Guest Take: Back to The Future?
Al Davis is a different cat. In his prime he was viewed by the media as a "Maverick"; and would be comparable today to Mark Cuban. An innovator who thought outside the normal realm of doing business (or the box). He invented, and then reinvented the wheel; and took cast offs, and made them champions. Players loved playing for him, and old coaches that have come through our doors and remained "family" swear by him (Madden, Flores, and Art Shell are the only coaches that come to mind at the moment). So what's changed? How does this relate to what we are seeing in the business of football? What needs to happen to make it work? Keep in mind, the current CBA was authored by Al Davis. Al Davis saved the league 5 years ago, but can they build upon what he did? That is the big question needing to be answered, and I want to give a perspective on what the issue is, and how it relates to the current status of the Raiders, but first let's put this in perspective of history.
Let's go back to 1919. In this year, something significant happened that changed the face of America's Pasttime, baseball. The Black Sox scandal, where 8 players threw the World Series, to get paid by the bookies and gamblers; what they lost from their owner Charles Comiskey. I find a lot of similarities between Charles Comiskey and Al Davis. Charles Comiskey was known as one "of the most influential figures in the history of the sport, Charles Comiskey's 55-year odyssey through professional baseball ran the gamut from captain of one of the greatest teams of the nineteenth century, league-jumper during the 1890 players' rebellion, chief architect of the American League's emergence in 1901 as a major league, long-time owner of one of the league's most successful franchises, the Chicago White Sox, and a central figure in the 1919 Black Sox scandal. During his long association with the game, Comiskey was, at various points, regarded as a labor radical, a visionary executive, and a domineering patriarch who lavished money on his ballpark and the press while underpaying his best players. Baseball, Comiskey once wrote, 'is the only game that is complicated enough to be always interesting and yet simple enough to be always understood.' Ultimately, the same can be said of the Old Roman himself."
But where he and Al Davis differ is that most players like Al Davis; players did not like Charles Comiskey. As an owner, Comiskey "established a reputation as an owner passionately involved in the day-to-day affairs of his club. Comiskey was never afraid to express his opinions about the game from his private box. Reporters shared numerous stories of Comiskey railing at his team over bonehead plays or games tossed away. Comiskey polished his reputation as a benevolent monarch. Beginning in 1900, he handed out free grandstand tickets to 75,000 schoolboys each season. He constantly professed love for the fans and when it rained at his ball park, the occupants of the bleachers were permitted to enter the higher-priced sheltered sections without extra charge. 'Those bleacherites made this big new plant possible,' announced Comiskey. 'The fellow who can pay only twenty-five cents to see a ball game always will be just as welcome at Comiskey Park as the box seat holder.' He later claimed to have given away a quarter of a million tickets to servicemen, and followed that by donating a reported 10 percent of his 1917 home gate receipts to the Red Cross, an amount totaling about $17,000. Comiskey regularly allowed the city of Chicago to use his park for special events, often free of charge. The owner's benevolence also extended to the press, whom he regularly feted with roasts and free drinks."
Cominskey is a key figure in sports that developed paying player contracts based on incentives. Example, if you win xx number of games, you will receive a $$ bonus. But he was also known to cheat the players out of their incentives. "he squeezed every dime he could out of his players. Long before the 1919 scandal erupted, Comiskey's team was already known as the "Black Sox" for their dirty uniforms, a result of Comiskey's efforts to cut down on laundry bills. While most league players received four dollars a day on the road to cover hotels and meals, the Sox got only three. Most importantly, Comiskey underpaid many of his best players, including three men who later turned against him--star pitcher Eddie Cicotte, Jackson, and third baseman Buck Weaver."
"Eddie Cicotte had been promised a $10,000 bonus if he could win 30 games in a season. When Cicotte closed in on the 30-game goal (at 29 wins), Comiskey had him benched to keep him from reaching the mark. In one incident, he promised his players a bonus for winning the 1919 pennant - the "bonus" turned out to be a case of flat champagne."
Comiskey's dealing with the players' and their bonus incentives contracts, is really similar to what we are seeing in football. Nnamdi's contract was voided based on incentives of sacks, interceptions, fumbles, fumble recoveries, etc. My question is, how many times did he blitz? How many opportunities did he have to force a fumble, recover a fumble (which is based on others on our defense causing a turnover), were injuries considered on improving the number of games he plays? The only incentive that has been answered to me is the interception incentive. According to STATS LLC, Asomugha was targeted on just 33 pass attempts this season. He allowed 13 completions for 205 yards and no touchdowns, burnishing his reputation as a shutdown cornerback. To me that is enough to get at least 1 interception. Deals like this are happening League wide, and there seems to be a sense of disgruntledness among the Players Union, that these contract incentives need to meet certain criteria to allow them to succeed. For instance, Nnamdi's situation. If he had incentives to increase his salary based on improvements like # of sacks, then it should be written in the contract how many times they will use him in a season to meet that #. I mean, blitzing him one time, to try and achieve one sack, is not helping him improve that stat to help him reach his incentive. The argument is currently, if you cannot guarantee this in a contract on incentives, then we want more guaranteed monies. The players point to cases like Nnamdi, as well as Albert Haynesworth as examples. Albert's contract was incentive driven, and he lost a chance to gain those incentives by the Redskins switching to a 3-4 defense. The owner's argue back, Albert is a professional, he should be able to succeed regardless of the scheme. But that is not true. Physically, Albert Haynesworth does not have the "speed" to run in a 3-4 defense. He is a big guy that is to plug running gaps, and gain sacks off the speed of the players around him; which worked tremendously well for him in Tennessee running in a 4-3 based defense. (BTW, can you imagine him and Seymour on the same team, drool, drool).
So going back to the Al/Charles Comiskey similarities. Players did not like playing for Comiskey, and there's a similar hatred with Al and coaches. Why? Because Al doesn't really give his coaches a chance to succeed. A head coach is not allowed to bring in his own assistants/staff. Al does interfere with the coaches during the game. Al does not pay coaches market money to get the "job done". His only requirement is that they win, but he doesn't build a foundation for them to succeed at winning; unless all the planets, moon, and stars are aligned (which has only happened 3 times in history, 1977, 1980, and 1984). He canned Madden because he only won 1 Super Bowl. He canned Flores because he couldn't make things work with Marc Wilson. He fired Art Shell, because Art Shell couldn't beat Buffalo in the snow despite Al Davis not taking the proper equipment to beat Buffalo. He traded Gruden because Gruden didn't want to stay after his contract was up. He fired Cable because Cable didn't make the playoffs, despite showing drastic changes to the product on the field. 8-8 is nothing to be proud of (unless you have 7 seasons of 11+ losses), and especially with news of Cable being fined $120,000 through the course of the season, for unknown reasons. I guess the relationship between Cable and Davis wasn't all warm and fluffy that it appeared to be (which is a credit to Cable for not taking it to the media). Sometimes I wonder if Al does this to his coaches to see if they are "going to betray him" in the media. But now we see that Davis feels that the Raiders' success this year was due to the success of Hue Jackson, not Cable; I guess we will see.
Is it all Al's fault? No, but he is not helping his case either. What are my expectations for 2011? I'm not sure we build on 8-8; especially if we lose Nnamdi, Zach Miller, Seymour, Gallery, and Bush. I think those are key Free Agents that we need to get back. I also don't like the sounds of Lechler being shown the door either. I think these are steps backward, not forward. After 1919, the next time the White Sox were contenders for anything significant was 5 years after Comiskey died in 1936. I feel the Raiders are heading down the same road.