After an offseason spent largely throwing money at defensive fixes, the Raiders don’t have much to show for it. They’re 5-2 almost exclusively on the strength of an offense that returned mostly intact, but Oakland being tied for the AFC West lead with so much talent on defense has to scare many around the league.
Reggie McKenzie’s contract proposal to Aldon Smith was lost in the splurge and considered by many a throwaway proposition given the way Smith’s career has unraveled. But it was a smart decision that didn’t feature a lot of risk, given how no guaranteed money is tied to it.
The Raiders’ defense may suddenly feature an overqualified off-the-bench weapon. However, this reality is likely to be delayed further since Smith must show Roger Goodell he’s a changed man and probably faces another suspension on top of the one he’s already served.
Smith has applied for reinstatement — his suspension is officially up Nov. 17, which comes conveniently during the Raiders’ Week 10 bye — but still faces further discipline based on how a meeting with Goodell goes. He has to make a good impression with arguably American sports’ most loathed figure, and another ban on top of this one could be considered the best-case scenario.
Obviously, this isn’t to defend Smith’s past behavior. His ability to have a chance to come back after everything he’s done is a gift, but shouldn’t time served matter here?
The 27-year-old pass-rusher will have already missed a full year, and this comes on top of a nine-game ban that wiped out most of his 2014 season. If Smith shows Goodell that he’s changed — and this is a semi-ludicrous proposition given the commissioner’s troubles with player discipline over the past few years — he shouldn’t have to miss more time on top of the immense layoff that’s already occurred.
NFL players face the kind of working conditions their major-American-sport peers do not and have the worst CBA on top of it. Their contracts are non-guaranteed, which should be a non-starter based on the kind of violence and countless examples of franchises walking away from players before having to pay them what is owed. These employees have a limited window to capitalize on their earning potential compared to their safer-sport peers, whose contracts are mostly guaranteed commitments.
The disparity between how contracts are structured in the NFL compared to the NBA and MLB should make fringe fans feel uncomfortable about this sport.
Like Josh Gordon, Smith put himself in this situation with a string of bad decisions. He’s cost himself millions in guaranteed money that would have awaited him by now. 2011 first-round peers Von Miller and Muhammad Wilkerson became the last of that historically good group to be extended by their teams, with many such talents signing extensions years prior, so the former University of Missouri edge defender missed his window — much like Gordon is about to.
He should have to prove that he’s changed to Goodell (well, really, it should be a panel of personnel as opposed to a one-on-one summit with a shaky commissioner) but should be eligible to return in Week 11. Seeing another two-, three- or four-game ban (Gordon received four before re-entering rehab) tacked onto this would be unnecessary.
The Raiders have the makings of an elite NASCAR package-style setup on passing downs, with Smith (47.5 career sacks from 2011-15 despite his parade of missteps) joining Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin to invigorate a pass rush that’s underwhelmed so far but is improving.
Oakland should not have to wait until December to deploy Smith and use him sporadically to get him into game shape. That’s essentially another wasted regular season.
The NFL could use a good comeback story, and this isn’t saying Smith is that guy. That cannot be known yet. But with the domestic violence and concussion clouds swirling on the league, further disciplining a player for substance abuse after extensive time served would be another bad look.