A return to the Oakland Raiders may not bring Charles Woodson any closer to another Super Bowl, but signing with the franchise that originally drafted him would be a fitting conclusion to his Hall of Fame career.
Once a key component of the Raiders' revival in the early 2000s, Woodson could now help accelerate an even more daunting rebuild by adding a veteran defender with championship experience to the locker room.
Such a return appears to already be in the works. The Raiders have reportedly joined the fray for Woodson, who has otherwise received mostly scant interest as a free agent this offseason.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Friday that Oakland has invited the 36-year-old defensive back for a visit on Tuesday. Rapoport also reports that the Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Carolina Panthers remain in play for Woodson.
Ian Rapoport @RapSheet
Charles Woodson update, via agent Carl Poston. He plans on visiting #Raiders on Tuesday. He received an offer from #Broncos, is still open5/17/2013, 1:49:06 PM
There are hurdles to an agreement in Oakland, however.
If playing for a contender is truly Woodson's primary deciding factor, the Broncos, Giants and Panthers can each present rosters closer to playing in the Super Bowl than that of the Raiders. And although Woodson said on NFL Network this week (per Pro Football Talk) that he'd play for anyone now, you'd have to assume his preference will still lean the way of the better roster.
It's also very possible that the Raiders would balk at getting into even a mini-bidding war for Woodson, given their current salary cap situation. According to Over the Cap, Oakland has just under $4 million in cap room for the 2013 season.
But if the Raiders could both convince Woodson to once again play for a rebuilding project in the Bay Area and agree on contract numbers, such a reunion could be mutually beneficial.
Woodson could play a maximum number of snaps in 2013 for a roster riddled with holes, while the Raiders would get a veteran leader—and one familiar with general manager Reggie McKenzie—to help guide a franchise on the rebound.
There's no way to discount the potential symmetry of the situations.
Back in 1998, a struggling Raiders franchise drafted Woodson with the fourth overall pick. A Heisman Trophy winner at Michigan, Woodson entered the NFL with as much fanfare and natural talent as any cornerback since Deion Sanders in the late 1980s.
By 2001, Woodson had already walked the walk in Oakland. He was named to four Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams in his first four years, and the Raiders improved from 4-12 in 1997 to 8-8 in both 1998 and 1999.
Between 2000 and 2002, Oakland won 33 regular-season games and played in Super Bowl XXXVII.
After a run of just three playoff appearances in 14 years prior to the 2000 season, the Raiders were finally back amongst the NFL elite.
Or so it seemed.
The post-Super Bowl hangover hit Oakland hard, as the Raiders won just 13 games over the next three seasons. Woodson's attitude deteriorated as the losses piled up. By 2006, Woodson and the Raiders were ready to move on.
After signing a free-agent deal with the Green Bay Packers in the spring following 2005, Woodson would go on to win a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2009 and his first Super Bowl ring in February of 2011.
Now, Woodson has a chance to bring all the maturity and wisdom he gained in Green Bay to a franchise still searching for its own identity. The Raiders may not turn into a perennial playoff contender under Woodson's watch, but he can help point the Oakland locker room in that direction during his remaining NFL career.
Keep in mind, the Raiders will enter 2013 on the heels of 10 straight non-winning seasons. There's little harm in McKenzie adding some winning culture to his rebuilding effort.
Woodson would likely rather play for Super Bowls at the end of his Hall of Fame career, but there could be sentimental value in returning to Oakland and helping the Raiders climb out of cellar once again.
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