After years of doing things his way, Al Davis apparently believes it's finally time to change his approach.
Three sources who have had conversations with the Oakland Raiders general managing partner within the past two months said Davis has expressed regret over the team's offseason spending spree on players and worries about his ability to end the longest-running slump in team history.
So much so that he would relinquish control of essentially making all personnel decisions and hire someone else to call some of the shots?
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported in a blog on the network's website on June 6 that former Green Bay Packers vice president of player finance Andrew Brandt was on the verge of being hired by the Raiders in a similar role. However, two league sources told Yahoo! Sports that Brandt declined the offer and countered by offering to serve as a consultant. One of the sources found Oakland's attempt to land Brandt particularly interesting.
"(Brandt) is a very smart guy, but most of his experience is as a contract negotiator," one of the league sources said. "He's great at it, but Al has people who do that and I think he's happy with them. I would think that Brandt was coming in to do something a little bigger."
Oakland public relations director Mike Taylor reacted strongly to the notion that Davis would lack confidence in his decisions and declined to ask Davis for a reaction.
"You obviously don't know Al Davis. Self-doubt is not part of the equation with Al Davis," Taylor said. "I'm not going to justify this tripe, this drivel by even asking (Davis) for his response. It's ludicrous, it's insane, it's rumor-mongering and it's irresponsible journalism.
"The fact is, we're very excited about what we've done here this offseason and looking forward to a great year. We've signed or traded for three of the top players at their position and picked up two of the top players in the draft the past two years."
Taylor specified the three veteran players he was referring to were safety Gibril Wilson, cornerback DeAngelo Hall and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. Wilson, who reportedly received a six-year, $39 million contract, including $16 million guaranteed, was signed away from the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Hall received a reported seven-year, $70 million contract, including $24 million guaranteed after being acquired in a trade from the Atlanta Falcons. Kelly was re-signed to a reported seven-year, $50.5 million contract, including $18.125 million guaranteed.
In the draft, the Raiders acquired quarterback JaMarcus Russell with the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 and took running back Darren McFadden at No. 4 this year. Among other significant moves, the team signed former Denver Broncos wide receiver Javon Walker and re-signed running back Justin Fargas.
Yet Davis' attempt to right the ship with big spending has led to a great deal of second-guessing. Even more, his reaction to the critics seemed particularly out of character to the previously quoted league source.
"Al never cared what other owners thought before. Never," the source said. "His attitude was always, 'Screw them, I know better.' It sounds like he has doubt now."
Questions regarding the spending spree heightened last week after Walker was found unconscious following a brutal attack in Las Vegas. There were immediate concerns as to how long this could affect the Raiders on the field as Walker suffered facial injuries. However, the franchise announced a few days later that it expects the receiver to make a full recovery for the 2008 season.
Whether the organization can recover as a whole is a much bigger issue.
The franchise has been mired in a catastrophic tailspin since 2003. In the five campaigns following their 48-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII, the Raiders have been a league-worst 19-61. Oakland has lost 11 or more games in each of those seasons. In the previous 43 seasons of franchise history, the Raiders had only four seasons with 10 loses or more. That included 1961 and 1962 before Davis joined the team in '63 as head coach and general manager.
Beyond the losses, Davis has gone through coaches at an alarming rate. The Raiders have had four head coaches in the past five seasons and reportedly wanted current coach Lane Kiffin to step down after last season, Kiffin's first.
"The place is a mess right now and I think Al is getting a sense of just how big the mess is," the source said. "He can't run it like he used to and that frustrates him. I don't know how much he's going to change or if he's ultimately going to change at all. This is Al we're talking about. But his tone is different."
- Al Davis