Raiders

Why Antonio Brown might hate Patriots as he did Raiders after release

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AP

Why Antonio Brown might hate Patriots as he did Raiders after release

Antonio Brown famously celebrated when the Raiders released him two weeks ago, shouting he was “free” of a team he believed had wronged him by voiding $29.125 million in contract guarantees over a reported run-in with general manager Mike Mayock.

Brown was released again Friday, when the Patriots decided enough was enough, but the wide receiver was much kinder to Bill Belichick and Co. in the aftermath. He tweeted a thank-you message to Belichick, and his appreciative Instagram post to Tom Brady even drew a three-hearts response from the quarterback.

All love likely will be lost, however, if the Patriots follow the Raiders’ lead and try to void the money it once guaranteed Brown. And, as ESPN’s Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler pointed out, that’s quite possible.

When Brown joined the Patriots, he received a $1 million fully guaranteed salary and a $9 million signing bonus. By ESPN’s calculation, Brown was paid $158,333 in salary and roster bonuses by the Patriots, who now can argue that the personal-conduct nature of his release allows them to void the remaining $850,000 or so in guaranteed money. It’s the same argument the Raiders made when they wiped Brown’s guarantees off their books, which angered the receiver.

Now, here’s where the Patriots likely went wrong and the Raiders did not (yes, you read that correctly).

ESPN reported that Oakland, unlike New England, did not include signing-bonus money in Brown’s contract. And while the Patriots haven’t yet paid the receiver the first installment of his bonus — that’s due Monday, for $5 million — a league source told ESPN “the team's way out of it is through a representation warranty clause that says it's a breach of contract if Brown didn't disclose an existing situation that would have prevented his continued availability” — like his former trainer’s sexual-assault lawsuit against him, or the other since-revealed allegations.

If the Patriots refuse to pay Brown his signing-bonus money next week and the remaining $4 million on Jan. 15, the NFL Players Association surely will back the receiver. A source told ESPN that the union sees signing bonuses as "money earned” — no matter when payments are scheduled — and NFL contract language makes it even more complicated to void a guaranteed signing bonus.

So, if the Patriots come for that $9 million, they can expect Brown and the union to file a grievance — and to have a strong case. The NFLPA also doesn’t want to allow teams to escape lucrative signing bonuses promised to players, so it would fight hard for Brown.

[RELATED: AB's departure shows true nature of 'The Patriot Way']

The Raiders, meanwhile, are on much stronger footing, with Brown’s documented personal-conduct issues and no signing bonus in his now-voided contract. Their focus is on Sunday’s road game against the Minnesota Vikings, not a messy money fight, like what might now await the Patriots.

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Surging Raiders face tough upcoming tests in Packers, Texans offenses

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USATSI

Surging Raiders face tough upcoming tests in Packers, Texans offenses

The Raiders haven’t played a true home game in forever. That's true, even though the Silver and Black have two games left in a five-game stretch played away from Oakland that will define this season.

They have started it off well, with two quality wins in three attempts. The team has rallied together during this time, facing in-game adversity and practice-week setbacks head on. This group doesn’t wilt, finding ways to beat Indianapolis and Chicago after what could’ve been a demoralizing loss in Minnesota.

Head coach Jon Gruden deserves credit for guiding the Raiders through with expert game plans. The coaching staff and the locker room’s leadership core have kept the team together during tough times playing difficult opposition.

The path doesn’t get any easier as this road trip winds down. In fact, the competition ratchets up. The Raiders face Green Bay on Sunday and Houston the following week before returning to Oakland for a three-game homestand.

Yeah, that’s Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson in consecutive weeks. Those elite quarterbacks are as tough as they get, with an ability to score at will and perform well in the clutch.

The Raiders have scored 55 points in the last two games with a solid run game and efficient passing, with strong starts in both wins. That will be essential yet again if the Raiders are to continue performing well against a run of legitimate playoff contenders.

This two-game win streak, punctuated by an excellent win over the Bears in London, has brought positive press about the coaching staff and the team's toughness. The next two games could offer a reality check -- or densely pack the bandwagon. 

The Packers and Texans offer stiff competition to a Raiders team right in the thick of the AFC West race. The division is bunched up at the moment, with the Chiefs and Chargers each losing two straight games. The Broncos have won two in a row. The Raiders are in a position to make some noise in the division, especially if they can get at least one win out of the next two games.

The schedule gets a bit easier after these two, with golden opportunities down the stretch. There are weak sisters on the schedule that a quality team should handle and a flood of division games. The Raiders can remain highly competitive if they maintain a strong ground game offensively while shutting down the opponent’s rushing attack.

Early leads allow the Raiders to play their way, with a steady diet of Josh Jacobs working behind an imposing offensive line. The Raiders seem committed to playing solid run defense, but the back end must hold its own against excellent quarterbacks. Doing so puts most every game in play, even those where the Raiders look inferior on paper. 

[RELATED: Why Jackson sees so much potential in this Raiders O-line]

The Raiders have played quality competition tough, and found ways to win three important games through five attempts. They aren’t going to win every game, nor should that be expected from a team managing significant talent losses via injury, suspension or other.

Coming out of this two-game stretch with a win, or even two, would show the NFL these Raiders arrived before many expected, and that they’re a legitimate playoff threat heading into the season’s second half.

How Raiders' Isaiah Johnson improved his game while on injured reserve

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AP

How Raiders' Isaiah Johnson improved his game while on injured reserve

ALAMEDA – Raiders cornerback Isaiah Johnson lost valuable development time during his rookie season through no fault of his own. It was stolen from an inadvertent knee to the head by teammate Marquel Lee in the first preseason game, where Johnson suffered a concussion and a facial fracture that put his professional career on hold.

He didn’t play or practice again during the preseason and was placed on injured reserve right after the 53-man roster was set. That final act gave Johnson belief that the entire season was not lost.

The Raiders planned to designate him for return near midseason, when he was healthy and able to contribute on defense and special teams. Defensive contributions will be harder without nine weeks of practice and playing time, especially for a former receiver with just two seasons experience at cornerback, but Johnson isn’t bitter about that.

He applied proper perspective to his downtime and set to handle this setback as best he could.

“I feel like everything happens for a reason,” Johnson said Monday. “I believe in marathons, not sprints. Everybody has a time and place for something to happen. My time just wasn’t then. When I got hurt, it didn’t really destroy me mentally. I knew there were steps to take to get where I want to go. I used it as a learning experience.”

That wasn’t always easy. Johnson was merely watching others practice and play, trying to learn conceptually without an ability to apply it on a practice field.

“I’m going to be honest: It’s really hard sitting in meetings, watching tape that you’re not on,” Johnson said. “After a while you mature and learn how to be a pro. Once you do that, you watch all that film and start applying it to yourself, so when you come back [to practice], you can use that knowledge.

"I kind of felt that today. I found myself applying some of the tools I learned during the six weeks I wasn’t playing.”

Johnson started practicing on Monday, opening a 21-day window for the Raiders to activate him or place him on season-ending injured reserve. Johnson expects activation when he’s eligible to play after eight weeks on IR.

He’ll have nine regular-season games left if all goes to plan, offering plenty of time to accomplish this year’s primary objective.

“My only goal is to help the team win games,” Johnson said. “That has always been the case, so I can do everything I set out to do. Whatever they need me to do, I’m going to come in and do it.”

Johnson is a top-tier athlete perfectly built for press-man coverage, though some development was required and understandable for someone who took up the cornerback position as a junior at the University of Houston. The Raiders need cornerback depth with Daryl Worley moving into more of a hybrid role, with Nevin Lawson and Trayvon Mullen as options to pick up Worley’s outside cornerback snaps when he roves across the defensive backfield.

Johnson will be involved in that but should be an immediate contributor on special teams.

[RELATED: Jackson, Johnson practice as Raiders prepare for Packers]

He was known as an excellent gunner in punt coverage and should give special teams a lift the moment he’s eligible to play. That’s a role he’s ready for right away.

“I have always enjoyed playing special teams,” Johnson said. “I feel like [special teams coordinator Rich] Bisaccia has a great system, and I feel like I can contribute the moment he puts me back on the field. I’m trying to show the coaches that I’m ready to go.

"I know I’ve been out, but I’m working to come back.”