Raiders keep tailback Wheatley
By Len Pasquarelli
Despite a diminished role in the Oakland offense over the past two
seasons, Raiders coaches and team officials still consider Tyrone
Wheatley essential to their success.
ESPN.com learned Sunday the two sides have reached an agreement in
principle on a new contract.
Terms of the agreement, which end the veteran tailback's three-week
tenure as an unrestricted free agent, were not immediately available.
The contract will be signed later in the week.
Wheatley, 31, attracted interest from other teams at the outset of
the signing period, but Oakland officials pursued him from the first
day of free agency. With the market slowed to a near-halt, and the
Raiders the team for which he wanted to play anyway, Wheatley decided
to act now on the Oakland offer.
The eight-year veteran played in 14 games in 2002 and rushed for 419
yards and two touchdowns on 108 carries. He also had 12 receptions
for 71 yards.
Over the past two seasons, as Charlie Garner has emerged as the
Raiders' No. 1 tailback, the time-sharing plan under which the two
veterans played has been reduced. Yet the Raiders hierarchy,
including owner Al Davis, sees Wheatley as an excellent complement to
Garner and the franchise's toughest inside runner.
Indeed, the former University of Michigan star remains a physical
presence between the tackles and has continued to pay dividends to an
Oakland team that plucked him off the waiver wire just before the
start of the '99 season. In his first two years with the Raiders, he
rushed for 1,982 yards, including a 1,046-yard performance in 2000.
The first-round draft choice of the New York Giants in 1995, Wheatley
was often termed a bust during his four years with the team, and he
was traded to the Miami Dolphins in 1999. Wheatley was released by
the Dolphins before the start of the season and signed by the Raiders.
Former coach Jon Gruden in particular used Wheatley as a human
wrecking ball against the interior of opposition defenses.
In 102 games, Wheatley has 32 starts, and has rushed for 3,957 yards
and 32 touchdowns on 1,026 career attempts. He has 98 receptions for
702 yards in eight seasons, with seven touchdown catches. The
retention of Wheatley continues a Raiders emphasis on bolstering
their backfield. The team last week signed a pair of fullbacks, Cecil
Martin and Chris Hetherington, to replace former starter Jon Ritchie,
who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this month as an
unrestricted free agent.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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