ALAMEDA – The Raiders had an option to secure Karl Joseph’s services for the 2020 season at a relatively reasonable rate. They didn’t take it.
Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, one all teams have on all first-round picks.
That news came shortly after the Raiders drafted a fellow hard-hitting safety in the first round.
That 1-2 punch might have fazed Joseph some, but it didn’t knock him down. The 2016 first-round pick remains as aggressive and confident as ever in a quest to be a Raider long-term.
“Obviously I want to be here, I’ve expressed that already with Coach Gruden and Mr. Mayock,” Joseph said. “I want to be a Raider for life, but at the end of the day, I have to take care of my business on the field. I’m not focused on the contract. That stuff will take care of itself.”
The glass-half-full approach to these circumstances is the prospect of reaching unrestricted free agency sooner, and possibly parlay a breakout year into a big payday here, as preferred, or somewhere else.
“I think he’s responded to the situation great,” Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “He knows this will be a good year for him to go out and play good and make us give him a contract. That’s the way the NFL is. That’s the way it is for me. It’s the way it is for a lot of the other guys. If you don’t perform, you’re probably looking for somewhere else to go and if you do perform, you’re going to get rewarded.”
Joseph’s motivation is obviously sky high, hoping to reach vast potential and build off a later 2018 stretch where he was playing his best in a wild-card role roaming all over the field.
A major role remains in play for Joseph, despite adding Johnathan Abram with the No. 27 overall pick. The pair share a skill set, as physical, aggressive enforcers who can play the run and pass.
At first glance, it would seem the Raiders must pick one or the other, but safeties can be interchangeable in this system and Joseph and Abram have been the first-unit safeties in later OTAs and in a mandatory minicamp that runs through Thursday.
Lamarcus Joyner has significant experience at free safety -- the L.A. Rams played there the last two seasons -- he has focused primarily on the slot cornerback spot. That leaves two open spots at safety, with Erik Harris as the No. 3 guy there capable and ready to start if called upon.
Joseph wasn’t ready to do that last year. He was the fourth safety option to start the 2018 season, behind Reggie Nelson, Marcus Gilchrist and Harris. He was slower to run Paul Guenther’s defensive system quickly, got hurt in Week 3 and then was on the trade block around midseason.
He responded well from that and played some of his best football down the stretch. He had two sacks, an interception and just a 73.6 passer rating when targeted over a run of eight straight starts.
“I think it was a combination of everything – me being more comfortable in the system towards the end of the season, me being confident in myself,” Joseph said. “…But for me, I don’t think I’ve reached (my full potential), I’m far off. I still feel like I have a long way to go. That’s why I say I keep getting better every single day, every practice, training camp. I’m expecting a lot more out of myself this year.”
Joseph is not going about his business selfishly, though that might be understandable with his fifth-year option laid fallow and a big contract as his primary motivation.
Instead, he has committed to getting his next contract with the Raiders, developed a brotherly bond with Abram and started becoming a leader in the secondary entering his fourth season.
“I think it’s important,” Joseph said. “I know what it was like being a rookie, so I try to invite those guys over, have a little fun, barbecue and stuff like that. For me, it’s just about getting better every day. Be a leader by the way that I come in every day with my attitude and my work ethic, something they can see like, ‘Okay, he’s working extra hard. He’s doing the little extra stuff.’ I’m trying to lead by example.”