ALAMEDA – Jon Gruden felt no need to wait for a formal team announcement. He acknowledged the Raiders are signing veteran middle linebacker Derrick Johnson.
The four-time Pro Bowler and long-time Kansas City Chief visited the Raiders on Thursday and agreed on terms Friday morning to strengthen a weak spot, bringing veteran savvy and a tremendous resume to a vital, cerebral position.
Gruden was excited about the addition, especially with someone of Johnson’s track record.
“He brings us status at a critical position,” Gruden said Friday afternoon, following a Raiders rookie minicamp practice. “He has a great history in this league. He has been productive under a lot different coaches, different schemes. He understands the AFC and certainly understands this rivalry. We’re really excited to add him to our team with Tahir Whitehead and some of our young linebackers. I think his presence will really help us.”
Johnson is respected throughout the league as an excellent leader on the field and in the locker room, some one who can diagnose quickly and make sure tackles.
He is 35 years old and will be 36 in November. He looks a bit slower after suffering his Achilles’ tendon tear in 2016 – his second in three years – and there are questions about how much he has left.
The Chiefs terminated his contract this offseason, but he believes he found a good spot in Oakland and a kindred spirit in Gruden.
“We both knew this would raise eyebrows with some people, being I’m the Chiefs’ all-time leading tackler,” Johnson told Yahoo! Sports reporter Terez Paylor. “Yeah, it’s a little different. But I still want to play ball.”
He could play quite a bit in Oakland. The Raiders only have second-year pros Marquel Lee and Nicholas Morrow earmarked for the middle linebacker spot – Whitehead can play there, too – and Johnson could still be the three-down staple he was over so many years in Kansas City.
The Raiders tried to re-sign NaVorro Bowman, but haven’t been able to agree on financial compensation. The Johnson signing – Paylor reports the deal could be worth up to $3 million – seems to eliminate the prospect of Bowman’s return. Gruden cautioned against that line of thinking.
“I wouldn’t assume anything,” Gruden said. “We’ve made a lot of moves, and that means we’ll probably make more moves in the coming days. We just want to get better. There’s a sense of urgency to do that. We’ve added some young defensive tackles and some linemen. Getting someone like Derrick Johnson could be huge for us.”
Johnson plans to lead and contribute to his new team.
“I believe I can still play at a high level, and for me, my family and my legacy, I’m trying to figure out how can I chase that ring,” Johnson said. “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.”