The football part of why the Raiders would travel down the road of Richie Incognito is a timeless narrative within the NFL’s tunnel-visioned existence: There is a need at his position and they believe he can help win games.
Nothing — not past issues with the law, not a history that includes locker room bullying while reportedly using racial slurs and vicious sexual taunts, not extreme examples of a player’s mental health issues — ranks more important in the eyes of those building a roster.
“At the end of the day,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said, “you can’t have all Boy Scouts.”
Suffice to say, Incognito hasn’t spent his career earning merit badges.
It’s why when Mayock and coach Jon Gruden followed the recent draft with statements about the importance of identifying players with high character and leadership skills, it was more a case of timing than any permanent blueprint.
The team was fortunate that many of those it selected have shown to own such traits, but also signed the likes of linebacker Vontaze Burfict and his numerous fines and multiple suspensions, and now Incognito.
I suppose when it comes to these things, the message depends on which way the wind is blowing off the Bay Bridge.
Or, well, if a guy can still play.
Incognito worked as the first-team left guard during workouts Tuesday in Oakland, and there is every reason to believe that’s where the Raiders expect and want him when opening the season against Denver on Sept. 9.
You don’t sign a soon-to-be 36-year-old guard who didn’t play last season and might still face a league suspension because of a guilty plea last month to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge if you’re confident in those currently at the spot.
Mayock can talk all he wants about how much the team believes in fifth-year pro Denzelle Good, but it’s obviously not enough.
Not when you do this.
Social media has undoubtedly had its fun at Incognito’s expense, at reports of him being admitted to a mental hospital after allegedly throwing weights and tennis balls at gym employees and another patron and then telling responding officers the government is spying on him.
Or of him being arrested following an incident at a mortuary, where he damaged property and threatened to shoot the staff tending to his father’s funeral. Later, employees stated in a police report that Incognito wanted his father’s head removed for research purposes and that he walked through the funeral home punching caskets and throwing things.
More than anything, it’s all very sad, and no matter how strong the support and infrastructure and help the Raiders believe they can surround Incognito with, they absolutely can’t promise he won’t have another and perhaps more dangerous episode, both involving himself and potentially others.
You can’t explain away that level of risk by saying you have only signed him to a one-year prove-it deal and will have a “clinician” on site to aid in the process.
“It’s a two-way street — we’ve got to help him help himself,” Mayock said. “We think he’s going to be a good football player and allow himself to compete for the left guard job. And just as important, he’s got to prove it off the field.
“We’re all going to take ownership with Richie … The expectation is for him to not only be a good football player, but to be a really good human being … He looks like he is five to 10 years younger than he really is. Wonderful shape. He still has his quickness, he still has his foot speed.”
At what cost?
There it is. The reason. The only one.
The Raiders are trying to better protect a franchise quarterback in Derek Carr, who was sacked a career-high 51 times last season, and the idea of a four-time Pro Bowler in Incognito joining a line with fellow guard Gabe Jackson, tackles Kolton Miller and Trent Brown, and center Rodney Hudson sure looks a lot better on paper than a few days ago.
They think Incognito can help win games more than other guys at his spot.
But, really, at what cost?
Maybe none. Maybe his time with the Raiders will be only about football for Incognito.
Maybe not, and there is no way anyone with the team can definitively say this won’t prove a regrettable move.
I suppose all you can do is hope it’s a safe one, for Incognito and those around him, as much off the field as on.
Maybe even more so.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.