The Raider Ramble presents some of the best free agency signings in the history of the storied franchise, let’s take a look.
NFL free agency is right around the corner, and Raider Nation is excited about the future. A great free agent signing can completely change the future of a franchise. Once upon a time, people groaned at Oakland signing wide receiver Michael Crabtree, but 232 catches, 2,543 yards, and 25 touchdowns later, the Nation learned to love him.
Before free agency kicks off, let’s take a peek back at some of the best free agent signings in Oakland Raiders history.
When you think of the great Raider tight ends, Dave Casper immediately comes to mind, but Todd Christensen is a close second. After lackluster stints with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, the Raiders signed Christensen in 1979.
After a couple of years on the Bench, Christensen became a starter in 1982, catching 42 passes for 510 yards and four touchdowns. However, he really broke out the following season, recording 92 catches for 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns, playing a huge role in their efforts to win a Super Bowl.
Jim Plunkett is a Raider icon through and through. While Kenny Stabler is the name most commonly associated with Raider quarterbacks, Plunkett was the man under center in two of the team’s three Super Bowl victories. It’s true that in both seasons it was Plunkett who started the season as the backup, but at the end of the day, he was the man who led the Raiders to victory.
However, he wasn’t always the champion that the Raider Nation knew him to be. Once upon a time, he was a draft bust that the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers gave up on. Imagine how different the history of the NFL, or even just the Raiders would be if Al Davis hadn’t given Plunkett one last chance.
It’s impossible to debate who the best wide receiver of all time is without mentioning Jerry Rice. To date, he holds just about every record for wide receivers over a career, including catches, yards, and touchdowns. Most people will remember Jerry Rice as a 49er, but his time in Oakland shouldn’t be ignored either.
The 49ers moved on from Rice at the beginning of the millennia, thinking that he was done and that it was time to let Terrell Owens be the team’s starting receiver. That’s when Oakland stepped in.
The legendary receiver gave three and a half years to the Silver and Black and was every bit the monster he always was. He recorded two 1,000 yard seasons and caught 18 touchdowns as a Raider, teaming with Tim Brown to form a dangerous, if experienced receiving corps. Not to mention, he helped another Raider free agent achieve career highs…
Before the Oakland Raiders drafted Derek Carr in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft, the team had a quarterback problem. The Silver and Black had been without a franchise quarterback for a long, long time. How long? Since Rich Gannon took his last snap in 2004.
Gannon was a journeyman quarterback before he put on the best jersey in professional sports in 1999. He had played for the Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, and that gang of perennial chokers, the Kansas City Chiefs during the first 11 years of his career.
When he arrived in Oakland in 1999, he was in the right place at the right time as he joined head coach Jon Gruden. With Gruden, Gannon didn’t have to wait long to have the best season of his career up to that point. In his 11 seasons, before he came to Oakland, Gannon threw for 11,158 yards and 66 touchdowns. In the four years where he was Oakland’s starter, he threw 15,787 yards and 105 touchdowns.
Injuries cut his time with the team short, but there’s no denying the impact that this free agent made. As a Raider, he won the league MVP, made the Raiders a perennial playoff contender, and even helped lead the team to a Super Bowl, even if it is one the Raider Nation would rather not talk about anymore.
This is a bit of a cheat because as any real fan knows, the only defensive player in history to win the Heisman Trophy was rafted by the team in 1998. However, he did leave the team to do seven years of volunteer work, helping the Green Bay Packers win a Super Bowl, and because of that, he needed to be signed once again. When he left the Packers in 2013, it didn’t seem like the Raiders were really in the conversation.
The Denver Broncos had Peyton Manning and were one defensive back away from a Super Bowl, and they were interested. The Seattle Seahawks had just burst onto the scene with the Legion of Boom, and they were looking for another veteran defensive back. He promised to visit the Raiders, but experts were skeptical that he’d actually sign with the team.
But when Woodson arrived, Raider Nation was waiting. They welcomed him home with open arms, and it seemed like it meant a lot to him. He signed with the team, and over the next three seasons, he played a crucial role in Oakland’s return to relevancy. His play on the field was amazing, registering five interceptions in his last season with the team, but the real impact came on the sideline.
Woodson was a leader. He cared about the Raiders, Raider Nation, and the city of Oakland. “C-Wood” taught Khalil Mack and Derek Carr what it meant to be a leader, and gave the Nation something to believe in. Remember that time in 2013 against the San Diego Chargers that was delayed because the A’s had a playoff game, and Woodson’s fumble return for a touchdown helped them pull off the win?
Woodson didn’t win Defensive Player of the Year between 2013 and 2015, and he didn’t get to experience the Raiders returning to a winning record. But there’s no doubt that the impact he made on the team, the city, and the fans will never, ever be forgotten. See ya in Canton, C-Wood.
This off-season, just like off-season’s past, will see new Raiders join the ranks. Some will be great, some will not, but this much is certain. The great history of the Oakland Raiders is littered with the washed-up, no-good, overrated busts of other teams that found a second wind, an autumn wind, with the Silver and Black. As long as that “autumn wind is a Raider,” the Black Hole will always be home for those who are willing to commit to excellence and want to, as a wise man once said, Just Win Baby.