Good News for 49ers, Raiders
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 09, 2006

AL DAVIS appears to have played an important role as NFL owners and the Players Association finally stopped playing chicken and approved an extension to 2012 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

Davis has had problems with his legs for many years, and he’s been on a walker for some time. He seldom travels any more and it was chief executive Amy Trask who represented the Raiders at earlier league meetings regarding the negotiations.

But Davis showed up for the last one, a meeting so shrouded in secrecy that the media didn’t know it was being held in Dallas until the final day. He had a special card to play: Gene Upshaw, executive director of the Players Association, played for the Raiders in his Hall of Fame career. Like most of the Raiders from the glory years, Upshaw has a high regard for Davis, so Davis could talk to him on a level that no other owner could. Nobody knows what was said in that conversation, but I don’t think it was a coincidence that an agreement was reached after that.

On a philosophical and personal level, Davis had an interest in seeing the CBA extended. He noted after the meeting that it was important to have labor peace. He has a much longer history with the league than most of the owners, and he knows how disruptive it was for the sport when there were work stoppages in the years before the salary cap was finally put into place.

The Raiders are one of the teams, along with the 49ers, which benefits from a special provision of revenue-sharing, which gives additional revenues to teams at the low end of the revenue scale. The Raiders’ attendance woes put them in that category. With the 49ers, it’s the lack of a new stadium which hurts.

The 49ers have been talking of a new stadium for years, and they even had a working plan to build one in 1997, when Carmen Policy was the club president. Several things have changed since then. A PSL program was part of the plan, and that was feasible at the time, when the 49ers were only two years removed from their fifth Super Bowl win. Now, they have a three-year record which ties them with the Raiders for the worst in the league. Construction costs have risen since 1997. The 49ers would have to contribute at least $300 million to get the stadium built. There are potential new owners who would put in that money to build a new stadium, but the Yorks won’t – and John York is determined to keep the team so he can retain his favorite role: Owner.

Bottom line: The stadium won’t be built unless the Yorks sell.

The Raiders’ problem is not the stadium but with filling it. The dynamic has changed this year. The PSLs, sold for 10 years, have expired and will not be renewed, so season tickets will have to be sold, with former PSL owners having priority. The Raiders are now selling their own tickets, and the formidable Ms. Trask is in charge, so it will be especially interesting to see how that goes.

FOR BOTH clubs, the extension of the CBA presents both an opportunity and a challenge, because the salary cap level will be raised approximately $15 million.

Davis’s strategy in recent years has been to build his team around veteran free agents. That hasn’t worked very well, as the results of the last three years show, but I don’t expect him to change that plan. He’ll be 77 in July, and he’s not interested in long-range planning.

The first question is quarterback. Without a new, higher salary cap, the Raiders would have had to release Kerry Collins. Now, it’s possible they can re-work his contract and keep him.

That’s the bad news.

Davis has long had a weakness for strong-armed quarterbacks, but only one – Daryle Lamonica nearly 40 years ago – has really panned out. His experiences with Dan Pastorini, Jay Schroeder, Jeff George and, yes, Collins should have persuaded him of the folly of this plan, but apparently they have not.

I think it would make more sense for the Raiders to pursue a veteran free agent – perhaps Jon Kitma – who could be a stopgap quarterback while they work with their 2005 draft pick, Andrew Walter, who set numerous passing records at Arizona State.

The 49ers also face a quarterback dilemma. They invested heavily in Alex Smith, the first pick in the 2005 draft, but still don’t know whether Smith will ever be a good NFL quarterback.

Near the end of last season, I talked with Lee Grosscup, who played quarterback in the NFL in the ‘60s. Grosscup works Cal games, of course, not the 49ers, so he had no direct experience with Smith, but he noted from his own experience – and talking to other quarterbacks – that there is a tremendous difference for quarterbacks between their first and second seasons in the NFL. “He’ll find that the game will slow down for him the next season,” Grosscup predicted. “He won’t think he has to rush so much.”

Smith was thrown into a very bad situation last year. He was operating behind a patchwork offensive line, he had no go-to receiver and he did not seem to receive the right kind of coaching, either, because his footwork was bad and his release slow.

If Jonas Jennings comes back from injury, the offensive line could be a strength for the Niners this season, but that won’t be enough if Smith doesn’t show considerable improvement.

So, should the 49ers bring in a veteran quarterback who could help Smith’s development? That’s been suggested, but it would have to be one who’s content being a backup.

WHATEVER HAPPENS with the local teams, the extension of the CBA for another six seasons is good news for everybody - owners, players and fans.

The work stoppages of the past were ugly. In 1982, the regular season was cut nearly in half. In ’87, the league put out replacement teams. Bill Walsh had been looking at possible players before the work stoppage, so the team he put together was good enough to win all three games they played. But I went to one of those games and it seemed more like an intra-squad scrimmage than a pro game. Not pretty.

Now, we know nothing like that will happen for at least seven seasons and probably beyond that, so we can concentrate on the actual games, not labor negotiations. We can only hope now that the on-field product will improve in both Oakland and San Francisco.


LETTERS: I updated this second late yesterday afternoon with comments on Barry Bonds.

TV: I’ll be a guest on “The Last Honest Sports Show” on Channel 44 on Saturday night. If you live in the Bay Area, check your local listings for times.

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