ALAMEDA -– The Raiders locker room is full of character players. That’s not an accident. General manager Reggie McKenzie designed it that way, rarely taking risks on talent with off-field issues.
There are some Raiders living with past mistakes, but they haven’t caused an issue in silver and black. A player employed by the Raiders hasn’t been on the police blotter in years, which is a point of pride for this organization.
The Raiders have had the extra cash and depth-chart needs to take a risk on troubled talent, but owner Mark Davis has drawn a line on what’s acceptable. No Greg Hardy. Ray Rice isn’t coming to town. Generally speaking, domestic violence issues aren’t welcome on this roster.
Davis signed off on former 49er edge rusher Aldon Smith. Had to. So did McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio. They signed the former All-Pro edge rusher on Friday, and will add him to a suddenly scary defensive front as early Sunday’s opener against Cincinnati.
Defensive end and team captain Justin Tuck vouched for him. The locker room is full of high-character veterans who will try and make sure that: A) Smith feels comfortable and B) Smith doesn’t become a distraction. That said, they don’t feel a need hold a 25-year old man’s hand roughly a month removed from his fifth-run in with the law since 2011.
“I don’t really know about his past,” safety Charles Woodson said. “Aldon is a grown man. Whatever he has to do deal with, I’m sure he’ll deal with it accordingly.
“I’m not a babysitter, and I don’t think anyone expects anyone else to be his babysitter. The only thing we expect is that he comes in and works hard. We’ve been working hard all offseason. He needs to contribute and help make this team great. That’s what we want. I’m sure he wants the same thing.”
We haven’t heard from Smith yet. He wasn’t available to the press after Friday’s practice.
The Raiders were excited to have Smith in Alameda. San Francisco 49ers players were sorry to see him leave Santa Clara after being released on Aug. 7 following an arrest on suspicion of DUI, hit-and-run and vandalism.
Smith has problems with the law, including multiple arrests for DUI. The Santa Clara County District Attorney charged with misdemeanor DUI with a prior conviction, hit-and-run and vandalism under $400 shortly after signing with the Raiders.
Players have publicly considered Smith as a good teammate. He has had trouble staying on a reputable path, but signed with the Raiders in part to stay closer to a support system. Tuck can help him with that.
“What we all need to be good at is listening,” Tuck said. “Aldon is a self-aware type of dude. He’ll let us know how we can help him.”
He has an arraignment set for Oct. 6, and NFL could take punitive action for his latest transgression, though the league generally waits for matters to be adjudicated. He is now a primary topic of conversation, as he was Friday when media focus would be on the Bengals.
Woodson, for one, isn’t worried about distractions.
“I’m not worried about that at all,” Woodson said. “Aldon will be a great addition to our team. We already felt like had put together a very good team, and he adds to it.”
If Smith doesn’t get in more trouble, there isn’t much risk in this Raiders signing. His contract is loaded with incentives and per-game roster bonuses, meaning the Raiders will pay for what they get. If he’s suspended, the Raiders are back where they started, with Khalil Mack, Tuck and second-rounder Mario Edwards Jr. rushing off the edge.
It’s important to remember that Smith wasn’t a valuable Raiders first-round draft pick. He isn’t a long-term investment or a gamble with high selections, a franchise’s prize possessions. It also won’t change the Raiders penchant for drafting talented character players.
After 11 wins over the last three seasons, Raiders players are tired of losing. They want a renaissance to start Sunday against the Bengals, and Smith gives them a chance to do that. They don’t believe he’ll create a disruptive workplace and, when Smith is going well, he gives the Raiders a better chance to win.
“Adding an All-Pro two days before Week 1 gives the whole team juice,” fullback and team captain Marcel Reece said. “It’s exciting for everybody around here. The interactions I’ve had with Aldon have been great. He’s been involved in some unfortunate things but, just like the rest of us, he wants to focus on football right now. We’ll help him in any way we can and help him become a good Raider.”