ALAMEDA, Calif. -- If Jon Gruden had his druthers in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft, he would have selected either Jackson State receiver Sylvester Morris or Alabama running back Shaun Alexander at No. 17 overall.
Al Davis stepped in and took Florida State kicker Sebastian Janikowski.
Eighteen years later, Gruden has another what-if on his mind in the wake of the Oakland Raiders choosing to move on from Janikowski.
“If it was up to me, I’d bring him back,” Gruden said Wednesday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. “But I think we’re going to move on for obvious reasons. (Giorgio) Tavecchio's probably a little bit better right now kicking off, and if I know Janikowski like I used to, we couldn’t afford him in a million years. You know what I mean?”
Gruden laughed, but there was truth there, what with Janikowski having finished off a four-year, $16 million contract extension in 2017 on injured reserve with a back issue, after the franchise’s all-time leading scorer took a $1 million pay cut to get to $3 million for last season. Tavecchio made $465,000 in base salary last year.
“From my first day in training camp, I knew I was where I belonged,” Janikowski said in a statement released by the team last week. “I loved every minute of it. I will always remember how Al Davis made me feel that he truly believed and had confidence in me.
“I always knew that one day my time with the Oakland Raiders would come to an end, but I have to say, that never would have been too soon.”
Tavecchio, a longtime camp leg behind Janikowski, was signed the day before the season opener at Tennessee and responded with four field goals, including two 52-yarders and one from 43 yards.
After the strong start, Tavecchio, who is 12 years younger than the soon-to-be 40-year-old Janikowski, finished with a 76.2 percent conversion rate (16 of 21, with three misses coming in the last six games) on his field goals and made 33 of 34 extra-point attempts.
Both Janikowski and Tavecchio kick with their left foot, and with the Raiders going with Tavecchio, it presents a unique challenge for Gruden and, perhaps, holder Marquette King.
“We’re counting on Giorgio,” Gruden said. “The only difficult thing about having a left-footed kicker is you’ve got to find a left-footed kicker, I think, to compete against him. Because if you bring in a right-footed kicker to compete against a left-footed kicker, it really messes up your holder. And the holder is a big part of the operation. It really is. Some of the missed kicks, you blame the kicker. But sometimes you look at the hold and it wasn’t very good.
“We want competition at every position but we like Tavecchio.”