Al Davis likes to talk about the Raiders' commitment to excellence. This offseason, the world is wondering if he's committed to debt.
The pending DeAngelo Hall trade, which won't be completed until Hall agrees to an Asante Samuel-like contract, is Davis' latest venture into a wild spending spree. He gave safety Gibril Wilson a six-year, $39 million contract. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly received a seven-year, $52.5 million deal. Offensive tackle Kwame Harris moved across the bay from the 49ers for a three-year, $14 million deal. Wide receiver Javon Walker caught a six-year, $55 million pass.
With quarterback JaMarcus Russell receiving a $19.9 million option bonus this year, the Raiders' payroll has soared to $137 million -- $23 million higher than the next-closest team (Cleveland) -- and Davis isn't done yet. His plan is to keep CB Nnamdi Asomugha, whose franchise tag will count $9.465 million against the cap. Davis also plans to keep the No. 4 pick in the draft, which will net a contract worth between $5 million and $9 million a year.
Davis, impatient about the team's football fortunes (only 19 victories over the past five seasons), is going against the financial bottom line to improve the team's football bottom line.
In 2005, he tried to give the franchise a jolt by trading for wide receiver Randy Moss and making free-agent moves such as the signings of RB LaMont Jordan, DE Derrick Burgess and others. It didn't work, and Moss became so disinterested in football in Oakland that he was traded to New England for the fourth-round pick.
Those moves seem modest compared to 2008, and the interesting part about it is that Davis is the one pulling the trigger. After a disappointing 4-12 season, Davis removed head coach Lane Kiffin from the personnel decision-making process. It's Davis himself working the deals with the help of selected front-office employees.
Unlike the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and other cost-conscious teams, Davis isn't looking for bargains. He didn't blink about coughing up $107.5 million in contracts for Kelly, coming off ACL surgery, and Walker, who is coming off a knee injury that limited him to eight games in Denver last season. Last weekend, Davis instructed negotiators within the organization to make the Hall deal a priority after agreeing to trade terms with the Falcons.
Recently, Davis sold non-voting shares in the Raiders, which gave him the money to go on this spending spree and invest in so many players.
Still, the timing of these moves is unusual because of the uncertainty of the head coaching position. Kiffin comes to work each day not knowing for sure if he's going to be the head coach by the start of the 2008 season.
Reports surfaced in January that Kiffin was asked to resign. He didn't, and even though the Raiders have denied the resignation story, numerous sources have backed up the tenuous relationship between the coach and owner. One sign of the discord was Davis' hiring of James Lofton as wide receivers coach without getting Kiffin's blessing.
Of course, Davis has always believed in getting the best players to win, and he's showing an aggressiveness reminiscent of the Al Davis of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Davis believes in man-to-man cornerback play. Putting Hall at cornerback with Asomugha gives the Raiders their best man-to-man cornerback tandem since Charles Woodson and Eric Allen. In many ways, Davis is flashing back to the Mike Haynes-Lester Hayes days in making this trade. It probably means former first-round choice Fabian Washington will be traded.
Davis believes in big-play passing ability. With strong-armed Russell at quarterback, the Raiders added deep speed with Walker and Drew Carter, who signed a one-year deal for around $2 million. Ronald Curry will be the possession receiver.
• Kelly received his big payday to make the conversion from defensive end to defensive tackle, replacing the retiring Warren Sapp. Davis is hoping Kelly's athletic ability will replace the inside pass rush lost with Sapp's departure.
The Wilson signing was one of the most debatable. The Raiders' defensive schemes require their safeties to play more man coverage. Two years ago, the Raiders drafted Michael Huff in the first round because of his coverage ability at safety, but he has been up and down. Safety is a tough job with the Raiders, but Davis didn't mind making Wilson the third highest paid safety in football.
Not everything has gone right for the Raiders. While the team was wrapping up the Kelly contract, it lost defensive end Chris Clemons, an eight-sack pass-rusher on the rise. He signed for less than $3 million a year with the Eagles.
Once the Hall trade is completed, it creates problems in trying to keep Asomugha. He's on the one-year franchise tender, and he's not going to sign for much less than the six-year, $57 million deal given to Samuel. To keep him as a franchise player next year, the price goes to $11.35 million.
But Davis isn't thinking about the green. He's thinking about the silver and black. He's just trying to win, baby.
Senior writer John Clayton covers the NFL for ESPN.com.