ALAMEDA – The Raiders decided to pay out some bonuses well before they came due. Jordy Nelson, Tahir Whitehead, Lee Smith and Kyle Wilber got big, fat checks this week, more than three months ahead of their due date, ESPN first reported, to help spread cap hits over this year and the next.
Financial dealings like this aren’t of great importance on the surface. What they mean, however, goes beyond dollars and cents.
It virtually locks the aforementioned players onto the 2019 roster, unlike they were before. Each guy could’ve been cut before his roster bonus came due without dead money attached. Their salaries were not guaranteed.
“Normally when you hand out a bonus for next year’s season,” coach Jon Gruden said Friday, “there’s a pretty good chance those guys are coming back.”
Nelson and Whitehead are the big fish in the group. The former was given a $3.6 million bonus, while the latter was given $3.35 million.
Nelson’s return was somewhat of a question mark given his salary and a marked production drop after midseason, but the veteran wide receiver and quarterback Derek Carr have found great sync in recent weeks. He has 54 catches for 661 yards this season, and has been a great leader on the sideline and in the meeting room.
“If you watched Jordy play carefully the last four weeks when he’s been healthy, you see what he’s capable of doing,” Gruden said. “I think as we continue to improve this football team around some of the core guys that are here, I think you can even see better and better days ahead. So yeah, he’ll be back.”
Nelson will be a constant in a position that will turn over around him this offseason, when a talent influx is expected through free agency and the NFL draft.
Whitehead has been a mentor and great example for a linebacker group where everyone else taking steady defensive snaps has less that two full seasons of NFL experience.
The younger players look up to him and, after a start devoid of big plays, Whitehead has come on strong in recent weeks. He signed a three-year, $18 million deal with nothing guaranteed beyond 2018, but paying the roster bonus early shows commitment to him. Whitehead appreciates that, and the opportunity to see this rebuilding project reach better days.
“It’s great knowing they have faith in me to lead this position group and hold the reins while we take things to the next level,” Whitehead said. “I take pride in leading the group, and I make sure to act in such a manner that I do the right things and that I don’t betray that trust with the coaches and organization. I want to lead by example with everything I do around here.”