Christian Wilkins

Steve Marcus

Christian Wilkins, a 6-4, 310-pound defensive tackle, displays a jacket with a playing card design in the liner during a news conference at the Intermountain Health Performance Center/Raiders Headquarters in Henderson Thursday, March 14, 2024. Wilkins joins the Raiders after spending the last five seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

The Philadelphia Eagles became one of the best offensive teams in the league en route to a Super Bowl appearance two years ago but their success wasn’t immediate.

The Eagles’ starting offense reportedly looked a bit rough in their first full run against an opposing team, the Miami Dolphins, during a pair of joint practices in training camp before the 2022-2023 season. One Dolphin in particular, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, kept disrupting the Eagles, and not only with his play.

Wilkins’ incessant trash-talking got to Philadelphia, and even incited a small skirmish between the teams at one point.     

 “You hear him a lot,” recalled quarterback Gardner Minshew, who was with the Eagles at the time. “It can be a lot, but I’ve also heard from everyone who’s played with him, he’s like the best teammate you can have.”

Minshew is about to find out first-hand after the Raiders introduced the pair of free-agent acquisitions Thursday morning at their Henderson headquarters. The veteran quarterback Minshew will compete for the starting role with incumbent Aidan O’Connell, and potentially a rookie taken in the draft, while Wilkins is guaranteed to be a key factor in the Raiders’ fate moving forward.

Everything about Wilkins, a 28-year-old former first round pick out of Clemson, suggests he will be the perfect match for the type of unapologetically nasty, physical and defense-first identity now-permanent coach Antonio Pierce wants to instill.    

“I’m such a character — an animated, sick, twisted individual up here,” Wilkins said. “I just love the game, love the grind and you can feel that here. There are people who love ball and people who have great energy and you can tell everybody is accepting of who everybody is and being themselves. You could tell that playing against the Raiders and seeing it on TV. Something is different about this place.”

Wilkins’ training-camp torment of the Eagles two years ago didn’t turn out to be an aberration. He kept getting better when the real games arrived and turned in a career year, at least until last season when he may have topped it with a nine-sack campaign.   

If the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Springfield, Mass., native takes another step forward as he enters his prime, he will enter the conversation as one of the best defensive players in the league. That’s what the Raiders are banking on, and why they made him the fifth highest-paid defensive player in the NFL with a contract that guarantees four years and $82.7 million and could escalate to $110 million.   

Edge rusher Maxx Crosby is already entrenched in the elite tier, and the prospect of pairing him with another player known for relentless effort and never coming off the field is tantalizing.

“We’ve definitely talked a little bit about the possibilities and things we can do but it’s going to have to be built,” Wilkins said. “It’s definitely a process and a journey. It’s going to start with getting to know each other, and not just (Crosby and I). It’s got to be team effort.”

Opposing offensive linemen are going to have their hands full, and no one’s ears are going to be safe either.

Take it from Minshew’s experience.

“Some of the best (expletive)-talkers in the league,” Minshew said of Crosby and Wilkins. “To have them on our side, to practice against them every day, it’s just going to make me better. I’m excited about it.”

Crosby and Minshew had an exchange that went viral in last year’s Week 17 game between the Colts and Raiders with the former repeatedly calling the latter, “a little (expletive) boy.” Crosby has become known for his frosty on-field antics — also documented alongside Patrick Mahomes via Netflix’s Quarterback docuseries — but it’s Wilkins who’s been known as the “CEO of trash talk” dating all the way back to his national championship-winning days at Clemson.   

“It’s a big part of my game but it’s all for fun,” Wilkins said. “It’s all gamesmanship. It just is what it is. You’ve got to know what time it is, flip that switch and go play ball.”

He’s been boisterous ever since he first started playing sports as a child and far before turning into a dual football and basketball standout in high school at Suffield Academy in Connecticut.

Wilkins credits the attitude mostly to his upbringing.  

“I had to compete,” he said. “I come from a big family — eight brothers and sisters. You just had to find something to be heard, just to be felt. It’s always been the way I competed.”

That brashness wouldn’t fit in with several NFL teams. It wouldn’t have fit in with the Raiders a year ago.

Previous Las Vegas coach Josh McDaniels valued a business-like demeanor from his players and ran a disciplined program, but the franchise did a 180 back towards its renegade roots once he was fired and Pierce took over. The centerpiece of Pierce’s postgame speech after the Raiders shocked the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on the road Christmas Day implored his players to, “talk our (expletive) and smoke our (expletive).”  

Count Wilkins among the NFL players around the league who took notice and filed away a feeling that the Raiders were employing an appealing style he described as, “the grind-will-not-be-denied mentality.”

 “There’s a lot to be excited about — Coach Pierce and his energy and the things the team was able to do last year towards the end of his time taking over,” Wilkins said.  

Wilkins began his first news conference with the media the same way Pierce signed off on last season — by bellowing a “Raiders” chant from deep in his gut. With Wilkins leading the way, the Raiders are going to play with the “ill intent, violence and physicality,” that Pierce preached in the postgame address after beating the Chiefs.

They’re also going to be loud.

“He’s one of those guys that’s a little annoying to play against but great to be on your team,” Minshew said of Wilkins. “He’ll definitely make me a better a (expletive)-talker.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or

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