Last offseason the Raiders brought in Maurice Jones-Drew as a free agent. The 29-year-old looked to be in good position to rejuvenate his career after a down season in 2013 which saw him fall to 3.3 yards per carry after having averaged 4.6 yards per carry his first seven seasons in the NFL.
The evidence for the MJD's potential to return to form was there.
In 2013 with the Jaguars he was injured much of the season. He came in not fully healed from an injury the previous season and then Charles Woodson further injured him in week two with a diving tackle which tweaked his ankle.
He didn't start to feel better until late in the season and over the final five games he was back to averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
Even still, the Jaguars let walk as a free agent which opened the door for him to have a homecoming with the Raiders. He signed a very friendly 3-year $7.5 million deal which was simply $2.5 million per season to suit up for the team of which he grew up a fan.
He looked great in the preseason, including breaking off a big 40-yard touchdown run in Green Bay in week three. Then the regular season came and he was going nowhere.
He started the season opener in New York against the Jets but injured his hand and had to have surgery. He missed a few games recovering and then never got his starting job back from Darren McFadden. MJD ran for just 96 yards on 43 carries (2.2 yards per carry) on the season. And in most situations his release would be a fairly simple decision.
What makes this situation different are a couple things.
First and foremost - Jack Del Rio.
Del Rio and MJD have a couple things in common. They both had homecomings with the Raiders - Del Rio is from Hayward. The dream of making a grand return to their favorite team as a child is one Del Rio can certainly relate to.
While the head coach in Jacksonville, Del Rio drafted MJD in 2006. The two were together for six of Del Rio's nine seasons as head coach of the Jaguars. His final season MJD was named an All Pro. That tends to leave a lasting memory.
"I loved the time we had together in Jacksonville," Del Rio told local media Thursday. "He was one of the true warriors that I had on the football field. He gave everything he had to the football team and I will expect the same kind of commitment from all of our players here in Oakland."
"He thinks he does [have something left in the tank]. We talked about it. We need to find that out. It's something we need to find out. If he feels healthy - I think the first thing would be to make sure that he keeps his weight where it needs to be. He understands that, so he can be explosive again. We need to find out if he can be explosive again."
That leaves the door open, certainly but it far from guarantees MJD will even be given a shot in training camp to make the team.
Another thing that makes this situation somewhat different is the salary situation. The Raiders have a lot to spend and saving $2.5 million from cutting MJD is not going to make much of a difference at all.
If you are talking valuable roster spots, that's a different story. That would be something that is decided in training camp and preseason and would be dependent upon what the team does in free agency and the draft.
It was unfortunate to see MJD's return to the Raiders not be what he or the team had hoped. That story would get a much happier ending if he could rebound next season and go out feeling like he was a contributing factor in the uniform he always wanted to wear.
It would be a nice story. But this is a business. And that business is winning. The Raiders won't bring him back as a keepsake. If he looks like he can be a strong contributor, he'll be back.