Wilkins, Minshew ready to add to Raiders' new-found culture

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Friday, March 15, 2024

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Christian Wilkins will fit in just fine with the Las Vegas Raiders' re-found maverick culture.

So says the free-spirit defensive tackle, who signed a four-year, $110 million free-agent contract with $84.75 million guaranteed to join a franchise with an island of misfit toys mentality.

"I'm such a character, such an animated, sick, twisted individual," Wilkins said with a grin Thursday. "You just feel that here -- everybody's accepting of who everybody is and everybody's just already themselves.

"Just, something's different about this place."

Or did you miss his social media greeting to Raiders fans upon inking his contract?

Same thing with quarterback Gardner Minshew, who inked a two-year, $25 million deal with $15 million guaranteed with Las Vegas to joinAidan O'Connellin a two-man QB room ... for now. The Raiders are expected to make a push to move up in the draft for a quarterback, presumably LSU's Heisman Trophy-winnerJayden Daniels, who has ties to Raiders coach Antonio Pierce from their days together at Arizona State.

Because Minshew, you'll recall, had his infamous run-in with Raiders Pro Bowl edge rusher Maxx Crosby in Week 17 at Indianapolis on New Year's Eve. Crosby harassed the then-Colts QB throughout the game, with mics catching him calling Minshew a "little-ass boy" throughout. Simply because, according to Crosby, Minshew did not take his hand when offered it upon being knocked down.

Not to fret, Minshew and Crosby have already met and squashed any beef, real or imagined.

"Yeah, sure enough," Minshew laughed, "he's big-ass boy, is what he is."

It's not quite the legendary tale of Ted Hendricks riding into his first Raiders practice on a horse and announcing he was ready to play and Ken Stabler reacting by saying under his breath, "He'll fit right in."

But it's the same strain of DNA for a franchise looking to get back to its wild, wooly and, yes, winning ways under a new regime of general manager Tom Telesco and Pierce.

In fact, Pierce told ESPN.com that Wilkins and Minshew were "high-motivated guys" who were also "team guys" that had "personality" and a "motor" that made them more than culture fits.

Minshew, on his fourth team in five years, said he joins every organization with two goals in mind -- to get better and to have fun.

He's already 2-0 vs. the Raiders, his first win coming with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Raiders' final game in Oakland on Dec. 15, 2019.

"One of the coolest games of my life," Minshew said with his Southern drawl. "Last game in the Oakland Coliseum, putting a lot of sad faces on the home fans."

Minshew threw a pair of TD passes in the game's final five-plus minutes to win 20-16.

"It was unbelievable how it went from here (raising his hand high), to [Jaguars] touchdown with 30 seconds left to here (lowering his hand) and everybody's mad at Jon Gruden now," Minshew added. "It was amazing, man. You feel the passion of the fan base, people that really care about it. You feel the tradition and that's something I'm excited to be on the other side of now."

On the field, Wilkins, who had a career-best 9.0 sacks last season and 20.5 in his five-year career, figures to be that up-the-middle pocket pusher the Raiders have missed since the days of Hall of Famer Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly.

Wilkins' mere presence will create more opportunities for Crosby, who had a career-high 14.5 sacks last season. And, Wilkins said he plans on mentoring 2023 first-round pick Tyree Wilson, who endured an up-and-down rookie season because, well, Wilkins had a similar first season in the NFL.

"People who just love ball, just love it, just great energy," Wilkins said of Las Vegas' locker room culture.

"You could kind of tell that, playing against the Raiders, and just kind of seeing it on TV and things like that. Everyone's, just like I said, themselves. And it's just great energy here and I'm glad I can be part of it."

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