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Is Richie Incognito addition a contradiction to Raiders recent ‘boy scouts’ approach? Is he worth the potential risk? It’s complicated

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Whether you think the Raiders should have signed Richie Incognito or not, it should be a layered debate.

NFL: Oakland Raiders-OTA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past 24 hours, many Raiders fans have probably found themselves trying reconcile the difference between the Raiders’ talk this offseason about putting an emphasis on high character players and the signing of Richie Incognito.

Just prior to OTA practice Tuesday, the Raiders made the announcement they had signed Richie Incognito. We would have seen it for ourselves a few minutes later as that practice was the second OTA practice which was open to the media. So, to get ahead of it, General Manager Mike Mayock spoke prior to practice in the hopes of deflecting some of the shock value of the signing.

Most of you have heard the laundry list of offenses by Incognito over the past few years because we laid them out the day the team worked him out back on May 6. His transgressions range from being suspended for the entire 2014 season for harassing teammate Johnathan Martin and using racial slurs to just last year being arrested for threatening to shoot people in a funeral home.

If you were among those who were having trouble with the idea of the team adding such a character, you weren’t alone.

Whether the Raiders were among those with serious reservations is hard to tell. They had a need at left guard. They brought in Incognito for a workout and claim that even after a year away from football, he was in in great shape. According to Mayock, it took them all of a couple minutes to decide he was worth a shot to sign with the team.

“He was coming off a great 2017 and didn’t play in ’18 so I didn’t know what to expect,” Mayock said of the workout with Incognito. “And I’ll tell you quite honestly we had about ten people watching him work out. And he started with two circuits with Tom Cable and usually you go with the circuit and you go into position drills. He got done with two circuits and Tom Cable said ‘That’s all I need to see’ and Jon Gruden and I said that’s all we need to see. He was in great shape, he looks like he’s five to ten years younger than he really is. Wonderful shape, he still has his quickness, he still has his foot speed. But at the end of the day we won’t know what we have in him until training camp and he has an opportunity to compete.”

With the team having traded All Pro left guard Kelechi Osemele to the Jets, competition at the left guard spot will be with Denzelle Good who for reasons unknown was missing from Incognito’s first practice Tuesday. Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said only that Good was “dealing with something.”

Ok, so the Raiders felt they had a need at the position and Incognito looks to be in shape and back to his 2017 Pro Bowl form. But even approaching 36, it’s not his physical shape that is in question here. It’s his mental state. Which raises a bigger question: Should he be heavily scrutinized or supported?

The old guard of Raiders fans fondly remember some of the endearingly ‘unique’ personalities who made up the team in its glory days. The likes of Jack “The Assassin” Tatum, Kenny “The Snake” Stabler, Skip “Dr Death” Thomas, Ted “The Mad Stork” Hendricks, Otis “University of Mars” Sistrunk, and several others.

The new guard didn’t live through those years and mostly remembers the Raiders penchant for ignoring character red flags catching up to them in the 90s and more recently with cautionary tales like Todd Marinovich, Darrell Russell, Javon Walker, JaMarcus Russell, Rolando McClain, and the like.

Even more recently, the Raiders have for the most part stayed as far away from the worst characters. There have been a few exceptions such as Aldon Smith who received Justin Tuck’s support or Daryl Worley who was vouched for by former college teammate Karl Joseph. In both cases, the players struggled with alcohol problems. Smith was unable to kick it and Worley seems to have gotten past it to earn a 2nd round RFA tender this season.

It’s clear that the approach the Raiders are taking isn’t simply a clearcut one in which character is first and foremost. It is of great importance in terms of the draft as well as those free agents who receive large, long term deals. But with players on one-year deals like Incognito and notorious dirty player Vontaze Burfict, the philosophy changes.

“I think at the end of the day, you can’t have all boy scouts,” said Mayock, defending the addition of Incognito to a squad he largely constructed with high character ‘foundation’ players.

For Burfict, it was Paul Guenther who “pounded the table” as he was Burfict was his middle linebacker in Cincinnati and both wanted to reunite. Mayock says everyone was pounding the table for Incognito, adding that on a low salary, one-year “prove it” deal “we’re all in.”

There isn’t simply two sides to the Incognito debate, though many seem to think there is. Some will say he’s a bad apple who doesn’t deserve an invitation back into the league and who will poison a locker room. While others will look past everything simply because all they care about it what he may be able to provide the team on the field.

Both points of view are wrong in some regard.

You shouldn’t support him merely because he’s wearing Silver & Black any more than you should cast judgment without considering if there might be underlying issues.

Another former Raiders pariah who comes to mind in all this — Barret Robbins.

That’s one name which causes the hair on many Raiders fans necks to stand up. Robbins infamously went AWOL the night before the Raiders Super Bowl in San Diego back in 2002 and was found in Tijuana Mexico, causing the team to make the last minute decision to start Adam Treu at center instead.

Robbins was a Pro Bowl center who took medication for bipolar disorder. He was said to have gone off his meds that night and in his mind, the Raiders had already won the Super Bowl and he was in Tijuana celebrating.

As you might expect, Robbins was ostracized and villainized by the fans and his life spiraled out of control. Following the untimely end to a great NFL career, his disorder got the best of him and he found himself in and out of jail for incidents that often had to do with brawls and disorderly conduct.

The fans are split on their opinion of him. Some can never forgive him while others support him as a tragic figure who fell victim to his disorder.

Over the past few years, Incognito’s behavior has been bipolar, even if he may not have officially been diagnosed with the disorder. An assault incident at a gym in Florida a year ago had authorities place him on “involuntary psychiatric hold” as he was said to be in an “Altered, paranoid state.”

Though the Raiders are handling him very much as if he has issues somewhat beyond his control. They brought in a clinician and are establishing a structured environment for Incognito.

“We’ve got a plan. He’s going to stay to that plan. He agreed a couple weeks ago,” Mayock said with regard to Incognito’s mental health. “We talked about the infrastructure he would need. He was quite honest with me. We had a one-on-one meeting with the door closed where I asked him specifically what he would need not only to be a good football player, but to be a really good human being.”

The optics on signing a player with the history of Incognito are bad. There’s no question about that. The risk from a salary perspective is low, but from a team dynamic perspective could be high. That’s part of the reason he was out of football last season. He will also require some handling. The Raiders clearly feel he’s worth that. Until he isn’t.

Poll

Are you for or against the Raiders signing Incognito?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    For it
    (575 votes)
  • 49%
    Against it
    (1283 votes)
  • 14%
    I am struggling with opposing feelings on it
    (375 votes)
  • 13%
    I have no strong reaction and am reserving judgment
    (354 votes)
2587 votes total Vote Now