Last Tuesday I had the honor of interviewing Oakland Raider great, Cliff Branch. The interview went really well and Mr. Branch came off as a well rounded and down to earth individual. Additionally, the former all-pro wide receiver had an understanding that I wrote for Niners Nation before agreeing to the interview.
While I did mostly discuss his playing career with the Raiders, their elite teams back in the 1970s and what it was like playing under John Madden. We did delve into a couple different items as they relate to the 49ers and the broader situation of the modern NFL.
Below is a couple of different items that relate to the 49ers and the current CBA issue.
Oakland made headlines by drafting Darious Heyward-Bey over Michael Crabtree a couple of years ago. Which player do you think will have a better NFL career?
My pick was Jeremy Maclin. You know, but how do you judge the talent? How does Desean Jackson fall to the 2nd round? How do the Bay Area teams let him go? He was a Bay Area kid. I saw this guy play in college, and this guy looked like Paul Warfield on the field. Mr. Davis loves speed, but what can I say. They say that he is still looking for me.
They are two different types of receivers. Crabtree was the #1 receiver, well should have been the #1 receiver. Crabtree was far along in his development. This year is going to be a big year for Heyward-Bey; he has to show his stuff
Thoughts on Alex Smith?
Alex has had his ups and downs, but his thing has been the coordinator. Every year that he has been there he has had a different coordinator. Smith has played four or five years he has Harbaugh on his side and if he has any talent Harbaugh will bring it out of him.
What was your take on the Raiders letting Tom Cable go after a surprising 8-8 season?
He had to go, he had to go. Hue Jackson was the reason for the improved offense because he called the plays. Hue was running the offense, he had to go. It was either make the playoffs or you're fired, same think with Singletary in San Francisco. It was Hue Jackson who called the plays.
The NFL is in the midst of a lock-out as we speak. What is your view on this?
Well, I am a player. Sure there is enough money and stuff to improve the health insurance issue. Us old guys, I mean these guys are making so much money they can afford to better fund the retired players. There is always more money for health insurance and the retired players. I went through two strikes, we went through a 50 day strike. We played two games, striked for seven weeks, where there was no football. We came back and ended up playing seven more games. We had the best record in the AFC, Washington had the best record in the NFL; but, a crucial fumble by Marcus Allen caused us not to go to the Super Bowl. You have nine billion dollars they are trying to decide on, I mean c'mon. The lockout is now and not during the season. They have plenty of time, they still got three months to get that thing done.
Do you think it will get resolved in time for the 2011 season to being on time?
Yes, the NFL is at a high point right now, revenue is good. You have Direct TV, they would be losing money and the players want to play football. I cannot see them going into a season, I can't even see them missing training camp. They have missed OTA's, but they are still going to have a draft. It is a real setback for both Hue Jackson and Jim Harbaugh, who are behind the eight ball right now because there is no preparation and so forth.
My conclusion from the interview is that Mr. Branch, who still works with the Raiders in a certain capacity, was extremely diplomatic when it came to the current CBA issue. As noted in the interview, he was a player, but does understand the need for the union to give some ground in order for a resolution to come about. As someone that played during the 70s, Branch will doesn't have much compassion for players that make millions. The tone of the interview went from that of a lighthearted Q&A session, to something more substantial when talking about the labor issue. He didn't seem to have the patience for individuals like Nnamdi Asomugha possibly choosing money over loyalty. Additionally, Mr. Branch seemed a bit short when addressing questions about the hall-of-fame selection process, the mass media as a whole, and the current state of the NFL. I think that even as 49ers fan, we can agree that the team that he played on represented a true workman type approach, something we do not see in the modern NFL. Coincidentally, those types of players, who left everything on the field, are not going to have much patience for the egomaniac's that dawn NFL uniforms today.
Branch's take on the 49ers was extremely interesting as well. He had a hard time saying that Michael Crabtree should have been the Raiders pick at #7 two seasons ago, but he pretty much said so. As someone that still works and is close to Al Davis and the Raiders front office, Branch really couldn't go to far into detail in regards to that. But, he did say that Crabtree "was the #1 receiver, well should have been the #1 receiver", and "was further a long in his development" (Then Heyward-Bey). In regards to Alex Smith, Branch pretty much said what a lot of insiders from around the league feel. That Alex has not been put in the situation to win and be successful. That in fact, the lack of continuity in regards to scheme and offensive coordinators has hurt him. I really think that this is hard to argue against, but Alex also has to be held to account for not performing up to the #1 pick status of a few years ago.