With money still to spend, Reggie McKenzie is far from writing his “How I Spent My Offseason” essay. But the Raiders’ general manager made one thing clear in his early moves: He prizes Super Bowl experience.
The splashiest names that McKenzie signed to contracts last week were defensive end Justin Tuck and linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who might play end for the Raiders. Tuck won Super Bowl rings with the Giants in 2007 and 2011. Woodley won one with the Steelers in 2008 and played in another two years later, losing to Green Bay. And throw in cornerback Tarell Brown, who started for the 49ers in their Super Bowl loss to Baltimore a little more than a year ago.
Yesterday the Raiders turned to offense and landed guard Kevin Boothe (two Super Bowl victories with the Giants alongside Tuck) and wide receiver James Jones (one with the Packers in 2010).
You can see the attraction. These guys are steeped in winning football cultures. In a league where the talent margin between good teams and mediocre teams is razor-thin, things like attention to detail, practice-field effort and discipline in carrying out assignments are real advantages. The Raiders are hoping players like Tuck and Woodley can share some of those habits with their new teammates and make this franchise functional again.
The big-game experience doesn’t hurt, either. A lot of current Raiders have never played for anything more than an early-season share of first place. Tuck, Woodley and Jones have sat through a week’s worth of draining Super Bowl interviews.
On the other hand, adding Super Bowl experience is no guarantee of success. The Raiders should know that, at least those who were here in 2004.
Norv Turner was the new head coach that year, and he brought in young Rob Ryan as his defensive coordinator. The Raiders were a little more than a year removed from their own Super Bowl run, and owner Al Davis thought he zip back there with a few bold strokes. He focused on defense and bought Ryan some intriguing parts.
Among the incoming free agents that year were defensive linemen Bobby Hamilton, Warren Sapp and Ted Washington, who had combined for four Super Bowl rings over the previous three seasons. It was part of a massive defensive influx that also included safety Ray Buchanan, cornerback Denard Walker and linebackers Danny Clark and Dwayne Rudd, among others.
On offense, the Raiders signed guard Ron Stone, who had cut his teeth with the Super Bowl-winning 1994 Cowboys, and quarterback Kerry Collins, who had lost a Super Bowl with the Giants. They also brought back Roland Williams, who had won a Bowl with the Rams and lost one in a previous stint with Oakland.
That was a lot of championship hardware welcomed to the fold. But [SPOILER ALERT!] things didn’t work out as planned. The Raiders finished 5-11 in Turner’s first season. They ranked a respectable 17th on offense, but all those high-priced defenders couldn’t keep Ryan’s unit from ranking 30th.
Sapp would go on to have a couple of nice seasons for the Raiders, and Hamilton, for one, was every bit the leader the team hoped he would be. But guys like Washington and Stone never seemed like locker-room come-ups.
This is not to disparage McKenzie. His Super Bowl-winning hires will look like great moves – if they are the players he expects them to be, and they have some passion left. Big-game experience is important, but talent wins out in the NFL.