Reggie Nelson is 32 years old, with another birthday come September. That apparently makes him a dinosaur by NFL standards. Maybe a leper, too.
That’s how it felt for the Pro Bowler, fresh off his best season as a pro. He was tied for the league lead with eight interceptions. He also had 78 tackles, 14 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries. It was part of a late-career renaissance and a three-year stretch of high quality play.
Age weighed heavy on his free agent market, tempered by fears this top talent is nearing decline.
Nelson sat in limbo for weeks, until the Raiders brought him to the East Bay this week and agreed to terms on a two-year contract worth up to $12 million on Wednesday afternoon. According to reports, Nelson's deal is for $8.5 million plus incentives based on interceptions and individual accolades.
The Florida alum was happy with the final outcome, but taken back by the journey to silver and black.
“I was shocked,” Nelson said Thursday in a conference call. “I expected to be signed (quickly), but patience is a virtue. I was staying patient and waiting on the right team, the right situation. Then Oakland stepped up, and Jack was here. It seemed like a good fit.”
Nelson’s referring to Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, who had the same job in Jacksonville when the Jaguars made Nelson a 2007 first-round draft pick.
Nelson struggled some in his first three seasons, including one rough outing where Del Rio criticized him publicly. He was taken out of the starting lineup in 2009 and traded to Cincinnati shortly after.
“I’m a different dude than I was when they drafted me (in Jacksonville),” Nelson said. “I’m a veteran now. I’m smarter and wiser through experience. I can’t wait to see what he has going on in Oakland. I love Jack and always have.”
Nelson found himself in Cincinnati, and became a reliable cover man and a feared ballhawk with 30 career interceptions. There’s little doubt Nelson had his best season at age 32, defying expectation he was past his prime.
Nelson’s nearly six years younger than last year’s free safety. Charles Woodson was 39 during a Pro Bowl campaign where he was named a second-team All-Pro, his last before concluding a Hall-of-Fame career.
Nelson respects what Woodson meant to this Raiders team, but will be himself in taking over a key spot.
“Trust me, you can’t replace Charles Woodson,” Nelson said. “The only guy I can be is Reggie Nelson, and continue to play my game and get better. My name might not mean much compared to Charles Woodson, so I can’t come in and worry about filling shoes that he did because he had one heck of a career. You’re talking about a Hall of Famer. It’s nothing but respect to Charles.
"All that I can do is come in and do what (defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.) and (Del Rio) ask me to do and play my game and continue to go get that ball.”
Nelson fills a major void on defense, the latest free agent to upgrade a unit in need of reinforcements. The Raiders added cornerback Sean Smith and edge rusher Bruce Irvin earlier in free agency, and re-signed Aldon Smith for use after he’s reinstated from a long suspension.
“(General manager Reggie McKenzie and owner Mark Davis) have been doing a great job putting pieces to this puzzle together,” Nelson said. “I’m just excited that I can be a part, a piece, to that puzzle that they add. I’m pretty sure they’re not done with adding pieces and getting this team going in the right direction like they’ve been doing.
"Those guys, Sean Smith and Irvin, I mean that’s just crazy. I mean this defense has been great and just the pieces that they’ve put together this year, it’s just going and that’s not even including the draft. I just can’t wait until they get going and keep adding pieces to this team.”