HENDERSON, Nev. — As he often diagnosed plays on the field as a middle linebacker, Denzel Perryman knew exactly what would be asked of him as he stood in the pulpit.
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 early in 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 sweated. I’ve been waiting for him.”
Perryman then grabbed a towel with his right hand and slowly wiped his face, which was shining and smiling.
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THE RAIDERS, SUB new management with general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels arriving from the New England Patriots in January extended the contracts of defensive end Max 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 Darren Waller appears to be ready for a new deal with Las Vegas, which has 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 to be named to the All-Star Game league since Matt Millen … in 1988.
Inheriting a playmaker in the second tier of the defense was fortunate for the new coaching staff.
“Denzel, he brings a lot of juice every day and you can tell when he gets in there, he’s got that booming voice and everybody knows that when he talks, it’s usually something important,” McDaniels said. “He’s very confident. He is calm, but he is serious about football. And I don’t know many people who work like him.
“He tries to work hard to get better at things that maybe he hasn’t done as much, which is what I love about him … pushes his teammates, holds them accountable. Lead the same way every day. Very consistent presence in our building. No going up and down [like] roller coaster. 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 do it. He has the respect of the entire dressing room. I really, really enjoy being with him every day.”
Perryman arrived in Las Vegas by a curious 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 vowing not to take a COVID-19 vaccine, he was traded to the Raiders, along with a 2022 seventh-round draft pick, at the end of training camp in exchange for a 2022 sixth-round pick .
Perryman resisted taking the hit until, he said at the time, he could no longer stand feeling like an outcast in the locker room.
“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 something unexpected, but it was a blessing in disguise for me. I mean, I had my best season last year and I’ll try to build on that. But just being here, I’m still not locked in all the way. I’m still trying, like I said, to get my feet wet.”
Injuries have been a problem for Perryman — he never started more than 11 games in a season before last year. In his career, he 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 looks like a building block for new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. Perryman and second baseman Devine Diablo are the only returning starters for the Raiders.
“You can’t lead if you don’t contribute and you’re not consistent with your contributions,” Graham said. “And he comes in the same way every day — great energy, eager to learn, responsible. If he messes up, he is willing to take the blame for it and holds others accountable. And because he’s in that position as a quarterback, he does a good job of communicating between players and coaches. And that’s important from this position.”
IS IT 110 degrees or a monsoon drenches the field, Perryman is a constant in the camp, rocking his hats with messages of social change and reminding anyone 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 bonded like that… I’m a fan, for sure.”
Safety Duron Harmon agreed.
“He’s the life of the party,” Harmon said. “But then when he gets on the field, it’s like a switch just clicks.”
Indeed, Perryman had 10 games with at least 10 tackles last season, including 14 in a Week 3 loss to the Miami Dolphins
A wrestling machine, albeit one with an injury history coming off a career season, who looks like a foundational piece despite turning 30 in December and entering the final year of his contract?
Yes, there is some “energy” around Perryman at the center of the Raiders’ revamped defense.
“I mean, I’m just excited for the season as a whole,” Perryman said. “Everything is new – new coaches, new staff, new faces, new scheme and new year. So, energy-wise, I mean I’m always smiling and full of energy.”
It’s like he saw this all coming.