 yards while averaging a career-low 3.4 yards per carry. His previous low was his 4.2 in 2008.
“I feel like I have a ton left in the tank,” he said, and maybe splitting time with McFadden would keep both off the injury report. Or perhaps it limits their efficiency and productivity in smaller-than-usual roles.
Whatever the case may be, Jones-Drew grew up in the East Bay a fan of the Raiders, prepped at high school powerhouse De La Salle and has lived in the Bay Area every offseason since Jacksonville selected him in the second round of the 2006 draft out of UCLA. Playing home games in front of his grandmother now, he said, would be a bonus.
–Paul Gutierrez, ESPN.com
Charles Woodson, on a local radio show, said he fully expects the Raiders to be a playoff team next season. And no Bay Area earthquake erupted from the uproar of laughter.
After a rocky start, Raiders management has impressively executed a smart approach to rebuilding this woe-begotten franchise. General manager Reggie McKenzie’s calculated approach to respectability is to rely on the last legs of respectable veterans.
To be sure, they don’t figure to make Oakland an instant title contender. It’s a legit question whether several of the Raiders signings have anything left in the tank. But this was the right path.
No patience remains after coming off consecutive 4-12 seasons, so the youth movement wasn’t going to fly. And since the jobs of McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen are on the line, more wins are required. The smart play was to do that by filling out the roster with players who know how to win.
To that end, the Raiders added former Pro Bowlers Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith and LaMarr Woodley to the defense — in addition to retaining the services of Woodson and adding Tarell Brown to the secondary.
And to the offense: quarterback Matt Schaub, receiver James Jones, running back Maurice Jones-Drew and linemen Kevin Boothe and Donald Penn. All but Boothe have been to the Pro Bowl.
Their average age by Week 1 will be 30.9. But among this crew of ol’ heads are 10 Super Bowl appearances.
Sure, it’s like squeezing the heck out of a bottle of ketchup to get the last little bit. But if you get it, bingo.
“A lot of these guys have something to prove,” Bay Area native Jones-Drew said. “That’s good.”
A key to all this is that the Raiders haven’t given out a bad contract. No one has been given long money, hamstringing future salary cap space. Several of these deals reportedly have incentives, helping ensure the Raiders get bang for their buck.
But it can’t end with a bunch of long-in-the-tooth types. Respectability should be a transfer point on the commute to a Super Bowl. Which means the Raiders need to acquire some pieces that will take the franchise to that next level.
The Raiders have a few nice young players who could be good for a long time. But they need some game-changers. The most obvious is a quarterback, as an heir apparent to Schaub is a top priority.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is out there as potential. At 27, he is perhaps just young enough to still be productive when the Raiders make the switch to the quarterback of the future.
Jackson, released by the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday, is coming off his best NFL season with 82 catches for 1,332 yards with nine touchdowns. That the Raiders have added all these players and can still afford a pricey new toy like Jackson shows they’ve done well with the $66 million in cap space.
–Marcus Thompson II, San Jose Mercury News
The Giants settled back into their home clubhouse on Thursday. Tim Hudson was looking comfortable in the corner where Barry Zito spent many years.Pablo Sandoval, wearing gold headphones, was taking up less space than he did a few months ago. Buster Posey – on his 27th birthday – was, as usual, setting a businesslike tone.
A big season gets under way for the Giants on Monday. After winning two World Championships in three years, last year was a humbling comedown. A third-place finish, subpar years all around and no single devastating event – like the Posey injury in 2011 – on which to blame the collective failure.
The Giants expect more. They are different than their cross-bay opponent who they played at AT&T Park on Thursday, the first game in a Bay Bridge series that bridges spring in Arizona and the regular season next week. The A’s are happy-go-lucky. They’ve exceeded expectations the past two years and even as reigning division champions, there’s little pressure on them.
To understand why the Giants are different you need look no further than this week’s Forbes report on the business of baseball. According to Forbes, the Giants are the fifth-richest team in the majors, worth a billion dollars. Their principle owner Charles Johnson is the biggest dog in a billionaire’s club: He’s the richest owner in baseball, worth $7.5 billion. The Giants’ value, despite that third-place finish, was up 27 percent last year. They are printing money, with revenues of $316 million last season.
What do all those numbers add up to?
This: The pressure is on the Giants to win.
And while there are a lot of questions about the rotation, second base and team depth, the Giants’ fate may rest in the hands of their No. 4 and No. 5 hitters. Both Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval need to have big years, for the team and for themselves.
A year ago this weekend, Posey signed a nine-year contract, worth $167 million. That’s a heavy burden. Sandoval, a free agent at the end of this season, is trying to prove that he, too, is worth a lucrative long-term deal.
Posey won’t concede to putting more emphasis on this coming season because of last year’s failures.
“We just want to win,” he said. “That’s our mind-set. I don’t know if there’s any more anxiousness, if that’s a word.”
But back in February, the 2012 N.L. Most Valuable Player and former Rookie of the Year conceded that the lack of success in 2013 was unpleasant.
“There’s a bad taste in a lot of guys’ mouths,” Posey said the weekend of Fanfest.
Posey slumped in the second half last season and while he has refused to use fatigue as an excuse, his manager – a former catcher – could see it.
“He was tired last year,” Bruce Bochy said this spring.
Posey added 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason, with the goal of strengthening his lower body and improving his stamina. He hit .419 in Arizona. He also beefed up his acting repertoire.
Coming on the heels of his amusing turns in both the Giants’ 2013 “Animal House” ad and a Playstation commercial, Posey digs deep in the Giants “Mi Amor” telenovela-style commercial. Wearing a paisley-print silk shirt, Posey listens to Sergio Romo wax poetic in Spanish and weeps at the beauty of the closer’s words, responding with observations of his own. In Spanish.
Posey speaks Spanish?
“Not at all,” he said. “That made it even funnier.”
Romo and Posey struggled to get through the shooting without laughing.
Sandoval would look decent in a paisley silk shirt himself these days. He’s slim and trim and has said all the right things about taking more responsibility and being more serious about his job. Of course, the subtext is that he wants to be paid. Last week, we learned that Sandoval’s agent turned down an opening offer of three-years for $40 million, and is looking for five years for $90 million.
Consider these merely opening salvos in the negotiations. Also consider that both Sandoval’s agent and all Giants fans have taken note of the Forbes report and will not be pleased if the Giants let Sandoval walk. There’s no clear replacement for him in the pipeline or on the open market. And why the heck have Giants fans been buying $20 Panda hats by the truckload anyway?
–Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle