RAIDERS : Bengals Learn Montoya's House in Cincinnati Is Not His Home

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Raiders were stunned when they discovered that the Cincinnati Bengals hadn't protected Max Montoya, a three-time Pro Bowl guard, when the Plan B free-agent list was disclosed.

The Bengals figured that Montoya, 34, developed too many ties in 11 years to leave Cincinnati, where he owns two successful Mexican restaurants and had just built a house on an acre of land overlooking the Ohio River.

And there was no way he'd leave his best friend, tackle Anthony Munoz. Or so they thought.

"I think they were taking a calculated risk, knowing that I had a lot of ties in Cincinnati and had been there for a lot of years and was very comfortable with the situation," Montoya said.

"Any time you do something like that, you're taking a calculated risk. They figured and I figured that I wasn't going to go anywhere. But I didn't think as many teams would come after me like they did and start swaying me with (money)."

A Bengal executive said Montoya made "a moral commitment" to remain in Cincinnati after they renegotiated his contract upward from $475,000.

But the Raiders made Montoya an offer he couldn't refuse, signing him to a two-year contract worth a reported $1.45 million, the most money ever paid to a Raider offensive lineman.

Montoya will earn $550,000 this season plus a $100,000 bonus for reporting to camp, and he'll make $650,000 next season plus a $100,000 reporting bonus. He also received a $50,000 relocation bonus.

Raider nose guard Bob Golic thinks it was money well spent.

"Max is a tremendous talent," said Golic, who faced Montoya twice a year for nine seasons when he played for the Cleveland Browns. "There are a lot of guys that you play against and you know they have tremendous strength or tremendous quickness. But he has both. You had to play a total game to succeed against him or have any measure of success against him.

"He's playing as well now as I've ever seen him. So, the fact that they let him go was a total surprise. But we were able to benefit from it."

Raider Coach Art Shell agreed.

"They took a risk and it backfired on them," he said. "I'm just happy that we had a chance to get him. You don't know why clubs do what they do. I'm just happy we had the opportunity to acquire a guy of his caliber."

Montoya has been a starter since he moved into Cincinnati's lineup midway through his rookie season, but the Raiders say he isn't assured of starting.

"You can't come in here and think you're all-world and step right in," Montoya said. "I've got to prove myself to the Raiders. And I'm trying to do that in training camp."

But Raider owner Al Davis didn't acquire the powerfully built, 6-foot-5, 285-pound Montoya to sit on the bench.

The Raiders have moved Steve Wisniewski, who started at right guard last season, to left guard, enabling Montoya to continue playing right guard, the position he has played the past 11 years. Montoya began training camp behind right guard John Gesek.

Shell explained his move of Wisniewski this way:

"If you were a coach and had a Pro Bowl player and you wanted to give him a chance to compete and he'd been in the league for a lot of years playing right guard, and you had a young guy who'd only been in the league one year at that position, who'd be the easiest guy to move?"

So it was easy to move Wisniewski and give Montoya a chance to compete at right guard with Gesek, who has played both guard positions.

"Like I told John, the job is his to lose, but Max is going to compete like hell against him," Shell said.

Montoya relishes the challenge. "I think it's good because I've got to come in here and prove myself all over again," he said. "There's a lot of expectations that the Raiders have of me, and I've got to hopefully fulfill those."

So far, Montoya has fulfilled those expectations.

"He's a good football player," offensive line coach Kim Helton said of Montoya. "He's a guy who knows how to play and, more important, wants to play. It's not just a job to him. He plays with expertise and he enjoys it while he's doing it. So, he's just a big plus for us in talent, effort and attitude. He's a pleasure to coach."

Shell said: "He understands how to play the game. He's been to the Super Bowl and he's a leader. He leads by his play, not by talking about it.

"The guy is very receptive to anything you have to say. That's why he's a Pro Bowl player. Those kinds of guys are always willing to learn and they're always willing to listen. Anything that will help make their game better, they'll listen."

The Raiders were successful in the first year of Plan B free agency, signing three players who became starters--Golic, linebacker Thomas Benson and kicker Jeff Jaeger. And the Raiders hope that the acquisition of Montoya will continue the trend.

After beginning his career at UCLA, Montoya plans to end it with the Raiders--if they stay in Los Angeles.

"That was one of my dreams, to end up playing out here in L.A.," Montoya said. "This is where I started, and I'd like to end it here."

But he's going to miss the friends he made in Cincinnati, such as Munoz.

"I'll miss Munoz and the whole Bengal (team)," Montoya said. "But I realized that my time was going to come in Cincinnati sooner or later, and it just happened to be sooner."

Raider Notes

Tight end Mike Dyal ended his holdout and reported to camp Tuesday. The terms of Dyal's contract weren't disclosed. Dyal, who replaced Todd Christensen in the Raiders' starting lineup last season, averaged 18.5 yards on 27 catches in his first full NFL season. The Raiders have six unsigned players--quarterback Steve Beuerlein, tailback Marcus Allen, cornerback Mike Haynes, safety Vann McElroy, fullback Steve Smith and defensive end Greg Townsend. . . . The Raiders leave Sunday for London, where they'll open their exhibition season against the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 5.

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