HENDERSON, Nev. — Davante Adams has been busy since agreeing to a blockbuster trade in March 2022 to leave the only professional organization he had ever known in the Green Bay Packers to join the team he grew up rooting for in the Raiders. For starters, he signed a five-year contract with Las Vegas worth $140 million.
Since then, he’s been targeted a league-leading 229 times in 21 games. Adams has also caught 133 passes for 1,913 yards and an NFL-high 17 touchdowns — including 33 receptions for 397 yards and three touchdowns this season. He was also named first-team All-Pro for the third straight year and selected to his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl after the 2022 season.
Yet despite all of his individual brilliance, the Raiders are 7-14 with him, including a frustrating 1-3 start to this season with a fresh controversy seemingly enveloping the franchise on a weekly basis.
Surely, this couldn’t have been what Adams was expecting when he left Titletown for Sin City.
“I didn’t really have any expectations,” Adams told ESPN.com recently. “But it’s not what I wanted, for sure. Obviously, I wanted to come here and have a big impact, continue to play at a high level and win games. And a lot of those things have happened — just not the winning part. But I’ve just got to continue to do more and keep demanding greatness and consistency for my teammates.
“It’s a gamble sometimes. You never really know.”
At a position known for being full of me-first players, Adams, 30, is cut a bit differently. He doesn’t preen or call attention to himself. He simply goes about his job while making other players look silly — the defensive backs trying to cover him. It caught Raiders receiver Jakobi Meyers off guard when Meyers joined Las Vegas in free agency this offseason.
“He’d go out there, run hard, take hits, get back up, make the exciting play, make the basic play, the routine fundamental play,” Meyers said. “I mean, he’s just a well-rounded receiver. He really can do it all. And the want to. He wants to do it all. He wants to be out there every play. He’s inspirational, man. …We’re just chasing him.
“He has every right to be a diva, he definitely could be. But that’s not him, man. He’s a hard-working, head-to-the-ground, go-make-my-plays type of guy. So, respect to him.”
But the losses are piling up, as the Raiders have suffered from blown leads, failure to get over the hump and losses in winnable games. After all, the Raiders are 5-11 in one-score games since the start of the 2022 season, a win percentage that’s 27th in the NFL.
And with his old team coming to town for “Monday Night Football” (8:15 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN) and Cheeseheads threatening to take over Allegiant Stadium, Adams is not about to make any concrete “claims” about his future, even as his concerns battle the team-first mentality and work ethic which has earned him praise throughout the Raiders’ locker room.
“What’s most important to me is going to the Super Bowl. I’ve been to four NFC championship games in Green Bay in eight years,” Adams said. “So, I’ve won a lot of games in the regular season. I’ve got a lot of stats. What I haven’t done is check that box of winning the Super Bowl.
“I’m trying to create something special here. I can only do so much on my individual end. … you don’t fluke into the Super Bowl; you do it a certain way to win the Super Bowl.”
THE BALL THROWN by rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell — who got the start in Week 4 when starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was ruled out due to a concussion — was behind Adams as he went across the middle on a deep route at SoFi Stadium. Adams took a shot to his right shoulder when Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Michael Davis drove him into the artificial turf, stayed on the ground and was taken to the locker room for examination.
It was early in the second quarter, and despite being listed as questionable to return, Adams was back on the field before halftime. He caught eight passes in the second half to help lead a Raiders’ comeback effort that fell short. Adams sat out practice on Thursday and Friday and was a limited participant Saturday due to that shoulder and is listed as questionable to play Monday.
“He’s a warrior, and to come back in and play the way that he did after that, I give him, obviously, all the credit in the world,” Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said. “He’s a tough son of a gun and what a great team player.
“One of the more unique players and people that I’ve been around.”
On the field, McDaniels said Adams has seen “every defense known to mankind” and still excels.
“He’s got a perspective that’s very unique and rare,” McDaniels said. “And his skill and his talent, it’s at the highest level. He plays at an incredible speed, his hands, his length, his reach, his ability to twist and turn and make tough catches. I mean, it’s a privilege to coach guys like that because you don’t get to see that every day.”
Off the field?
“He’s a very mature guy,” McDaniels said. “He’s a great dad, great husband, great son, great friend and very honest and open with his dialogue about whatever. Any way he could help the team — he’s an incredible captain.
“Just a really unique individual, unique player, special in every way. Hall of Famer.”
But Adams is also human with an inner conflict — trying to balance the Raiders’ inability to forge a consistent and successful path with his personal success — that’s pulling him in different directions. In the spring, after the Raiders moved on from nine-year starting quarterback Derek Carr, his college teammate at Fresno State, and signed Garoppolo, Adams said he didn’t see “eye-to-eye” with the Raiders’ decision makers.
After a disappointing Week 3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Adams said he didn’t have “time to wait around” for the Raiders to get right and talked about the “culture” having to change.
But slip-ups aside, Adams continues to build his résumé for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Consider: With a touchdown catch against the Packers, he will pass Antonio Brown and Jimmy Graham for the fourth-most TD catches in prime-time games in NFL history with 32. Only Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (46), Randy Moss (44) and Terrell Owens (34) have more. Plus, with 802 career catches for 10,034 yards and 90 TDs, Adams ranks 14th on the all-time TD reception list and is about two seasons away from joining the NFL’s top 20 lists in catches and receiving yards, barring injury.
He’s not the fastest or the quickest, but Adams is eternally open.
Raiders cornerback Nate Hobbs credits Adams’ use of leverage and his ability to change direction on a dime. That, and Adams never taking a play off. It seems simple, but he runs every route as if the ball is coming his way, even if it’s a run play, making it a battle of conditioning and, thus, attrition, with an unsuspecting defensive back.
“He always has a plan, and it could change in a split second,” said Hobbs, who wanted one-on-one reps with Adams in his first camp with the Raiders and quickly found out. “He’ll leverage you inside and you don’t expect that, so he’ll convert and have me on a different route. He makes every route look the same.
“Plus, the way he goes and gets the ball when it’s in the air, he’s like on a Steph Curry level. You know how Steph could shoot and he can close his eyes and hit it? Last year several times, he couldn’t even see the ball, and he caught the ball. With one hand. Like, he’s on that level, that Curry level when it comes to catching balls. He’s a real expert at it. All that together makes it really tough to guard. He’s unpredictable.”
WHILE MORE THAN a few of the names and faces have changed, a certain sense of familiarity is bound to come over Adams on Monday night when he looks across the field and sees that iconic gold and dark green helmet with the oversized ‘G’ on the side. The helmet he wore from 2014, when the Packers drafted him in the second round, through 2021, when it was simply time to go and get closer to his family and friends on the West Coast.
It’s a helmet Adams wore as he advanced to the precipice of the Super Bowl four times, with the Packers losing in the NFC Championship Game in 2014, 2016, 2019 and 2020.
“It’ll be weird,” Adams said with a grin. “I’ll get over it by the time the game starts. But going over there, coming out of the tunnel, seeing them over there, it’ll be weird. I haven’t experienced, obviously, I haven’t played against the Packers before, so it’ll be fun.
“It’ll be good to see some [familiar] faces and compete against those boys at a different level, too.”
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Coming out of the game with a win, though, would be more than that for Adams and the Raiders. Perhaps it would halt, momentarily at least, the narrative that Adams is unhappy. That the Raiders will have to at least entertain the thought of trading him for a bounty of picks, even if the dead money hit — $7.85 million this year, $23.55 million in 2024 — would be daunting.
A victory could confirm what Adams has been saying all along — that the Raiders have too much talent to not be relevant in the second half of the season.
“I’m just trying to stay centered and stay focused on the ultimate goal, which is winning games,” he said. “It’s the cliché answer, but that’s really all I can do. … My job is to play, and the front office, their job is to do what they do. It’s just the easiest way to not live on a roller coaster, this up and down world, just take care of what I can take care of. And as much as I can contribute to that, I’m going to do that.
“And that’s how you build a winning culture. So, when I [say] we haven’t established a winning culture, it’s more about what we can do as players, more than the philosophies and the ideas. Because everything that they preach here, the way we talk about it and the way they want it done, is the right way.”
Yes, even when it comes to not seeing eye-to-eye on certain things.
Of course, Adams could not have foreseen Carr being cut and leaving for the New Orleans Saints after less than one season together in Las Vegas. But Carr was not the only reason Adams, who rocked a Charles Woodson jersey for third-grade picture day while saying he wanted to play for the Raiders, came to southern Nevada.
And until Garoppolo was concussed, Adams was building a certain and sudden trust with his new quarterback. Not an easy thing to do considering Adams has really only had two quarterbacks since graduating from Palo Alto High School in 2011 — Carr at Fresno State, Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and Carr again with the Raiders.
“Jimmy’s an easy guy to work with because he’s one of the best that I’ve been around at any position, let alone quarterback, of taking accountability,” Adams said. “Not taking anything away from Derek and Aaron, but Jimmy does a good job of not coming in acting like he knows everything. He’s open to suggestions and me talking through ways that I’ve done in the past.”
Which brings it full circle to Adams saying it’s all a gamble anyway. And with this being Las Vegas, he just doesn’t want to crap out, or roll snake eyes.
“Some things are going to work out better in the offseason, whether it’s free agents or if it’s draft picks,” said Adams, who got off to a slow start in his career with 88 catches and four touchdown catches in his first two seasons combined, and did not go over 1,000 yards receiving in a single season until his fifth year in the NFL.
“It’s also a process of this thing takes time to develop, so you can’t count your chickens until they hatch. Because if we would’ve done that, then there would’ve been no Davante Adams at this point.”
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