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Derrick Johnson says Jon Gruden ‘always had a soft spot’ for him, hoping to finally ‘chase a ring’ with Raiders

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Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Though it’s not yet official, Jon Gruden confirmed Friday that the team is adding veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson. Something Johnson said he knew before he left the building Thursday.

“I knew the deal would happen after I left,” Johnson told Yahoo! Sports, shortly after agreeing to terms on a 1-year, $3 million deal with the Raiders.

“I’m one of Gruden’s favorite players — he’s always had a soft spot for me. He’s always said that over the years.”

Johnson isn’t the first choice of Raiders fans. They wanted NaVorro Bowman, something Gruden insists is still a possibility, even with the addition of the 35-year-old Johnson. The 13-year veteran had been in the league four years when Gruden left coaching after the 2008 season. And as a Monday Night Football analyst, Gruden covered Johnson through his four Pro Bowl seasons, three of which in his 30s.

“I’ve known Derrick a while,” said Gruden. “I think he brings us status at a critical position. He’s got a great history in the league. Been productive under a lot of different coaches, different schemes. He understands the AFC West, he certainly understands this rivalry and I’m just really excited to add him to our team with Tahir Whitehead and some of our young linebackers. I think his presence will be very valuable.”

It’s been said many times that Gruden likes veterans, especially at middle linebacker. He had Greg Biekert for four seasons, three of which were in his 30s, in Oakland and Shelton Quarles in four five years in Tampa, all in his 30s, with Quarles retiring at 35.

Spending the first 13 years of his career in Kansas City would seem to make it difficult for Johnson to just switch to the Chiefs’ longest rival, but he has two good reasons, he says, for making that decision — he still wants to play, and for a team he thinks is looking to win now.

“I still have a fire burning,” said Jonson. “I can still play at a high level, and I want to prove that.”

“I’m trying to figure out how can I chase that ring. Even though it’s a rival team, this is my best opportunity to chase a dream and play an important role. I have to go somewhere where there’s a plan for me, and that’s the Oakland Raiders.”

In his 13 years in Kansas City Johnson enjoyed just one playoff win. The Chiefs had a long window too, one that may be closing with some longtime Chiefs stars getting changed out for younger models. Gone is Alex Smith in favor of Pat Mahomes and gone is Derrick Johnson in favor of Reggie Ragland.

At very least, Johnson will be a mentor to the Raiders young linebackers. At most, the Raiders could get one more productive year out of him, twice getting a chance to prove to his former team that he has something left to offer.