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The Raiders have never cared much for convention. Deceased owner Al Davis was a trailblazer in several respects, especially in the hiring process. He made Tom Flores the first Latino head coach. Art Shell was the modern era’s first African American head coach. CEO Amy Trask was the NFL’s first female front-office executive.
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Al Davis’ stance on players was similarly open. If you could jump high and run fast and hit hard and throw deep, you could be a Raider. As the old saying goes: “Just Win, Baby.”
The new regime operates under a similar code. Missouri defensive end Michael Sam will be evaluated as a football player, and his sexuality will not impact that grade. The reigning SEC defensive player of the year publicly came out as gay on Sunday night in interviews with the New York Times and ESPN.
“The Oakland Raiders have long championed diversity and opportunity,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said in a statement. “The organization will evaluate Michael Sam based purely on his ability as a football player.”
The Raiders have also placed high emphasis on character in recent seasons, and it's clear Sam has plenty of that.
His specific talents, however, might not fit what the Raiders are trying to do with their 4-3 defensive front. Sure, the Raiders need pass rushers. They're just trying to get bigger and stronger and better suited to win one-on-one matchups and create pressure with a four-man rush. At 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds, without elite quickness, Sam might not fit that mold. If he's available as the draft moves along, he could be worth a later-round selection where gambles are more prevalent.
Smaller pass rushers have played well as a 4-3 end – Robert Mathis (6-2, 245), when Indianapolis used that scheme, comes to mind – but they are generally exceptions to the rule.
There’s also talk that Sam could move back and play outside linebacker in a 3-4 set, which the Raiders don’t run.
Regardless of scheme, the Raiders aren’t looking for help in a linebacker corps that comes back intact next season. The Raiders have high expectations for 2013 third-round pick Sio Moore on the strong side. Veteran Kaluka Maiava has two years left on his contract and will be Moore’s primary backup.