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HENDERSON, Nev. — Just as he so often diagnoses plays on the field as a middle linebacker, Denzel Perryman knew Exactly what was about to be asked of him when he stood for the lecture.
Still, that didn’t mean the Pro Bowler was comfortable being asked about an NFL Network report that he was seeking a contract extension from the Las Vegas Raiders at the start of training camp.
“I knew,” Perryman said under his breath as he slowly shook his head. “I knew it was coming. I knew it was coming.”
The room full of reporters laughed with an amused Perryman.
“To answer that question,” he continued, “my agent Ron Butler is handling it. I just want to play football. That’s it. I’ve been waiting [that question]. That’s why I sweat. I was waiting for it.”
Perryman then grabbed a towel with his right hand and slowly wiped his face, which was beaming as much as it was grinning.
THE RAIDERS, BELOW new leadership with general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels coming from the New England Patriots in January have handed out contract extensions to defensive end Maxx Crosby, quarterback Derek Carr and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow. Las Vegas also acquired All-Pro receiver Davante Adams and gave him a new contract, while tight end Darren Waller appears to be on deck for a new deal with Las Vegas with more than $26.4 million in salary cap space.
So yeah, coming off the best season of his seven-year career and entering the final year of his contract, who can blame Perryman for wanting some security?
Consider: Perryman’s 154 tackles last season were the most by a Raiders player since 2000, the sixth most in the NFL in 2021, and he was the first Raiders inside linebacker named to the league’s all-star game since Matt Millen … in 1988.
Inheriting a playmaker on the second level of the defense was a stroke of luck for the new coaching staff.
“Denzel, he brings a lot of juice every day, and you can tell when he comes in there, he’s got that booming voice, and everybody knows when he talks, it’s usually something important,” McDaniels said. “He’s very confident. He’s light-hearted, but he’s serious about the game of football. And I don’t know many people who work like he does.
“He’s trying to work hard to get better at things that maybe he hasn’t done as much of, which I love about him … pushes his teammates, holds them accountable. Leads the same way every single day. Very consistent presence in our building. Does not go up and down [like] to slide. If there is a problem, you can be sure that Denzel will bring it to my attention as soon as possible. And if you go to Denzel with something we need from the team, he’ll get it done. He has the respect of the entire dressing room. Really enjoy being with him every day.”
Perryman arrived in Las Vegas by a strange route. After spending his first six seasons with the Chargers, he signed a two-year, $6 million free-agent contract with the Carolina Panthers in the spring of 2021.
But after a strange offseason and a promise not to take the COVID-19 vaccine, he was traded to the Raiders along with a 2022 draft pick at the end of training camp in exchange for a 2022 sixth-round pick.
Perryman resisted getting the shot until, he said at the time, he could no longer bear feeling like a locker room outcast.
“I feel like I’m still trying to get my feet wet here,” Perryman said of Las Vegas in general. “I was traded here. It was kind of unexpected, but it was a blessing in disguise for me. I mean, I had my best season last year and I’m going to try to pick up on that. But just being here, is not locked all the way in yet. I’m still trying, like I said, to get my feet wet.”
Injuries have been a problem for Perryman – he had never started more than 11 games in a season before last year. In his career, he has appeared in 84 of a possible 113 regular season games.
But after starting 15 games plus the playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last season — he missed two while on the COVID list — Perryman seems like a building block for new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. Perryman and sophomore Divine Deablo are the Raiders’ only returning linebackers.
“You can’t lead if you don’t contribute and be consistent with your contribution,” Graham said. “And he comes in the same way every day — high energy, willingness to learn, responsible. If he messes up, he’s willing to take the blame for it and he holds others accountable. And because he’s in that position at linebacker, he does a good job of communicating between the players and the coaches. And that’s important from that position.”
IF IT IS 110 degrees or a monsoon drenches the field, Perryman is a constant in the camp, shaking his caps with messages of social change and reminding everyone within earshot to “hydrate.”
“He’s the heart of our defense,” edge rusher Chandler Jones said. “I reached out to him when I first got here and we just hang out like that… I’m definitely a fan.”
Safety Duron Harmon agreed.
“He’s the life of the party,” Harmon said. “But then when he goes on the field, it’s like a switch just clicks.”
In fact, Perryman had 10 games with at least 10 tackles last season, including 14 in a Week 3 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins
A tackling machine, albeit one with an injury history coming off a career season, who seems like a foundational piece even as he turns 30 in December and enters the final year of his contract?
Yes, there is some “energy” surrounding Perryman at the center of the Raiders’ revamped defense.
“I mean, I’m excited for the season in general,” Perryman said. “It’s new everything – new coaches, new employees, new faces, new system and new year. So in terms of energy, I mean, I’m always smiling and high energy.”
It’s almost like he saw it all coming.