Raiders

Jordy Nelson, Tahir Whitehead headline Raiders virtually locked in for 2019

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Jordy Nelson, Tahir Whitehead headline Raiders virtually locked in for 2019

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.”

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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.”

[RELATED: Why Raiders should add ballhawk safety in offseason]

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.”

Johnathan Hankins loves being leader to young Raiders' defensive line

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Johnathan Hankins loves being leader to young Raiders' defensive line

ALAMEDA -- Johnathan Hankins isn’t even 28 years old yet feels like an old man working on the Raiders defensive front. The starting line features two rookies off the edge and a second-year man working next to him inside.

He is an elder statesman in that crew, with plenty of experience in his seventh year out of Ohio State. Hankins is having a blast with a young, developing crew, knowing he must anchor the defensive line and help those around him make plays.

“I’m just trying to do my best to lead the guys,” Hankins said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. “I’ve been here longer than most of the guys on this unit, and I try to show them what it takes to be a professional and pass along all the information I learned from the veterans I worked with way back when.”

Hankins is paying it forward now with words and action. His role at defensive tackle often helps create opportunities for others pushing the pocket back and shutting down the opposition’s interior run game.

The Raiders are better in that area thanks in large part to Hankins’ improvement within the system and are certainly thankful last year’s in-season signing has become a permanent fixture upfront.

Hankins was in a weird spot before joining the Raiders last year, cut just a year into a big three-year contract with Indianapolis because the Colts changed defensive schemes.

He found a proper fit in Oakland and was happy to re-up with them this offseason.

“There was a lot going on after I got released by the Colts, and I was trying to find a place that fits well with me and finding an organization that wanted me,” Hankins said. “That’s what it boiled to, and it has really worked out with the Raiders.”

[RELATED: Mullen's confidence grows as he develops on the job]

Hankins considers it destiny that he’s Raiders, the same team name he had as a 6-year old running back and kicker growing up in Detroit and nearby Dearborn, Mich. That’s where he grew (quite literally) into the dominant defensive force that earned an Ohio State scholarship and a second-round NFL draft slot.

“I’m just enjoying this ride,” Hankins said. “I’m trying to be at my best and show everyone watching that I’m still one of the best defensive tackles in this league. The goal is to get to 12 years, and I think I’m on my way.”

Raiders injury report: Hunter Renfrow could return later this season

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Raiders injury report: Hunter Renfrow could return later this season

ALAMEDA – Hunter Renfrow injured his ribs and punctured his lung during a Week 12 loss to the New York Jets, a scary situation that put the rest of his season in some jeopardy.

The Raiders couldn’t say for sure if he’d finish out his rookie season, where he made steady progress and ranked high among quarterback Derek Carr’s most reliable targets.

He didn’t play last week against Kansas City and won’t play Sunday against Tennessee at Oakland Coliseum, but could well come back down the stretch.

“We’re hopeful that he could return for the last game or two,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “We’re going to keep him on the active roster. We’ll do without him for another game or two, and we’re hoping to get him back for the Chargers game [in Week 16]. That’s on our wish list, our hope list right now for Hunter. We miss him.”

Renfrow wasn’t active on Wednesday, according to a practice estimation from the team. The Silver and Black conducted a walk-through session off-site, on a basketball court in Alameda to avoid inclement weather. The focus is teaching and the mental side of the game.

“We have made some adjustments to our roster, so we have gone inside to try to multiply our reps for a lot of people that we have to get ready to play,” Gruden said. “There are pros and cons to everything. I like to get a lot of reps in on Wednesday to teach the game plan and make sure they’re sound in their assignments. It’s not at the same speed, but it’s an important part of learning, especially the changes we have had at several positions.

“I think it has been beneficial. We’ll come out and run fast Thursday and Friday and get ready for the Titans.”

Running back Josh Jacobs was considered out on the team’s practice estimation with a shoulder injury. Right guard Trent Brown was considered a non-participant with a pectoral injury. He has been dealing with knee and ankle injuries in recent weeks.

[RELATED: Review-Journal: Should Raiders move on from Derek Carr?]

Raiders practice report

WEDNESDAY
Did not practice
WR Hunter Renfrow (rib)
RB Josh Jacobs (shoulder)
OT Trent Brown (pectoral)
LB Kyle Wilber (ankle)

Limited practice
C Rodney Hudson (ankle)
CB Lamarcus Joyner (hamstring)
RG Gabe Jackson (knee)

NOTE: The Raiders conducted a walk-through practice on Wednesday. Therefore, the participation report is an estimation.