ALAMEDA, Calif. — To conclude a so-far dismal campaign, the Raiders look to rely on players whose motivation extends beyond a win-loss record. It is about pride. It is about love for football. It’s about viewing the next eight weeks as an opportunity.
On Monday, the team signed two players who ought to appreciate the game.
Both had it stripped.
Defensive ends Jacquies Smith and Kony Ealy signed with the club, adding depth at edge rusher for the NFL’s worst pass-rush unit. The moves followed the weekend dismissal of co-captain defensive end Bruce Irvin. Edge defender James Cowser also was waived Monday to create roster room.
There is a “Last Chance U” element to these signings, as Oakland (1-7) enables Smith and Ealy to re-establish their football careers. Both were standouts in college at Missouri but, for varying reasons, found themselves available here in November.
Smith said that he hopes to provide a spark.
“First and foremost, you’ve got to love to play football,” Smith said. “You’ve got to love the grind. Obviously, things aren’t going our way … here, but you’ve got to find something in yourself. Let it be contagious. If you’re out there playing with effort, that stuff is contagious. If you’re out there making a few plays, that stuff is contagious.
“You never know what’s going to happen over the course of a game. It’s a personal opportunity to go out there and prove myself, prove that I’m back healthy, prove that I can play this game, and I can play it at a high level. I guess the rest will be for the guys upstairs to figure out, moving forward, what will happen. For me, just personally, I want to go out there and play at a high level and play fast.”
Smith, 28, worked out for the Raiders in October as a free agent.
He opened the 2018 season with the Arizona Cardinals but was released Sept. 24 after three games. He did not register a sack. His most recent sack, in fact, came in 2015 when totaling seven, one year after recording 6½ — all for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But in the first quarter of the first game in 2016, Smith suffered a torn ACL and ruptured patellar tendon during a punt. He has played 104 snaps on defense and 25 on special teams since.
“These guys see something in me to give me a shot,” said Smith, who practiced Monday. “Now it’s on me to go out there and prove it on the field.”
Ealy, 26, has yet to practice with the Raiders.
While Smith entered the NFL in 2012 as an undrafted free agent, Ealy was a 2014 second-round draft pick for the Carolina Panthers. He capped his second season with a three-sack performance in a Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos.
That success went unreplicated thereafter.
In 2017, Ealy was traded to the New England Patriots and waived in the same offseason. He caught on with the New York Jets, totaling one sack and an interception in 15 games. He joined the Dallas Cowboys this offseason but failed to make their Week 1 roster.
Before Monday, Ealy was a free agent all season. He worked out for the Los Angeles Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals in recent months without signing.
The Raiders, who will host the Chargers on Sunday, have generated an NFL-low 59 quarterback pressures in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus. That number includes 10 from Irvin.
Defensive end Arden Key, a rookie third-round pick, leads the team with 16 pressures. Defensive tackle Mo Hurst Jr., a rookie fifth-round choice, is now next closest with seven.