Raiders

Jack Del Rio bet on himself and won with new contract extension

Jack Del Rio bet on himself and won with new contract extension

Jack Del Rio really wanted to become the Raiders head coach. He’s an East Bay guy, and saw an opportunity to turn around a franchise he grew up following. That prompted him to sign a below-market contract, one that put his salary near the bottom of his profession.

He was the NFL’s lowest paid coach after the 2016 season, until owner Mark Davis tore up his contract last month and gave him a better deal.

“That’s a credit to MD,” Del Rio said in a Thursday press conference at the NFL scouting combine. “One of those things was, I bet on me on my contract. It wasn’t a very good contract to start with, but it was an opportunity. And I bet on our ability to get this thing turned around, and I feel like we have. Again, he was a man of his word and he stepped up and tore up that deal and gave me a new one.”

That happened halfway through the deal, following a 12-4 campaign and the team’s first playoff berth since 2002. The Raiders are on the right path, with a competitive window that should be open a while.

Del Rio needed some tools turning the Raiders around, which meant Davis had to write a few checks. The new head coach mandated the Raiders upgrade their practice facility, and Davis approved significant renovations despite the fact he was focused on relocating away from the Bay Area.

He added a state-of-the-art performance center behind the original property. He installed new practice fields, including an improved drainage system that prevents the soggy conditions that plagued the previous surface. The facility itself got a facelift, with adding new technology and a steam room to the building.

“When we talked about the vision I had for the franchise, and the possibility of me joining him as his head coach, there were several things I laid out that I thought was imperative,” Del Rio said. “Facility upgrade, and things like this. And he’s been very, very generous and supportive for Reggie and I to be as unified as we are and out and acquire the players we need and provide them with the kind of performance center and work environment for a first-class organization.”

Del Rio’s first contract was about getting his foot in the door and returning to the head coaching ranks. He had that title nine years in Jacksonville, and was Denver’s defensive coordinator three years after that. Del Rio wanted to be a head coach again and saw opportunity to turn the Raiders into a competitive bunch.

“I knew I was signing a deal that was less than maybe what a guy with nine years of head-coaching experience would deserve,” Del Rio said. “But there’s one thing about…throughout life, many moments where you find the ability to humble yourself and just keep your head down and keep working hard, that side of it usually takes care of itself.

“To me, it’s about being involved in something you have passion for and putting forth the energy and the effort and not being about the money. In the end, the money comes, but the reason I coach is I love to impact young men. I love to teach and inspire and motivate and help them be their best as players and even off the field. So I love what I do. It made it a no-brainer for me.”

Del Rio’s new deal didn’t come because the Raiders won a certain amount. It was an acknowledgement that Del Rio had established a winning culture. He helped the Raiders return to relevance, and Davis rewarded him with a new deal as promised.

“It was more like when you do the things I know you’re going to do, we’ll take care of the contract,” Del Rio said. “So when it came to signing free agents over the last couple of years, when it came to doing the facility upgrades, he’s been a man of word throughout the whole process.”

Vontaze Burfict wants Antonio Brown beef behind him with both on Raiders now

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AP

Vontaze Burfict wants Antonio Brown beef behind him with both on Raiders now

Things might get awkward at the start of Raiders OTAs in May.

That's when new teammates Vontaze Burfict and Antonio Brown will share a locker room for the first time.

Burfict (Cincinnati Bengals) and Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers) played on opposite sides of one of the AFC North's fiercest rivalries, and things came to a head in the 2015 postseason. That's when Burfict knocked Brown out of the playoffs with a dirty, illegal hit to the head, and received a three-game NFL suspension. 

But Burfict, who signed a one-year contract with the Raiders on Tuesday, told reporters in a conference call he isn't concerned about any lingering tension between himself and the talented wide receiver.

"We're on the same team, with one goal. It's all positive, man," Burfict said. "He's a great player, he's gonna be a Hall of Famer one day, and honestly I'm gonna approach him just like I do all my other teammates. I'll introduce myself, all that good stuff. ... There's nothing negative over here, man. We're on the same team, everything's [about] trying to win a championship over here."

The Raiders traded for Brown earlier this month, and he tweeted Tuesday that he had already reached out to Burfict.

That's a marked departure from the ex-Steelers star. When former Pittsburgh teammate Juju Smith-Schuster crushed Burfict with a vicious block, "no one enjoyed [it] more than Brown," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook wrote Tuesday. In the aftermath of Burfict's hit, Brown made his displeasure with the play clear to Cook.

“I feel like guys don’t want to stop me no more,” Brown told Cook in early 2016. “They want to take me out. They want to kill me. They want to steal my dreams. They want to ruin me. They want to end me.”

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Burfict, for his part, sounded more than ready to bury the hatchet Tuesday. He said he'll keep an open mind when he meets Brown, as well as the rest of his new teammates.

"Honestly, we might [end up being] the closest friends on the team, you know what I mean," Burfict said. "So, just gotta go along with it, and I can't wait to meet him."

If Brown's tweet is any indication, he feels the same way. 

Vontaze Burfict wastes no time reuniting with Raiders DC Paul Guenther

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AP

Vontaze Burfict wastes no time reuniting with Raiders DC Paul Guenther

Vontaze Burfict was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday, and immediately called his mother. The veteran linebacker explained the situation, ended the call and then made another one.

“The second person I called was Pauly G,” Burfict said. “He didn’t pick up. I think I called him like seven times straight.”

Those who know Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther best call him “Pauly G.” Count Burfict firmly in that class.

That’s why Burfict didn’t last long on the open market. The Raiders signed him Tuesday night to a one-year contract reportedly worth up to $5 million, less than 24 hours after he was released.

A Guenther-Burfict reunion seemed inevitable because of the veteran’s expertise running the coordinator's defensive scheme and a clear bond on and off the field.

Player and coach have a close relationship dating to Burfict’s rookie season in Cincinnati. Guenther was Burfict's position coach in 2012, and the two fostered a strong working relationship during a long-night cram session before a Sept. 23 game against Washington. Thomas Howard hurt his knee, Burfict recalled, and Guenther told him he would start and play out of position. Burfict was a middle linebacker by trade, but the Bengals needed him on the outside.

“It was like 8 p.m., and he took his time out to set the trash cans up and go through the whole playbook over like two hours with me,” Burfict said in a conference call after he signed with the Raiders. “I got like nine tackles that game, and I just looked at him and said, ‘I appreciate that. You took your time out when you could’ve just gone home.' Ever since then, it has been a close relationship to where I know his kids and his wife. We go out to dinner. It’s a good time to have a good relationship like that with a coach.”

That should help Guenther’s system run smoothly, an important factor with so much youth on defense. Burfict can be an on-field coordinator if he can stay healthy and out of trouble with the NFL.

Burfict said he’s fully fit after concussion problems last season and health issues in recent years. The NFL has disciplined him several times for vicious, illegal after-the-whistle hits that some consider dirty. That includes a nasty blow dropped on former Steelers receiver and new Raiders teammate Antonio Brown that generated plenty of negative press.

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Burfict doesn’t consider his style poor form.

“I’m not a dirty player,” Burfict said. “I play a physical position at middle linebacker. I can’t go in there playing patty-cake. If I do that, I’m going to get run over. I have 300-plus-pound linemen coming in trying to block me. If I play soft, I’m not doing my job. … I play a physical position where I have to put my jockstrap on right, put my cleats on right and be ready to play physical.”