Time For Porter To Start Packing...

Angry Pope

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Time for Porter to start packing

The Oakland Raiders have had one heck of an August so far. They come into tonight's game against Detroit 3-0 in the preseason. There have been no major injuries. And phase one of the Jerry Porter Project has gone perfectly.

Since the man himself has participated in just a handful of plays this summer, a reintroduction may be in order. Porter is the Raiders' longest-tenured wide receiver, dating back to the days of Chuckie faces and winning records.

He also is the rightful heir to the storied succession of Raiders who have straddled the line that indicates where a player becomes more trouble than he is worth. During his time with the team, Porter has popped off when common sense called for introspection. He has identified "m" and "e" as his two favorite letters in "team." While productive, his walk has fallen short of his talk.

In short, he is the embodiment of the way things have gone in Oakland the past few years.

Whereas new/old Raiders coach Art Shell is the embodiment of the way things once were in Oakland, when being a Raider was about more than posing and jumping offside (occasionally at the same time). Shell's mission statement is no easy task: Introduce discipline to the undisciplined, apply urgency to the unmotivated, and coax enough will and want-to out of these players to see if they are underachievers (as has been suggested), or simply unusable parts.

Thus, it was inevitable Shell and Porter would eventually find themselves nose-to-nose. It didn't take long -- their first meeting last spring ended with the player being ordered from the coach's office.

Now it could have been that Shell had just finished watching the film from last season's game at Kansas City. Or that Porter walked into the meeting wearing a Franco Harris Fan Club T-shirt. A more likely scenario is that both men understood who they were, what they stood for, and the sheer unworkability of their arranged professional marriage.

It's like that in football. And in business. And in the military. And on the middle-school playground. A new alpha male shows up, bent on changing the culture. He identifies the one guy who represents his biggest obstacle to that end. And he commences making an example of the poor fellow.

As we mentioned, mission accomplished. True, Shell's hair-trigger temper in that first meeting smells of premeditation. Yes, the calf injury Porter has claimed throughout camp smacks of, "Back atcha." The more important aspect to this dynamic is that Shell has sent a message to the rest of the team:

It could happen to you, too.

Why has he done this? One, because it needed to be done. And two, because he can. Shell (a) is a former Raider, (b) is a Hall of Famer, and (c) was introduced at his Hall of Fame induction by team owner Al Davis. Bill Callahan and Norv Turner, who were routed by the inmates while Davis sat by more or less passively, would have killed for that kind of cache.

Shell has it, and he is putting it to work. For one thing, Raiders who make mental mistakes in practice now find themselves running laps afterward. Does this mean the team now can shred the "Dumbest Team in America" letterhead that Callahan left behind? Not necessarily. But at least Shell is trying a new and proactive strategy.

It just can't end with phase one, is all. To make this thing truly resonate, the Raiders need to send Porter packing.

But phase two will be tricky. For starters, it would be a good idea to get him on the field to showcase him, starting tonight. That means Porter has to be ceded back some control in this situation. He has to pronounce himself fit for duty (the calf can be such a tricky muscle). Then Shell has to run some offense his way.

Here's the biggie -- Davis is going to have drop his demand that Porter return the $4 million bonus he received when he signed his most recent contract. Current estimates project that happening the day Davis introduces the team's new mauve-on-green-on-polka dot jerseys.

It has been reported that the Raiders already have received trade offers from teams interested in Porter -- all of which they have declined. So it could be they not only will have to write off the $4 million as Porter's lovely parting gift but lower their asking price as well.

That's not immediately gratifying, but it's the way to go. They have an intriguing stable of potential replacements in Doug Gabriel, Alvis Whitted and (should he ever healthy up) Ronald Curry. Plus, keeping Porter around as a dead player walking invites the kind of polarizing Marcus Allen situation that sullied Shell's first go-round as coach of the team.

Better to let him go somewhere else to see what kind of greatness awaits him. The Raiders already know how that one turns out.
 
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