NAPA – Richie Incognito was training hard in Arizona for a return to the NFL, with no guarantee it would actually happen. The Pro Bowl offensive guard was ready to end a brief retirement, but had a tough time finding employment.
He understood exactly why. Incognito had Miami’s bullying scandal bold-typed onto his resume, with a reputation further sullied by off-field incidents during a 2018 season away from the NFL game. A suspension was likely after one in an Arizona funeral home, where he pled guilty to disorderly conduct.
Incognito would also be 36 years old during the 2019 season, still good but far enough past his prime where he might not be worth the headache.
“I was training down in Phoenix at EXOS [training facility] for several months on my own while guys were playing, and the thought definitely crossed my mind that I may never play again,” Incognito said. “My mantra and what I kept being prepared for was that, if an opportunity did come, I was going to be ready.”
He didn’t want to sit back, cross his fingers and wait. Incognito instead took a shot in the dark, one that brought a golden opportunity to light. He got Jon Gruden’s number and stayed in steady contact with the Raiders head coach, swearing he was physically and mentally ready for a return to the NFL. This was in early May, just after the NFL draft.
Incognito worked out for the team a few weeks later and signed a one-year, prove-it contract with the Raiders later that month. Now he’ll be the team’s starting left guard after he serves a two-game suspension, with a real chance to end his career on a positive note.
“It’s about redemption,” Incognito said after Saturday’s training camp practice. “It’s about Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden and the entire Raiders organization giving me an opportunity, and I want to make it right. I want to make it positive for everybody. I want to contribute and be a team leader and I want to re-write the ending.”
Previous chapters have been messy. That includes his role and subsequent labeling as a perpetrator in the Miami bullying scandal, and the funeral home incident and another 2018 run-in at a Florida gym where he was reportedly given an involuntary psychiatric evaluation.
Incognito admits there have been dark days, often perpetuated by an unwillingness to seek help with his mental health. Those periods are behind him now and he’s working hard to keep going in the right direction.
“That path is being around the guys, being around football,” Incognito said. “It’s about being in a good state mentally, physically and emotionally and working toward a goal. It’s important to show up and be accountable every single day. I have my team around me.
“I have a lot of people who support me, inside and outside the organization. I have to stay close to them, but the biggest thing is being man enough to ask for help when I need it. For so many years I’ve tried to grit my teeth and work hard and grind through this. We’ve seen that I’ve had my setbacks and some dark days, but I’m focusing on positive days and building some momentum and rolling right into the season.”
Incognito’s set on making this Raiders experience positive, to be a team leader and show that he’s no longer the person everyone thinks they know.
“When guys get around me,” Incognito said, “I think they see someone different than what they’ve read about in the headlines.”
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The three-time Pro Bowler won’t take this chance for granted, and seems set on maximized one last shot at NFL football. It’s also a chance, starting with his Saturday’s media session, to speak honestly about his struggles with mental health.
“It’s something in this country that is stigmatized,” Incognito said. “It’s been well published that I’ve had my ups and downs. I hope to grow into that role. I’m still working through it, so I’m not comfortable speaking on it right now, but it has been a long journey to get here. What I bring to the Raiders is the best version of myself. I’ve worked hard to get here and the Raiders have work hard to help me. I really want to make a positive of this. I really want to extend gratitude…to the entire Raiders organization, and I want to make it right.”