There was no Raiders defender more polarizing than Reggie Nelson this past season. A special brew of Raider Nation’s venom and ire was reserved for the veteran safety. So much that Paul Guenther proclaimed he didn’t understand the hate when media questioned him about Nelson.
However, as the season wore on, not even Paulie G — an unquestioned backer of Nelson — could keep up with the farce.
Simply put, the 35-year-old Nelson just didn’t have the legs anymore. He’s still got the mind to diagnose and read plays, but when the body doesn’t do what the brain wants it to do, it’s likely time to hang up the cleats.
It got so bad that there were jokes about Alabama safety Deionte Thompson being a perfect safety for Guenther — and not in a good way. The barbs and ribs focused on Thompson getting burned so often in the title game against Clemson. It was reminiscent of Nelson’s late-to-the-party play for the Raiders.
Father Time is undefeated and Nelson — who was a first rounder in 2007 — went from ballhawk safety to sloth on defense. He did have flashes — a game-sealing pick against Cleveland in Week 4 and another pickle against Baltimore in Week 12 — but overall, the player-coach Guenther expected Nelson to be never came to flourishion.
That is, unless Guenther’s goal was to show his young defensive backs how not to play safety in his scheme. Nelson knew the Paulige G scheme best and garnered the starting nod along with veteran Marcus Gilchrist as Karl Joseph and Erik Harris worked on assimilating to the scheme. Once that happened, Nelson was relegated to backup and landed on injured reserve in early December.
Now the veteran is a free agent, unlikely to be brought back. Still, if Nelson’s run as a Raider is indeed over, you can’t overlook his contributions in three years: Eight interceptions, 19 passes defensed and 183 total tackles.