Programming note: For comprehensive Raiders coverage from Napa, tune in to SportsNet Central tonight at 6, 10:30 and midnight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
NAPA – Darren McFadden’s rookie contract expired after last season, and few thought he’d re-up for another tour. All the injuries and subsequent bouts of ineffectiveness piled up on the Raiders running back, pushing the good ol’ days farther into the rearview.
Despite steadfast desire to extend his stay in Oakland, most assumed he’d find a fresh start. The Raiders seemed content to let him do so.
Then a contract offer slipped under the door. It was worth $1.654 million for one season, with just $100,000 guaranteed. That’s a massive pay cut over the six-year, $42 million deal he signed after being selected No. 4 overall in 2008.
McFadden had but one question: Where do I sign?
The 26-year old did so out of allegiance to you.
“Raider Nation has been incredibly loyal to me over the past six years, and I want to stay loyal to them,” McFadden said. “They’ve been with me through ups and downs. I wanted to come back and give them the very best of Darren McFadden. It’s what they deserve, and it’s what they should’ve been getting all these years.”
Whether he does or not, McFadden believes that he owes you something. He knows that his body has made false promises, flashing glorious potential before breaking down for all to see. He also knows he’s still got it.
He remembers 2010 and 2011 as well as you do, when football came easy. He longs for those days, just as he did a year ago.
Hamstring strains essentially struck 2013 from the record, a disappointment that bothers him still. It was to be a comeback year, to prove 2012’s 3.3-yards per carry average was an aberration. Instead, the injury woes continued and poor production held strong.
McFadden keeps disappointment hidden with a stoic public face. He is often short with the press, providing stock, emotionless answers designed to advance/end an interview. While that can be interpreted as aloof, McFadden cares as much as anybody about playing well and staying productive.
The injuries especially eat at him more than you might think.
“It’s a hard thing to go through because you want to help the team so bad,” McFadden said. “Nobody wants to be healthy and productive more than me. I want to help win games for Raider Nation. But things happen sometimes and you have to stay positive. You know what you’re capable of, and you can’t listen to things that are said about you. You have to stay focused and keep faith in yourself through tough times.”
That’s why his best friend, fullback Marcel Reece, placed a private moratorium on the topic.
“We’ve grown in that aspect. We don’t talk about injuries anymore,” Reece said. “We don’t dwell on them and let them get us down. We are elite athletes. I want to be the best at what I do. So does Darren. Hard work and time helps you get through injuries. That’s all we focus on in those situations.”
McFadden is trying to prevent those situations from cropping up in the first place. Head coach Dennis Allen said the Raiders are trying new tactics in the weight room and training room to keep him healthy. McFadden said he focuses more on proper maintenance than attaining maximum strength, an attempt to stave off the injuries that have plagued him so.
He does not walk into each practice with fear of getting hurt. He is healthy and seems genuinely happy with his lot, the Raiders chances and new running mate Maurice Jones-Drew. McFadden shares the excitement of so many in silver and black after an offseason full of veteran acquisitions and a solid draft. What he wants most is to be part of a true franchise turnaround.
That, more than anything else, is why McFadden wanted to come back.
“He knows where home is,” Reece said. “It’s right here in Oakland, where we started in this league. We plan on finishing strong together. Raider Nation has been with us the whole way, through good times and bad. We’re here to bring the great times on.”