HENDERSON, Nev. — Like he so often diagnoses plays on the field as a middle linebacker, Denzel Perryman knew exactly what was about to be asked of him as he stood at the lectern.
Still, that did not mean the Pro Bowler was comfortable being asked about an NFL Network report that he was looking for a contract extension from the Las Vegas Raiders at the start of training camp.
“I knew it,” 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 that. I just want to play football. That’s it. I’ve been waiting on [that question]. That’s why I’m sweating. I was waiting on it.”
Perryman then grabbed a towel with his right hand and slowly wiped his face that was glistening as much as it was grinning.
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THE RAIDERS, UNDER new management with general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels coming from the New England Patriots in January, have doled 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 seems to be on deck for a new deal with Las Vegas having more than $26.4 million in salary cap space.
So, yeah, after the best season of his seven-year career, and entering the final year of his contract, who can blame Perryman for wanting a little 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 Raiders’ first inside linebacker named to the league’s all-star game since Matt Millen … in 1988.
Inheriting a playmaker at the defense’s second level was a stroke of good fortune 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 keeps it lighthearted, but he’s serious about the game of football. And I don’t know many people that 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. Doesn’t go up and down [like] a rollercoaster. If there’s any issue, you can be sure that Denzel will bring it to my attention as soon as possible. And if you go to Denzel with something that we need from the team, he’ll get it done. He’s got the respect of the entire locker room. Really, really enjoy being with him every day.”
Perryman arrived in Las Vegas via 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 a vow to not take the 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 getting the shot until, as he said at the time, he could no longer stand feeling like a locker room outcast.
“I feel like I’m still trying to get my feet wet around here,” Perryman said of Las Vegas in general. “I got 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’m going to try to pick up on that. But just being here, I ain’t locked in all the way yet. I’m still trying, like I said, get my feet wet.”
Injuries have been an issue for Perryman — he had never started more than 11 games in a season prior to 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 second-year player Divine Deablo are the Raiders’ only returning linebackers.
“You can’t lead if you’re not contributing, and being consistent with your contribution,” Graham said. “And he comes in the same way every day — great energy, willingness to learn, accountable. If he messes up, he’s willing to take the blame for that, and he holds others accountable. And because he’s in that position as a linebacker, he’s doing a good job of communicating between the players and the coaches. And that’s important from that position.”
WHETHER IT’S 110 degrees or a monsoon is drenching the field, Perryman is a constant in camp, rocking his beanies with social-change messages and reminding anyone within earshot to “hydrate.”
“He’s the heart of our defense,” said edge rusher Chandler Jones. “I reached out to him when I first got here and we just gel 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 goes on the field, it’s like a switch just clicks on.”
Indeed, Perryman had 10 games with at least 10 tackles last season, including 14 in a Week 3 overtime defeat of the Miami Dolphins
A tackling machine, albeit with an injury history, coming off a career season, who seems like a foundational piece, even though he will turn 30 in December and is entering the last year of his contract?
Yeah, there’s a certain “energy” around Perryman at the center of the Raiders’ retooled defense.
“I mean, I’m excited just for the season in general,” Perryman said. “It’s new everything — new coaches, new staff, new faces, new scheme and new year. So, energy wise, I mean, I’m always smiling and high energy.”
It’s almost like he saw this whole thing coming.