June 23, 2003
Charles Woodson was experiencing a feeling that has been virtually foreign to him over the past two years. As the Raiders concluded their mandatory minicamp, he was practicing with everybody else on the roster.
To be sure, he still had a plate in his leg. But he was healthy enough to be on the field with no restrictions to speak of.
"I'm still not opening it up speed-wise, but that will come with the rest of the season," Woodson said. "I am just taking it easy. We still have a month to training camp. I don't want to come out here and pull anything."
The team is putting no restrictions on him, which is a bit unusual. Players coming off surgery are usually given plenty of leeway in minicamps and again when formal camp workouts begin in the summer.
"He is fully cleared and healed," coach Bill Callahan said. "He is ready to go. We haven't discussed anything in the nature of backing him off or watching his reps at this point. Nothing has come up that would necessitate that."
The reason Woodson wants to be careful and the reason the Raiders don't seem eager to give their Pro Bowl cornerback kid-gloves treatment are one and the same.
This is a crucial year insofar as Woodson-as-a-Raider is concerned.
His contract expires as of this coming March. He figures to be in line for an eight-figure bonus and a multi-year deal. He is already a high-ticket item on the payroll.
Will the Raiders break the bank to keep him or will they let him walk, giving him the chance to find his level in the open market? Given his proclivity to injury the past two seasons, it is a hot topic of conversation -- even though it is eight months off.
Woodson is realistic about the club's concerns. He knows it could affect his contract leverage in Oakland.
"But I am not concerned about that," he said. "They know I had an injury. Everybody knows it. But I am still one of the top players in the game. So, it is what it is."
Woodson would like to have a new contract in place before the season begins. He says there has been preliminary talks between his agent and the Raiders. But he is not insisting it get done before Sept. 7 -- at least not yet.
"I don't really want to have that to think about during the season," he said. "I would love to get it done before. But if it doesn't get done, then we've got to do what we've got to do.
"I want to be here. I would love for them to make that commitment to me the way I feel like I have made my commitment to them."
No one questions that much -- dating back to October of the 2001 season, Woodson has been unable to practice due to a painful turf toe, then a fractured shoulder, then a fractured leg.
However, when kickoff arrived, Woodson was always on the field eager to go, and he played well given the circumstances. But after missing half a season last year, he failed to make the Pro Bowl for the first time since his rookie year.
"I was struggling," he said. "I had the shoulder, then the leg. I was really weak."
He will get points for gutting it out. But will he get the cash befitting one of the top players in the game? And if he does, will it be from Oakland?
"I don't know how it is going to go," he said.