ONE YEAR after Al Davis gave DeAngelo Hall a $70 million contract, punctuating an offseason in which he seemed to order free agents from a catalog while blindfolded, the Raiders are being more conservative and selective with their spending.

This is wise, for an abundance of reasons, not the least of which is it suggests remorse on the part of Al, who had to chew on the disastrous results of his reckless spending.

If he's committed to being more careful and constructive, he might want to consider an asset he sometimes neglects.

It's called leadership, and it seems of obvious benefit to a team heavily invested in 23-year-old quarterback JaMarcus Russell, 21-year-old running back Darren McFadden, 23-year-old tight end Zach Miller and the young soon-to-be millionaire chosen with the seventh overall pick in the draft next month.

The current free-agent market is rich with veterans who have "been there, done that,'' mature professionals familiar with the requirements of winning as well as the toxins that can poison a team.

Two immediately come to mind. Amani Toomer, the 34-year-old wide receiver who was released by the New York Giants, and future Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks, 35, who was a casualty of the youth movement in Tampa Bay.


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Both, by the way, are postseason regulars who come equipped with Super Bowl rings.

Toomer, the Berkeley native who graduated from De La Salle High, is not the player he once was. He's not a No. 1 receiver, might not be a No. 2. But he still can contribute, especially to a team with one of the weakest group of wideouts in the league.

Javon Walker was hired last offseason to lead and was a colossal failure in virtually every imaginable way. Can you imagine Toomer being that kind of distraction? He lacks the baggage and almost certainly would be more productive — at a fraction of the cost.

Insofar as his father, Donald, is a regular at Raiders games in Oakland, Amani might even consider a "hometown'' discount.

Brooks, who may be the most respected player in the league, isn't what he used to be, either. On a defense generally considered the fastest around, Brooks was the quickest linebacker. He brings uncommon smarts, unsurpassed dedication and unquestioned character.

Ideal, it would seem, to set an example for young linebackers Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard. Set an example in a way former Buc Warren Sapp could not, or did not.

It's altogether probable one or both of these players have no interest in joining the Raiders. The perception around the NFL that the organization is unstable is not without merit — which is all the more reason, from a Raiders point of view, to recruit stable players.

That concept was absent during Al's lonely stroll through the all-you-can-spend buffet last offseason. He spent copiously on talent, like Hall, and on the recovering wounded, like Tommy Kelly and Walker. Perhaps impressed with highlights from Super Bowl XLII, Davis threw money at Gibril Wilson. The Kwame Harris signing was puzzling from the get-go, like buying a used car four previous mechanics couldn't fix.

Best intentions notwithstanding, the Raiders offseason of '08 was about binge buying without concern for value or purpose. This was no rational, calculated approach to building.

The last time the Raiders remade themselves, they did so by turning to respected "fading'' veterans. Men like Rich Gannon, Jerry Rice, Rod Woodson, Charlie Garner and William Thomas helped restore dignity and, eventually, reintroduced the franchise to the playoffs after a six-year absence.

They did it by walking in with a level of credibility missing during much of the 1990s. They lifted the professionalism quotient, raising standards and getting talented young teammates like Charles Woodson and Barret Robbins to buy into the possibilities.

The Raiders have missed the playoffs for six years, and they are not particularly close now. They got nowhere last spring, when only they believed they were onto something.

Shopping for a couple real pros now, while they're available and affordable, might help put them on the right path.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayarenewsgroup.com