What is going on with the Raiders?
Let me start this off by stating that I am a lifelong Raiders fan. I had a Howie Long jersey when I was five, in 1986. I live in New England, but despite the success of the Patriots, I have never wavered in my support of my team – even in the lean years when the team was no good, even during the JaMarcus Russell “era”. So you know that the following diatribe is coming from a real place in my heart.
I hate, HATE, what the Raiders have done since Jon Gruden was named coach. I was very happy when Gruden was brought in because I think he brings a lot of knowledge and a real knack for working with quarterbacks. I think that Derek Carr is a good quarterback and can be elite, especially with the offense the Raiders have constructed this offseason. But there are a few moves that I’ve been so adamantly opposed to that I have to write this article.
Getting rid of Khalil Mack was the absolute worst move they could have made. They didn’t have a solid defense to begin with and to get rid of not only the best player on your defense by trading him to Chicago right before the season began, but one of the top-three defensive players in the entire League is a sure-fire way to make your team immediately worse. I know there were multiple first-round drafts picks involved, but the Bears are now a playoff team, so those draft picks aren’t as valuable as the actual player they traded. Plus, there’s no way to know if the players they drafted with those picks will ever be as impactful as Mack was. But the NFL is a business and the Raiders, for whatever reason, didn’t want to pay one of the most dominant defensive players in the League.
Next, the Raiders traded talented but inconsistent receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-round pick. Again, the Cowboys were a playoff team and the pick was in the 20s and again, there are no guarantees that any of the players they drafted will end up having the same impact. Once more, they didn’t want to pay a young rising star. I can sort of understand their hesitance to pay Cooper due to his inconsistent play and getting a first-round pick for him could be considered a win.
After suffering through a terrible season in which the entire team combined couldn’t match the sack total of Mack by himself. The offense struggled and the team went 4-12 and ended up with the 4th overall draft pick. They made a huge splash, and certainly won their trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers when they send a 3rd- and 5th- round picks in exchange for mercurial but undeniably talented receiver Antonio Brown. This move sent shockwaves through the league and instantly upgraded the Raiders’ offense, providing a spark of hope that the Raiders might rebound. This was reinforced when they signed Tyrell Williams away from conference rival Los Angeles Chargers, providing Derek Carr with two very talented receivers and upgrades over Cooper and Michael Crabtree, despite Crabtree having a very productive stint with the Raiders.
I’m still not over the trade of Mack, but the other moves I mentioned? I’m honestly fine with them. But there are two moves that I can neither comprehend nor condone; the signing of linebacker Vontaze Burfict and the recent signing of offensive lineman Richie Incognito.
First I want to discuss Burfict. He is one of the dirtiest players and biggest liabilities a team could have. He’s always been incapable of controlling himself on the field, dating back to his high school days where he once matched up against current Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. Mayfield insists to this day that Burfict tried to intentionally injure him when he went after Mayfield’s knees. College coach Dennis Erickson said of the former Arizona State University star, “He got carried away” after three personal fouls in one game. He finished his college career with 22 personal fouls in only 37 games. He was a first-team All-American as a sophomore but he regressed in his junior year and while concerns about his discipline were compounded by a failed drug test at the draft combine. Former NFL Network analyst (and current Raiders General Manager) Mike Mayock said about Burfict at the time, “I watched three tapes and REALLY didn’t like him as a football player. I think he’s a nondraftable kid. For me, he’s a free agent.”
Burfict continued his on-field lack of discipline throughout his career with the Cincinnati Bengals, who signed him as a free agent after he went undrafted. No don’t get me wrong, Burfict is immensely talented, making the Pro Bowl in 2013 when he was also named a second-team All-Pro. He has the skill and ability to be a great player. Here are some examples of what Burfict has done that has overshadowed his play.
• On September 22, 2013, Burfict hit Green Bay tight end Ryan Taylor in the groin and baited Taylor into retaliating into shoving him, earning a penalty. When the play was reviewed after the game they saw what Burfict had done and fined him $10,000 for his part in that altercation, and he was also fined an additional $21,000 for a hit on the Packers’ James Jones in which he was deemed to have hit a defenseless receiver.
• On October 13 that same season he replicated his college feat of receiving three 15-yard penalties against the Buffalo Bills and was fined $7,875 for a facemask penalty against running back Fred Jackson.
• Two weeks later he got another $21,000 fine for spearing Jets receiver Stephen Hill. He was mostly well-behaved for almost a full year until he was fined $25,000 for his actions in a game against the Carolina Panthers – twisting the ankles of both quarterback Cam Newton and tight end Greg Olsen, who had both been dealing with ankle injuries. Olsen was adamant that Burfict be suspended because his actions were clearly premeditated and clearly intended to injure opposing players.
• November 1, 2015, saw Burfict, according to several players on the Steelers, celebrate a tackle that led to Steelers star running back Le-Veon Bell requiring season-ending knee surgery.
• December 13, 2015, again saw the Bengals and Steelers meet again in a heated contest in which the drama began before the game even started when Burfict and James Harrison (another dirty player) had a bit of a dust-up during the pregame. During that game, Burfict ended up racking up a total of $69,454 for three plays, including a dive at quarterback’s knees. Burfict said he was pushed, but the game tape proved otherwise.
• Another year went by without a glaring incident, but on January 9, 2016. He sacked Roethlisberger and that it resulted in the quarterback getting carted off the field with a shoulder injury. This hit was legal, it was just unfortunate. Later in the game, Burfict intercepted Roethlisberger’s replacement Landry Jones which seemed to cement the win for the Bengals. After the Bengals turned the ball over, Roethlisberger came back into the game and the Steelers were able to make it into field goal range after perhaps Burfict’s most infamous hit – the helmet to helmet shot on Antonio Brown while Brown was being held up in a tackle attempt. Brown had a concussion and missed the Steelers’ playoff game against Denver.
• October 16, 2016, was Burfict’s first game after sitting out the first three contests due to his hit on Brown and was fined a whopping $75,000 for stomping on New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, although replay showed that no stomp actually occurred due to the camera angles.
• His next fine came about a month later on November 20th for flashing both his middle fingers at the Buffalo Bills fans, getting a $12,154 fine (or $6,077 per finger).
• The following August – in training camp – Burfict ended up in a fight with his own team when he tackled running back Gio Bernard at the knees. The biggest issue with this was the fact that Bernard had only just begun practicing again after recovering from a torn ACL the year before. Later in the preseason, Burfict laid a massive hit on Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman while running a passing route which resulted in a five-game suspension but was later reduced to three on appeal.
• In November he was ejected from a game for making contact with an official after he was unable to control himself after a questionable late hit was called against him, but was not fined.
• In March of last year, Burfict was suspended four games for violating the League’s performance-enhancing drug policy, which was upheld despite an appeal in April.
• October 14, 2018, saw Burfict return to action against the Steelers, which spelled trouble. Burfict had played two uneventful games before this contest but there’s just something about the Steelers that brings out the worst in Burfict. Three hits were penalized, and he was fined $112,000 and an elbow to Antonio Brown’s head was heavily scrutinized based on his history with him.
I was beyond unhappy when I heard that the Raiders had signed such a malcontent. Unlike the majority of NFL franchises, I do not believe that talent trumps everything. Burfict is a headhunter, a dirty player and can’t stay on the field either due to suspensions, injuries, or drug violations. I thought this was the absolute worst move the Raiders could make. I don’t believe a tiger can change its stripes and I fully expect Burfict to do something detrimental to the team at least once this year. I don’t care what Antonio Brown says about the past is the past, he hasn’t forgiven Burfict and if the Raiders aren’t winning it will be exacerbated.
Now I know I said that signing Burfict was the worst move I thought they could make, I was recently proven wrong when the Raiders signed 35-year-old (soon to be 36 and out of football last season) guard Richie Incognito. Incognito is the absolute WORST player they could have signed. He’s a terrible person and does not deserve to be on an NFL field. Hell, I wouldn’t want him playing catch in my yard. He’s a garbage person. While Burfict at least has high-level of play combined with his issues controlling himself, Incognito doesn’t have that benefit.
Incognito is probably best known for his involvement in bullying former Dolphins teammate Jonathan Martin to the point that Martin contemplated suicide. As I mentioned, Incognito sat out all of last season because his most recent game for the Bills – a playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars was marred with allegations by Jaguars defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue of repeated racial slurs.
Just about a year ago, on May 23, 2018, Incognito was placed on what’s called “involuntary psychiatric hold” because of his actions in a Boca Raton, Florida gym. He ranted about “running NSA Level 3 documents” through his phone and didn’t want anyone with Bluetooth access to be allowed near him for fear of compromising said documents. Incognito also threw a tennis ball at a patron, screaming at him to “get out of my f—ing playground” and threw a dumbbell into a pool. The police report revealed that Incognito believed that he was being followed by agents from various government agencies.
Incognito was also arrested in August of last year after threatening to shoot the staff of a funeral home while making arrangements for his father’s funeral. Several times he threatened to take the guns from his truck and shoot the employees, he damaged property and stated that he wanted to remove his father’s head for “research purposes”. When police arrived they found several guns as well as ammunition in Incognito’s vehicle. When asked what his father would think about his arrest, Incognito told a reporter, “I’m not sure he’s dead.”
As if all of this wasn’t enough to not only warrant NFL teams staying far, far away from him I feel like it’s also enough to keep any rational human beings – aside from mental health professionals – away from him as well. But there’s more. In April of this year, Incognito plead guilty to two misdemeanors. What happened this time? Well Incognito blamed his 90-year old grandmother for the death of his father, and police found him in an enraged state and having damaged property in his grandmother’s home; he punched a hole in a living room wall and ripped a security system control box off the wall as well. This incident, despite the plea agreement occurring in April, the incident happened in August of last year – right around the same time as his funeral home outburst.
Maybe he’s gotten the help he desperately needed. Maybe he’s turned over a new leaf and no longer wants to decapitate deceased family members and maybe he doesn’t believe that he’s being stalked by the government anymore. But one thing that I have zero doubt about – he’s the worst possible person the Raiders could have signed. There is ZERO upside to this move. He’s going to be 36-years-old before the preseason starts, he didn’t play all of last year, and he’s clearly unstable. I’m convinced that there will be some serious incident between him and Burfict. Until the season passes without them getting involved in some sort of altercation, I won’t believe that it’s possible.
As a Raiders fan, this sucks. The team arguably got better on offense, but their defense is notably worse. They had a good thing going with what they were doing on offense, even though they dumped most of their offensive line, but then the addition of Incognito really disturbed me. I don’t have any idea what they are thinking. I thought Mayock was supposed to be a good GM who knew how to evaluate players. I thought Jon Gruden knew what he was doing and understood the dynamic of a football team and could evaluate players. Apparently, I was wrong. I guess only the season playing out will answer these questions and more.
But as a Raiders fan, I’m not at all optimistic about the direction in which my team is headed.