PALM BEACH, Fla. — With AFC West rivals making bold moves to improve in the first 48 hours of free agency and his club’s fan base growing more anxious by the minute, Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler remained disciplined.
The patience he preached and the dividends it produced have vaulted the Raiders into consideration for a long playoff run. Adding dynamic wide receiver Davante Adams and game-altering pass rusher Chandler Jones makes that much difference to a team that reached the postseason last year and pushed the eventual AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals to the brink in the first round of the playoffs.
But in the hours before Ziegler and Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels officially closed two big deals that immediately changed the trajectory of the franchise, he not only felt the angst of Raider Nation, he saw it splattered across social media.
That was thanks to a tight-knit group of friends eager to make sure he always remains grounded. “The guys I grew up with keep me in check,” Ziegler said, laughing.
So began a steady stream of text messages delivering all the memes fans created to depict their growing nervousness.
“Dave Ziegler with the clown face on,” Ziegler said, chuckling. “A guy asleep at the wheel of a car.”
Little did anyone know the groundwork he was quietly laying.
Not that Ziegler’s stomach wasn’t churning as the deals he was working on edged closer to the end zone.
In the case of Adams, the issue was two-fold. The Raiders’ interest in the Packers’ star receiver was only as good as Green Bay’s motivation to move him. When it became clear the Packers were open to trading him, Ziegler had to assess the long- and short-range ramifications of surrendering first- and second-round picks to meet the Packers’ asking price.
“Not just this coming year, but in future years too,” Ziegler said. “So that was a huge part of the consideration process.”
As for Jones, it was gauging the free-agent defensive end’s interest in playing for the Raiders in a wide-open market containing several teams eager to sign him.
“We didn’t know how that was going to materialize,” Ziegler said. “How the market was going to materialize.”
Every negotiation is unto itself, and with the multiple dynamics that are always in play, there is always a level of tension.
“I mean, you want to get deals done and you want to add players,” Ziegler said. “So I would be lying if I said you don’t get anxious.”
The key, Ziegler said, was staying true to the plan rather than letting emotion dictate actions. As he pointed out, the pace of a deal can always be expedited by a willingness to pay. “You can get deals done as quick as you want to depending on how high you want to go,” Ziegler said.
But there is a downside to that, especially when someone’s actions are repeatedly influenced by emotion. “That’s how bad decisions can be made,” he said.
As the anxiousness grew, Ziegler leaned on his front office upbringing with the New England Patriots, an organization that, as he puts it, trained him “a certain way” and allowed him to see “it done for a long time, a certain way.”
That patient and measured approach ultimately paid off in the Raiders acquiring two of the most coveted players in free agency.
When the market opened, it became clear that Jones had a legitimate interest in playing for the Raiders. Working off that green light, Ziegler quickly began work on a financial package that fit the needs of the player and the team. The feedback he got from Jones’ agent put things on the fast track.
“Once you can find some common ground, that’s when those possibilities become a little bit more real,” Ziegler said. “You can call someone and they say, hey, we’re at this price point. And you’re not. And then the deal kind of starts and ends really quickly. So there was some common ground there and there was interest on both sides.”
Jones ultimately signed a three-year, $51-million contract, with $32 million guaranteed.
As for Adams, Ziegler’s staff worked diligently behind the scenes to gather as much information as possible. The digging went well beyond the game tape, which displayed an obvious skill-set capable of changing the dynamic of the Raiders’ offense.
What they also discovered was a willing worker and leader who would be a welcome addition to the culture the Raiders are trying to build. The complete package justified the steep asking price.
In addition to sending the two draft picks to the Packers, the Raiders signed Adams to a five-year, $140 million contract, with $65 million guaranteed.
“I mean, there’s a lot of different conversations that go into it,” Ziegler said. “But at the end of the day we felt like adding that high caliber of a player and person to our organization was was worth the cost.”
Contact Vincent Bonsignore at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.