It seems like a match made in heaven - hard-hitting Ronnie Lott and the Los Angeles Raiders.
"Growing up as a kid, I always emulated the Jack Tatums, the George Atkinsons (two former Raider defensive backs known for their physical play)," Lott said Monday at a news conference after signing with the Raiders as a Plan B free agent."I can't believe how many people have told me, `I can't believe you're in a Niner uniform. You're a Raider player, the way you approach the game, the way you play the game,"' Lott said.
Lott was left unprotected by the San Francisco 49ers in the Plan B system despite being named All-Pro for the fifth time last season. He signed a two-year, non-guaranteed contract with the Raiders worth slightly more than $1 million per year.
Lott, 31, has been one of the NFL's finest defensive players for the past 10 years and was a starter on four Super Bowl championship teams with the 49ers. So assuming he's healthy, winning a job should be an afterthought.
However, Lott was sidelined late last season when he strained both knees, and it was feared he had damaged ligaments. But he returned to the lineup during the playoffs and was one of the dominant defensive players for the NFC in his ninth Pro Bowl, where he showed no effects of the knee injuries.
Raiders coach Art Shell said the team is satisfied Lott's knees are not a problem.
"When he was placed on the (Plan B) list, I said, `Something's wrong here,"' Shell said. "I don't know how much speed he's lost.
"We feel he can help our football team and that's why he's here."
Lott earned $800,000 in his final year with the 49ers and was scheduled to make $1 million in 1991. He acknowledged that he offered to take a $200,000 pay cut, staying at his 1990 salary, to remain with San Francisco, but that still was not agreeable to the 49ers, who already shoulder the NFL's biggest payroll.
But Lott said he understood their decision and harbored no ill feelings.
"They wanted me to play one year and then possibly get involved in the organization," he said. "I've told people that if I was in their shoes I might have done the same thing, based on the philosophy of the organization.
"You've got to be objective about it. Looking at the overall picture, I don't sit here and say, `Man, they did the wrong thing.' If I was a general manager, I might have done the same thing.
"They've been a first-class organization and they'll always be a first-class organization. I think they did what they did in the best interests of the organization."
Lott is the 49ers' all-time record-holder in interceptions , interception return yardage (643) and interceptions returned for touchdowns He was credited with 721 tackles in 129 regular-season games for San Francisco.
The revived Raiders, with Shell in his first full season at the helm, were 12-4 last season to make it to the playoffs for the first time in five years. They advanced to the AFC championship game where they lost to Buffalo 51-3.
"Ronnie Lott's a great player. I'm not saying he's the missing link, but he can help this football team," Shell said. "He reminds me of Jack Tatum. You've got to love coaching a guy like that."