NAPA – Matt Flynn stood in a far corner of the practice field, surrounded by Raiders fans. The mandatory autograph session had ended long before, yet there Flynn stood, signing and posing for pictures with anyone in silver and black.
A team official had to pry him away from the grateful mass, but Ambassador Flynn’s day was far from done.
He spent 10 minutes with the local press, another 20 with a national writer. Flynn then cleaned up and prepped himself for the “black carpet” between the practice field and his hotel room.
[RELATED: Raiders camp report: Flynn already locked in]
The Napa Valley Marriott lobby was a parade of pirates, fake skulls and face paint, diehard Raiders fans clamoring for a moment with their new quarterback. Flynn stopped and smiled for photos with each person, costumed or not, on a continuing quest to acquaint himself with Raider Nation.
“They’re a passionate, loyal bunch,” Flynn said. “It’s a fun fan base to play for.”
The masses aren’t the only ones Flynn is trying to endear himself to. He’s trying to make headway with his new teammates and an organization betting he’s a long-term solution quarterback.
It’s a drawn-out getting-to-know you process, one that Flynn wants to happen organically. He doesn’t want to act like a leader without respect that warrants the title. Flynn wants to earn it with actions each day.
“It’s hard to say if I’m a leader at this point, but it’s a role I want,” he said. “It’s not something I’m going to force by being someone I’m not. When you go out there and try to be a leader and get in guys’ faces right off the bat, it can come off as desperate. I’m just going to me, play my game and try to inspire these guys as best I know how.”
Flynn desperately needs to succeed in this endeavor. After failing to secure a starting spot last season in Seattle despite a free-agent contract too big for a backup, this might be Flynn’s best and likely last to shot be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
The Raiders traded a 2014 fourth-round pick and a conditional selection the following year for Flynn to compete and win the starting job. His contract was reworked to save salary cap space, and now contains no guaranteed money for 2014.
Should Flynn struggle this season, the Raiders lose nothing in the next.
If pressure’s weighing Flynn down, he certainly doesn’t show it. He’s at ease with the press and lately in the huddle, where he’s had solid practices to start training camp. It’s way too early to evaluate performance, but it’s clear his teammates are buying in to this new leadership style. “He’s in command,” running back Darren McFadden said. “He does a great job just coming in there and stepping into the huddle. You can just feel it from him when he steps into the huddle and calls the play out.”
Jacoby Ford agrees.
"Matt’s doing a great job,” the receiver said. “He’s definitely leading this team in the right direction.”
He has not been named the starter, nor will he in the early portions of a training camp coach Dennis Allen has centered on competition.
There are no guarantees for a 28-year old quarterback with just two career starts.
“Matt Flynn has been in this league for a while but, in terms of game experience, he’s relatively young at the position,” Allen said. “We’re going to continue to evaluate things as we go along and we’ll see how things go in training camp.”
In the interim, Flynn will continue acting like a starting quarterback. That means he’ll be an ambassador, a defacto team captain and signal caller for an offense in desperate need of stability under center.
Flynn is trying to give them that. He’s putting in extra time with receivers, just as he did during the offseason. He’s trying to do and say all the right things, to give the Raiders quarterback they haven’t had in some time. So far, it’s working. Said Ford: “You can actually see the progress actually being made.”