Richie Incognito went searching for redemption last year. The veteran NFL guard discovered it in a franchise that has time and again offered players opportunity for a brighter tomorrow. Second — and sometimes more — chances. It’s the Raiders Way.
It was at training camp last season when Incognito answered questions about issues with the law and locker room bullying at previous NFL stops. About incidents that called into question his mental health. About all those demons he fought daily.
Now, inquiries have taken a much different tone: Simply, how at age 37 will he follow what was one of the best seasons of his career.
Few were better
The positives from a 7-9 record are few, but Incognito stood on an efficient side of the ledger. The Raiders signed him to a one-year deal in May of 2019, a central reason being they needed to upgrade his position and believed he could still play at a four-time Pro Bowl level.
“At the end of the day,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said at the time, “you can’t have all Boy Scouts … 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. It’s a two-way street — we’ve got to help him help himself.”
Last December, Incognito signed a two-year extension with a base salary of $5 million and incentives that could push the yearly total beyond $6.3 million. It seems he did his part.
There were few better guards in the NFL last season, but talent has never been an issue with Incognito. His is as massive as his 6-foot-3, 322-pound frame.
Even after missing the 2018 season, one in which he retired, un-retired and then was cut by the Bills, his production was nearly unparalleled in 2019: According to Pro Football Focus, Incognito had a single-season best pass-blocking rate of 88.5.
He allowed just one sack and nine pressures on 414 pass-blocking snaps. That is astaggeringly low failure rate of 2.2 percent, which trailed only Marshal Yanda of the Ravens among qualifying guards.
Yanda, by the way, retired in March and will eventually receive a Hall of Fame bust.
“You know, it’s been great,” Incognito said of his time with the Raiders. “I was really blown away by the support (Mayock) and (head coach) Jon Gruden threw behind me. I was able to come in and be myself. Guys got to know me, and my role as a leader has grown on this team. It has been special. I just want to be the same guy I was last year.
“It was vindicating. I had a tumultuous year off. I had to fight back from a lot. I came in and really just ingrained myself in the organization. It had my back. I’m forever grateful to the organization for giving me an opportunity. Now it’s just time to go out there and kick some ass.”
Las Vegas ready
He can always be more disciplined. Incognito has been fined more than $700,000 in his career, including suspensions. Of his eight penalties last year (tied for fourth-most among NFL guards), he was docked $21,054 for a chop block and unnecessary roughness against the Bears in London. Then, a late holding penalty at Houston took the Raiders out of field-goal range. They never possessed the ball again and lost 27-24.
But he has fit with the Raiders far better than most imagined. There is also this interesting storyline: Incognito and his father, who passed away in 2018, bought property in Las Vegas three years ago. Their plan was to attend games at Allegiant Stadium once Incognito retired for good.
Now, the son will be playing in it.
“We were just going to go and cheer for the Raiders,” he said. “I took 2018 off and realized I still loved football. Coach Gruden was in my ear about playing. He already got me to come out of retirement and it couldn’t have worked out any better. Vegas was always in the cards for me.”
Redemption in Sin City. You can’t make these things up.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at email@example.com 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.