Richard Seymour Signs With Oakland Raiders, and Team Solidifies New Direction

Justin SmithCorrespondent IFebruary 22, 2011

Seymour has Improved the Raiders Both on and off the Field
Seymour has Improved the Raiders Both on and off the FieldDonald Miralle/Getty Images

When the Oakland Raiders first traded their 2011 first-round draft pick to the New England Patriots for Richard Seymour, many people were skeptical.

Not of Seymour, who has been one of the best defensive lineman year in and year out throughout the past decade. Nor of what the Raiders gave up, as it wasn't unreasonable and the Raiders had recently not done well with their first-round picks anyhow.

No, people speculated, especially after Seymour went silent and didn't report immediately after the trade, that the perennial Pro Bowler and three-time Super Bowl champion had no desire to play for what was widely perceived as the most dysfunctional organization in sport at the time.

Seymour came in, played well and said all the right things. But he still didn't sign a long-term deal. The Raiders franchised him last season; many thought that was the only way Seymour would stay in Oakland.

Well, fast-forward to February 16, 2011, and Seymour did what many thought he would never do: voluntarily sign a two-year extension to stay in Oakland. He actually said flat out many times, "I want to retire a Raider."

Despite many opinions to the contrary, Seymour actually likes it Oakland and—non-Raider fans scoff all you like—enjoys playing for Al Davis and the Raiders.

"It's a great place to play," Seymour said before agreeing a new deal. "The fans are unlike any others in the league. They're definitely committed, and they want the same type of players to play in this organisation.

"The history of being here, the mystique of putting that silver and black on and representing the Raiders, it's been a lifelong dream for me and, hopefully, it continues."

Through both word and deed, Seymour has shown that he isn't just paying lip service to Raider Nation. Who can forget Seymour slapping down Big Ben? When it happened, opinions varied about Seymour and how he reacted.

One opinion that remained consistent though, and not just within Raider Nation: After that move, Seymour is a true Raider for life.

Seymour's signing is a positive for the Raiders that goes far, far beyond the field of play.

The rookies on defense, regardless of their position, sing the praises of Seymour and his leadership.

From Lamarr Houston to Rolando McClain to Stevie Brown, the young players have all given credit to Seymour for making them better football players, professionals and people.

Houston is one of Seymour's biggest advocates, stating throughout the season that the veteran took a special interest in him and had a huge impact on his attitude, practice habits and work ethic. It showed as the rookie had a great season last year, notching 39 tackles and five sacks in his rookie campaign while playing and learning alongside his mentor.

Seymour's impact goes much further than his play on the field, although his contributions in the trenches are substantial. He was named to his sixth Pro Bowl this season after recording 5.5 sacks and anchoring the run defense, which improved vastly over the second half of the season.

More importantly though, the Raiders now have leadership in the trenches of the defense without any baggage hanging overhead. Seymour can simply go out and play football now without worrying about his future. And the attention he gets behooves his teammates.

Tommy Kelly has been the subject of much derision in Raider Nation due to not living up to a massive contract he signed in 2008 after Warren Sapp dubbed him the second coming of, well, Warren Sapp.

Well, in the two seasons following his deal, Kelly disappointed. He recorded only 5.5 sacks in two years and was frequently blamed for the Raiders' porous run defense.

Last year, playing beside Seymour for a full season, Kelly was impressive. He recorded 57 tackles and seven sacks, but more importantly, he was disruptive all season long and named a Pro Bowl alternate. The power of Seymour.

The perception of the Oakland Raiders is slowly morphing back to where it should be after some recent moves. After numerous lost years, questionable front office decisions and draft choices, coaching hires and bizarre press conferences, the Raiders had become the wasteland of the NFL.

Pundits and experts liked to say nobody of value would voluntarily come to coach or play in Oakland, that the Raiders had to overpay to get average football people here and that nobody with success and respect in the NFL would ever end up in Oakland if they wanted to maintain their career and reputation.

But after last year's draft, the hiring and subsequent promotion of Hue Jackson, and the team showing vast on-field improvement last year, things are slowly returning to static. The Raiders are gaining back some respect.

The value of signing Seymour when it comes to perception cannot be overstated. All those who thought, even up to two weeks ago, that Seymour would never sign in Oakland because of the dysfunction, because of Al Davis, were proven very wrong.

For the second time in two weeks, after the hiring of former Raider and HOFer Rod Woodson to coach defensive backs, a respected, championship-winning football person made the conscious choice to sign with the Oakland Raiders.

The fact that two people as respected in both older and current football circles have been advocates for the resurgence in Oakland can only help when trying to attract other free agents or re-sign our own.

Sure, Seymour's contract (two years, $15 million per with $22.5 million guaranteed) gives the Raiders less in their coffers to re-sign some of the other free agents they have, most notably Nnamdi Asomugha.

But signing Seymour was so much more than a football move. It was a coaching move, as he's known as a "coach on the field." It was a PR move, as he's improved the Raider image in both the media and among his peers in the NFL by singing the praises of the team and organization. It was a winning move, backing a player who has been great on the field, off the field and has a championship attitude in everything he does.

Seymour also now becomes alumni, which is huge to Mr. Davis and within the fiercely loyal Raider organization. Seymour isn't getting any younger, and when he retires, his demeanour and intelligence scream coach. The Raiders currently have Greg Biekert, Steve Wisniewski, and Rod Woodson as former players who now coach. It seems only natural that this marriage will continue for years.

Above all else though, it was a necessary move, as the Raiders certainly did not want to give up a first-round pick for a player they merely rented for two seasons who helped get them back to being average. They want more than average; they want a Super Bowl.

For his mind, Seymour is all for the idea and thinks the Raiders have the pieces and the direction to get there. He would know.

Although they made him the NFL's highest-paid defensive player, the Raiders wanted to ensure they got their money's worth for Seymour. I would say so far, so good.