The Raiders have a history of trying to wring one last big year out of established stars, and the signing of tight end Jason Witten on the first day of free agency is no different.
A word of advice: if all goes according to plan, Witten’s contributions will be more intangible than statistical.
From a fantasy perspective, other than Witten getting a few touchdowns in the red zone, it’s better to stick with the plan to draft Darren Waller.
Witten, 38, seems to understand where he’s at in his career based on his expansive Zoom conference with reporters Monday.
“I think when you get to this age, it’s all about the fit and the role and it made a lot of sense for me,” Witten said.
Other than his rookie year with the Dallas Cowboys in 2003 and his temporary retirement to join the ESPN Monday Night Football booth in 2018, Witten has been like a metronome, catching no fewer than 63 passes 15 times with a high of 110 in 2012. He’s not a deep threat, never having averaged 12.0 yards per reception, nor is he as talented as Tony Gonzalez, the former Cal star who is in the Hall of Fame and the only tight end ahead of Witten both in yards (15,127 to 12,997) and receptions (1,325 to 1,215).
Over his last three seasons, Witten hasn’t averaged 10.0 yards per catch.
Witten won’t get 63 receptions in 2020, not with Waller around as well as first-round draft pick Henry Ruggs III, Tyrell Williams and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow. Keep in mind that no offensive player other than Derek Carr will handle the ball more than second-year back Josh Jacobs.
Not only that, but tight end Foster Moreau had an eye-opening rookie season that included five touchdown catches and played 36 percent of the snaps until a knee injury ended his season at 13 games.
Salary often tells the tale about what we can expect, and in Witten’s case, he’s scheduled to make $4 million — down a $1 million from what he got in Dallas last year and the 22nd highest salaried tight end in terms of yearly salary.
Gruden already has begun cashing in on Witten’s presence, having him address the team in a Zoom conference.
Witten played 16 seasons in Jerry Jones’ three-ring circus under Dave Campo, Bill Parcells Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett so he’s seen the good and the bad and has a broad perspective on playing in a fishbowl showplace as the Raiders embark on their first year in Las Vegas.
Derek Carr should be a smooth transition after Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Bledsoe, Tony Romo, Jon Kitna and Dak Prescott.
Chances are Witten won’t match his rookie total of 35 receptions in 2003. But if all goes the way Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock expect, he’ll be worth it.
STOPOVER TO CANTON
Witten at some point will become the 10th member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who built their reputations elsewhere before the Raiders beckoned. A rundown including the year or years they played for the Raiders:
Ron Mix: (1971): Played his final season with the Raiders after a distinguished career with the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers. His position coach at USC was Al Davis, and Davis was on the Chargers staff before he came to Oakland.
Eric Dickerson (1992): The Colts’ and Rams’ great was at the end of the line when he joined the Raiders and gained 729 yards and averaged 3.9 yards per carry at age 32. Marcus Allen, meanwhile, was in his last year of roster exile under Davis before joining the Kansas City Chiefs and finshing his career with a flourish.
Ronnie Lott (1991-92): The 49ers erred in letting Lott go in what was called “Plan B” free agency, and Lott had eight interceptions in his first year with the Raiders as well as diffusing a volatile post-game situation involving Charles Haley in the 49ers locker room.
James Lofton (1987-88): Lost in a glut of receivers that included Dokie Williams, Mervyn Fernandez, Jessie Hester, Willie Gault and young Tim Brown, Lofton gladly left for Buffalo to resume a career that put him in Canton in 2003.
Bob Brown: (1971-73): Punishing right tackle excelled with Raiders after similarly dominating seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams. A first-team and second-team All-Pro during his Oakland years.
Rod Woodson: (2002-03): Had his last great year after joining Raiders in free agency, intercepting eight passes, returning three for touchdowns. His 97-yard return when the Raiders were 4-4 in Denver turned the season around and was the 12th and final TD return of his career.
Jerry Rice: (2001-04): Rejuvenated under Gruden after being phased out in favor of Terrell Owens, Rice caught 174 passes for 2,350 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2001-02 at age 39 and 40 before dipping in terms of production in 2003. Dealt to Seattle not long after being angry after 274 game reception streak ended under Norv Turner.
Warren Sapp: (2004-07): Had his final double-digit season in sacks with 10 in 2006 after the Raiders finally quit tinkering with his role and turned Sapp loose as a three-technique. First-ballot Hall of Fame status largely built with Tampa Bay, with 77 of his 96 1/2 sacks.
Randy Moss: (2005-06): Looked the part of a Hall of Famer for first four games of Raiders career after being acquired by trade with 24 receptions for 466 yards. Injuries and disinterest marked the rest of his Raiders tenure. Was traded to New England after a 42-catch, 553 yards season in 2007 and responded by catching 23 touchdown passes.
KICKING THE TIRES ON CLOWNEY?
The NFL lifted its prohibition on tryouts that had been in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ameaning teams that would like to give a look-see to defensive end Jadeveon Clowney can schedule something with the most highly regarded free agent still on the market.
Clowney supposedly wants $20 million per season and reportedly rejected a Seattle offer of $18.5 million in April.
Teams are understandably reluctant given Clowney’s medical issues since he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft. They’re also unable to take their eyes off the video screen when Clowney is at his unblockable best.
The Raiders have just under $4.275 million under the salary cap according to overthecap.com. Those numbers can be overcome, but it usually takes restructuring existing deals, adding years to contracts and paying bonus money in place of salary.
Probably the only way the Raiders could make it happen is with an incentive-laden deal, and a reduced cap because of reduced revenues in the coronavirus environment in 2021 would make next year problematic as well.
The other defensive end looking for a team is Yannick Ngakoue of Jacksonville, who is sitting out of camp rather than report for the franchise figure of over $13.9 million. He remains under Jacksonville control and is hoping to force a trade.
It’s probably way more than the Raiders would be willing to part with both in terms of money or draft capital.
Before-and-after photos of the Raiders’ offices and training facility after the signage and emblem were removed from the front of their 25-year East Bay HQ in Alameda at some point in the last couple of days. They even took the flag. pic.twitter.com/jrTtopSHld
— Carl Steward (@stewardsfolly) August 8, 2020
GOODBYE, EAST BAY
If it isn’t enough for East Bay Raiders fans to see the stream of photos from their state-of-the-art facility, all the signage from their Harbor Bay Parkway home since 1996 was removed from the front of the facility recently.
The Raiders have been moving for months, with some of the back lot signs having already been packed for Henderson, Nevada.
If that’s not enough heartache, Ricky’s Sports Lounge, which played host to Gruden’s return to coaching in 2018 and has been the quintessential Raiders Bay Area sports bar, is struggling and may not survive the pandemic.
As of Tuesday night, a Gofundme page had raised under $14,000 of a $100,000 goal.
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Author: Jerry McDonald