The Raiders have two new starting cornerbacks coming into this season. They are former long time starters Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer. The team didn't make a big trade for them and they certainly didn't sign them to big free agent contracts. As happy as the Raiders are to have these two, they are just as happy to be in Oakland.
Spencer and Bartell have a lot in common. The first being that they were born on the same day. To be clear, they don't just have the same birthday. They were literally born on the same day-- February 22, 1982. Spencer came into the league a year ahead of Bartell (2004) but both players have essentially five years of experience as starters.
The two players both played in the NFC West, Bartell for the Rams and Spencer for the Niners, for their entire careers up to last season. With the Rams and 49ers playing each other twice a year, they have grown very familiar with each other's work over the past seven seasons.
Both were also injured in the preseason last year with Bartell going on injured reserve and Spencer losing his starting job and not getting back. Spencer went down with a hamstring injury and by the time he was recovered, he had been replaced and essentially phased out in San Francisco.
"It's a breath of fresh air," said Spencer of his new team. "Prior to leaving San Francisco, at the end of the season, I sat down and talked to Trent Baalke and he was gracious enough and nice enough to say ‘you know what let's do this in a timely manner instead of dragging it out' until, you know, August and then releasing me and all that other stuff. So I do appreciate that on his behalf. It was something that for both sides, all parties involved, it was the best thing, it was time."
Bartell had a fractured vertebra in his neck and was out all of last season. And rather than see if he was recovered from his injury, the Rams showed no interest in bringing him back. Even though he checked out completely and was cleared to play.
"I feel great and I'm just happy to be back on the field." said Bartell. "It's the first time I've ever been injured. You get banged up a lot in this game, but it's the first injury I've ever had where I've had to miss a significant amount of time. Luckily for me, it was not a simple injury but a straightforward, or fracture, and everything healed up fine. I'm just ready to play ball and I'm happy to be back.
"I don't have any fear at all. The funny thing about it is, when I had the injury, I didn't actually know that I had fractured my neck. It felt more like a stinger. I walked off corner of the field under my own power and I was actually about to check back into the game, and they just held me out since the game was pretty much over. We didn't find out that I had the fracture until I got the C-T scan... once I got the clearance, I'm fine, I'm ready to go."
"For me, being in my eighth year, being in St. Louis seven straight years and to see guys come and go, to have the type of injury I had, just from that standpoint, just being able to get back out on the field and compete, that's all I can ask for. Another chance, another opportunity to play again.
"It's a good situation, it's a good opportunity... a whole new city, a whole new part of the country, a new organization, so it brings some excitement for me. I'm looking forward to it."
For the Raiders, it is a classic resurrection story. They were once known as a team who took on those players other teams have given up for dead, and resurrected their careers. But these are players with plenty of good years left in them. It isn't like they are ready for retirement.
"(We're) Old men if you let everyone else tell it," Bartell quipped. "Yeah, yeah, me and Shawntae played a lot of football in this league, we started a lot of games, been in a lot of battles."
With several big names at corner on the free agent market this offseason, guys like Spencer and Bartell went relatively unnoticed. A lot of people heard the words "broken neck" and wrote off Bartell's career. Spencer was not set to become a free agent and was released. But for a team like the Raiders who needed to find instant starters at bargain basement prices, these two fit the bill perfectly.
The Raiders signed both players to one year deals which allows both players the chance to show they can still play at a high level and earn a possible longer, more lucrative deal next year. The flip side is if they don't play well, the Raiders won't be tied to them.
But for now, they have the fresh start they wanted and are coming in as the starters. It is an opportunity they were not going to have for their previous teams and one that can be rare in this league.
The two veteran cornerbacks saw a chance to prove themselves and the Raiders saw two guys who had already proven themselves. It is really no wonder these two are as excited to be here as they are.