The Arizona Cardinals come to Oakland this week to face the Raiders. There are four former Raiders on the Cardinals team. One of them is Tommy Kelly who will face his former team for the first time since he was released following the 2012 season.
Kelly was originally and undrafted free agent signing by the Raiders. He made the team out of camp and spent the first nine years of his career in Oakland. He received a big contract a few years back and with the new regime, his $6.5 million cap hit made him a casualty for the cap strapped Raiders.
He spent the 2013 season with the Patriots and was eventually released and signed with the Cardinals this off-season.
Kelly's nine years in Oakland were difficult ones. Six of those seasons, the team had double digit losses each season. That was a difficult time for Kelly. And even more difficult for some of his teammates who he said would often times quit on the team.
"I love the city of Oakland," Kelly told the Arizona Republic. "I have much love for the people back there. They recognize the people who play hard. I know I play hard. I always left it on the field. There were a lot of guys, though, who quit. A lot of times that's when you see how much a person loves football, when everything ain't going good for them. It's easy to play hard when you're on the best team, but try playing hard when you know you barely got a shot to win."
The 11-year veteran never saw a winning record in nine years in Oakland, only twice reaching .500 (2010-11). One and a half of those seasons, Carson Palmer was the quarterback, with whom he was reunited when he signed with the Cardinals and with whom he is now enjoying an NFC West leading 4-1 record.
"What I have learned in this league is you've got to have a trigger man and for some reason, we (Raiders) just never got that right until we got Carson (Palmer) and Jason Campbell," said Kelly. "We had a better shot of winning when we had those two quarterbacks. Before that, it was real shaky. When you don't have no trigger man, you can't get nothing done. I don't care how good you are; if you don't have a quarterback it's not going to work."
If anyone knows what it's like to suffer through a slew of bad starting quarterbacks, it's Kelly. He watched from the Raiders sideline as they trotted out the likes of Aaron Brooks, Andrew Walter, Daunte Culpepper, Josh McCown, and JaMarcus Russell before finally having a little bit of success with Jason Campbell and later Carson Palmer.
The former undrafted free agent also saw a lot of big time draft picks bust out such as the aforementioned JaMarcus Russell, Rolando McClain, and Darrius Heyward-Bey just to name a few.
"Yeah. I lived through a lot over there, but at the same time, I learned a lot - about how to be a professional and what not to do in my career and it got me this far, 11 years strong. I've got a lot of respect for the Davis family and I had a lot of good teammates. We just never could get it all together."
Now the always good natured and outspoken Kelly enjoys more stability in Arizona.
"I guess being undrafted. I'm not the type of player that really gets down on myself because I know in the NFL you've always got a chance to redeem yourself. Don't nobody in this league play a perfect 16-game season. It's always about how you bounce back."
Kelly returns this Sunday to the city and the team he called home for nine years. His 4-1 Cardinals will face the 0-5 Raiders in front of the fans who once cheered relentlessly for him regardless of how bad the team was or how many of his former teammates threw in the towel on a lost season.