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Raiders Sign Heisman Winner Woodson

July 21, 1998

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) _ Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson knew that the sooner he signed with the Oakland Raiders, the better his chances of earning a starting spot this season.

``I’ve never sat on the bench a day in my life,″ he said. ``And I don’t want to start now.″

Woodson, the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft out of Michigan, agreed to terms Monday, just in time for today’s opening of training camp in Napa. Rookies and selected veterans start practices Wednesday.

The terms of the contract were not revealed by the Raiders or Woodson’s agent, Carl Poston, but ESPN reported it was a six-year deal worth $14.5 million, including an $8 million signing bonus.

Woodson became the highest pick this year to come to terms.

``As long as things were fair, I had no problem with signing before everybody else,″ he said.

After marathon negotiations over the past several days, the two sides said they came together after a barbecue held by Raiders head coach Jon Gruden on Sunday night. Woodson, who was with his family in Orlando, Fla., got the call to be on a plane Monday morning.

``There was a commitment from the very beginning,″ Poston said. ``Charles made it clear and I made it clear that we wanted to get this deal done before camp.″

The Raiders let go of cornerbacks Larry Brown and Terry McDaniel in the offseason in favor of Woodson and newcomer Eric Allen, a six-time Pro Bowl selection. Gruden also has tentatively moved 15-year veteran cornerback Albert Lewis to free safety.

Gruden, hired in the offseason after the Raiders went 4-12 last season, said Woodson has as good a chance as anyone else of earning a starting job.

``We’re not reluctant at all. We don’t discriminate because of age,″ said Gruden, 34, the former offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles. ``I’m a rookie head coach.″

Woodson, who entered the draft after his junior season, was the first predominantly defensive player to win the Heisman.

Last season, he had 41 tackles and seven interceptions. He also had 33 punt returns for 282 yards and a touchdown, 11 receptions for 231 yards and a touchdown, and three rushes for 15 yards and another score.

Woodson, 21, is the seventh Heisman Trophy winner to play for the Raiders, following Tim Brown, Desmond Howard, Billy Cannon, Jim Plunkett, Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson.

``This young man has the capability to take the torch and become a great football player for us,″ Gruden said.

Woodson said he was ready to prove it.

``I know I can play at this level and I’m ready to go,″ he said.

The Raiders have just one draft pick left unsigned, fourth-rounder Gennaro DiNapoli, an offensive lineman out of Virginia Tech.

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