Raiders

Five-time Pro Bowl DE Mathis plans to retire after Colts' season finale

Five-time Pro Bowl DE Mathis plans to retire after Colts' season finale

INDIANAPOLIS -- When Robert Mathis speaks, the Indianapolis Colts listen. Every time.

It's a right the outside linebacker earned by playing 14 productive NFL seasons - all with the same team, all with the same passion, all with the same penchant for putting quarterbacks on the ground.

So when he finished practice Friday and gathered his teammates, Mathis stood in the center and made his announcement quickly and clearly: Sunday's season finale against Jacksonville will be his last game. He made it official a short time later in an emotional news conference.

"This will be 98's last game," he said.

Mathis had been around long enough to know how fickle the football business can be.

He's seen the Colts let some of his closest friends - Dwight Freeney, Reggie Wayne and Antoine Bethea - walk away in free agency. He remembers Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison failing to get a call when Indy didn't re-sign him after 2008. And he'll never forget the mind-blowing moment on March 7, 2012 when team owner Jim Irsay and Peyton Manning tearfully announced they were parting ways.

If it can happen to them, Mathis knows it can happen to anyone.

And at age 35, the signs were all there that he could be next big game to hit the street.

After missing 13 games in his first 11 pro seasons, Mathis has missed 19 over the last three, including the entire 2014 season - the first four to serve a performance enhancers suspension for what he claimed was a banned fertility drug, the last 12 after tearing his Achilles tendon.

His stats have taken a hit, too.

From 2004 through 2013, Mathis never had fewer than seven sacks or 35 tackles in a season. Those numbers dropped to seven sacks and 24 tackles in 2015 and four sacks and 22 tackles this season. He's never complained..

So Mathis decided to leave the game on his own terms.

"Rob has nothing more to prove, he's such a damn good football player," kicker Adam Vinatieri said. "He's just a hard-working dude, a silent warrior."

That's how Mathis wants to be remembered. Yes, he can be pithy and poignant, with succinct and strongly worded one-liners, but he'd rather just work.

Not many pass rushers have done it better than the Atlanta native, who almost didn't get a chance to prove himself.

Back in 2003, Mathis remembers many scouts downgrading his draft-day stock because they thought he was too small, too slow and too untested to become a key player in the NFL. Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian and the Colts' scouts valued something else in the undersized Alabama A&M product. It didn't take long to find out they were right.

After Polian traded Indy's 2014 fourth-round draft pick to Houston for an extra fifth-rounder in 2013, he wasted no time selecting Mathis with the 138th overall pick despite coach Tony Dungy's contention the price may have been too steep. Turns out, the Colts got a steal.

"We saw an explosive guy, a game-changing player who we thought could play two positions," Polian said. "You could see it almost from the first time he got on the field. He was quiet - except when he put the uniform on and then everyone knew he was around."

Mathis made sure nobody ever overlooked him again.

His resume includes six consecutive Pro Bowl appearances; two Super Bowl appearances with one world championship; the Colts' career record for sacks (122); the 2013 league sacks title (19½); and his trademark tomahawk chop that has forced a league-high 51 fumbles since 2003.

Numbers only tell part of the tale.

"I think pound for pound, he is probably the best pass rusher ever," Colts linebacker Erik Walden said. "You don't find many guys doing it from both sides. He can line up anywhere and get to the quarterback."

Yet Mathis' contributions inside the team complex go far beyond stats.

Tight end Dwayne Allen calls Mathis a treasure trove of information. Coach Chuck Pagano calls him a model of success. Everyone else calls Mathis captain.

But the most apt description might be this: a winner.

"We wouldn't be sitting where we are today and had the success that we have had over the last five years without that guy," Pagano said. "It's a debt I cannot repay. I have the utmost respect for him, not only as a football player, but as a man, father, husband and a human being. All that he does inside this building and all that he does outside this building for the community, he is a warrior. They don't make them like that.

"I guarantee he has walked in this building every single day for 14 years and walked into that locker room and looked up and saw his nameplate still up there and a jersey number still up there and said, 'I'm going to die before I let somebody take this from me.'"

He just never had to say it aloud - until Friday.

"The game of football," he said, "has been like my best friend."

Raiders 2018 schedule released: Analysis and predictions

Raiders 2018 schedule released: Analysis and predictions

WEEK 1
Monday, Sept. 10 vs. Los Angeles Rams, 7:20 p.m.

Jon Gruden goes head-to-head against protégé Sean McVay in primetime, in the season opener and on a Monday Night Football telecast Gruden was on for nine seasons. That's must-see TV. 

Prediction: L.

WEEK 2
Sunday, Sept. 16, at Denver, 1:25 p.m.

The Broncos might be the AFC West’s worst team. The Raiders have to make hay a mile up, a chore made easier with an early-season game. They avoid snow this year. 

Prediction: W.

WEEK 3
Sunday, Sept. 23, at Miami, 10:00 a.m.

The Raiders beat the Dolphins in Florida last year. It’s hard to say Miami’s much better than they were a year ago. This road win’s attainable, even in the first of four morning kickoffs.

Prediction: W.

WEEK 4
Sunday, Sept. 30, vs. Cleveland, 1:05 p.m.

The Browns should be better, but that remains a game you’ve got to win. Hue Jackson’s return to Oakland adds intrigue to these proceedings.

Prediction: W.

WEEK 5
Sunday, Oct. 7, at L.A. Chargers, 1:05 p.m.

The Raiders will have a huge home-field advantage in Carson, as they do each time they play the Chargers in Southern California. That should help against a formidable opponent that has had trouble staying healthy in recent years.

Prediction: L.

WEEK 6
Sunday, Oct. 14, vs. Seattle (at London’s Tottenham Stadium), 10:00 a.m.
The Raiders won’t make their combine their London trip with an East Coast game to make things easier from a travel perspective. Gruden doesn’t want to be away from home that long. How the Raiders handle a long flight to the United Kingdom will go a long way in determining a victor.

Prediction: W.

WEEK 7
BYE

WEEK 8
Sunday, Oct. 28, vs. Indianapolis, 1:05 p.m.

The Colts still stink, even if Andrew Luck is back healthy and throwing for this one. These are games (especially at home) the Raiders have to win.

Prediction: W.

WEEK 9
Thursday, Nov. 1, at 49ers, 5:20 p.m.
A Thursday night game offers plenty of time to get primed in the parking lot. It also guarantees a traffic mess heading into Levi’s Stadium. What could possibly go wrong? This should be a good matchup on the field, with two young quarterbacks leading the charge.

Prediction: L.

WEEK 10
Sunday, Nov. 11, vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1:05 p.m.

The Raiders have lost two of their last three home games to the Chargers. They have to handle business at home, even against a talented squad led by Philip Rivers and Joey Bosa.

Prediction: W.

WEEK 11
Sunday, Nov. 18, at Arizona, 1:05 p.m.

The Cardinals are mired in a rebuilding mode, well behind the Raiders at this stage.

Prediction: W.

WEEK 12
Sunday, Nov. 25, at Baltimore, 10:00 a.m.

Michael Crabtree will be supremely motivated for this one, after the Raiders essentially exchanged him for Jordy Nelson. He’s pretty dangerous in those situations.

Prediction: L.

WEEK 13
Sunday, Dec. 2, vs. Kansas City, 1:05 p.m.

The Chiefs will be a great litmus test, to see if the Raiders can handle big-play threats better than they have in recent seasons.

Prediction: L.

WEEK 14
Sunday, Dec. 9, vs. Pittsburgh, 5:20 p.m.

The Raiders defense better be ready to go against Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and the Steelers scoring machine in the Oakland Coliseum slate’s best matchup. To make matters better, this one's in primetime, on Sunday night. 

Prediction: L.

WEEK 15
Sunday, Dec. 16, at Cincinnati, 10:00 a.m.

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will go up against the team he helped run recently. Guenther should be an expert on stopping Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense. That will help the Raiders here. 

Prediction: W.

WEEK 16
Monday, Dec. 24, vs. Denver, 5:15 p.m.

Marquette King’s coming back to Oakland. He’s looking forward to this one. So is Bruce Irvin. All this plays out on Monday Night Football, the Raiders' fourth primetime game and third at Oakland Coliseum. 

Prediction: W.

WEEK 17
Sunday, Dec. 30,at Kansas City, 10:00 a.m.

Arrowhead Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Raiders in recent seasons. Jack Del Rio could never figure how to play well there. Can Jon Gruden buck that trend?

Prediction: L.

An early quarterback run will help Raiders in this NFL Draft

An early quarterback run will help Raiders in this NFL Draft

This NFL Draft should be interesting at the top. Quarterbacks should dominate early proceedings, with teams ready to select as many as four passers in the top 10.

That would suit the Raiders just fine. Derek Carr’s their franchise quarterback. They don’t need another one.

Many other teams do, meaning Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen could all be taken quickly.

“That will really reshape the draft, particularly if there's a run on quarterbacks very, very early in the draft like many of us expect,” NFL Network analyst and former Raiders cornerback Bucky Brooks said in a conference call. “…I think the fascination for me will be what do teams do to put themselves in a position to get a quarterback, what blue chip players find themselves in a bit of a free-fall because these quarterbacks come off the board.”

The Raiders obviously aren’t considering a quarterback at the top. They’ll likely get one of, if not the best players at his position falling farther than they would in a normal year.

We’ve gone over possible selections at No. 10 overall. If you missed it, check it out here.

Quality abounds in that group, with top players at key positions of need. That includes linebacker, defensive tackle and defensive back (and maybe edge rusher) at that spot.

While having four quarterbacks go before the Raiders picks shoves top players down to No. 10, leaving one on the market would make that selection incredibly valuable.

The Raiders could offer that pick to a quarterback starved team willing to trade up to get their passer of the present and future. We’ve outlined candidates for the Raiders should they trade down in the first round, and carry on with extra selections.

The Raiders have 11 as it stands, with one pick in the first four rounds, two in the fifth, four in the sixth and another in the seventh. That’s plenty to package and trade up to land a coveted player in this draft.

The Raiders aim to get the most value from the No. 10 pick, either with an elite draft prospect or the bounty that comes from trading it. One catch: The 49ers could be thinking the same thing at No. 9, a spot earned with a tiebreaking coin flip at the NFL Scouting Combine. They also have similar needs, though they aren’t exactly the same, but should deter the Raiders too much from getting the player or trade they covet.

That’s due to the top-flight quarterbacks they have no intention of drafting.