These aren’t the Raiders of the last few years. These also aren’t your parent’s Raiders.
This year’s Oakland Raiders look to erase the woes of the last few seasons and by doing so, establish a new culture for the team that claims fans across the nation. Raider fans have seen a lot of turnover in the last few years with a mix of losing seasons, bad contracts, and the passing of legendary owner and GM Al Davis.
The silver and black are notorious for their appeal to just about anybody maximizing on the pop-culture influence they held between the 80’s and 90’s as being dominant on the field as well as in the media. Part of the cultural influence the Raiders held included hiring the first African-American head coach, female NFL executive, and the second Latino head coach in NFL History. The late Al Davis even refused to play his team in cities where both black and white players couldn’t stay in the same hotels before civil rights began modernizing.
Although it’s been a tough last two seasons for Raider fans going a combined 8-24, this season brings a sense of optimism amongst fans. Loaded with nearly $60 M in free agency, the team looked to make a huge splash and set the tone and direction for the team. This could’ve resulted in two ways, picking up a plethora of young players going for lesser contracts to prepare for the future or signing players who have been established, grew up with the dominance of the Raiders, and are ready to fulfill Al’s mantra to just win.
The win now approach is the direction GM and former Raider Super Bowl Champion Reggie McKenzie has chosen for the team. The Raiders had an embarrassing beginning to free agency having a botched attempt to add offensive lineman Rodger Saffold to a 5-year/$42 M contract that was later voided. Saffold failed the physical given by the Raiders training staff and cited a shoulder injury as the reason why. Saffold then signed a 5 year extension with his former team, the St. Louis Rams for significantly less money. It almost seems like the Raiders realized how overpaid the above average guard would make and took the chance to take back the contract. Even with the hiccup, the Raiders offseason began to jumpstart.
To kick off the signing spree, the Raiders signed starting tackle Austin Howard to fill the gap left by Jared Veldheer and were aggressive in signing former pro-bowler and Super Bowl champions LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck. Woodley will give some much-needed experience and toughness at the linebacker position channeling Raiders of past generations with his elite toughness and work ethic. Tuck is coming off a resurgence year with the New York Giants where he acquired 11 sacks, forced 2 fumbles, and had an interception at age 31.
The next day, the Raiders added veteran pro-bowler Antonio Smith from the Texans on a 2 year deal and signed 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown to a 1 year deal. Resigning Usama Young, longtime Raiders leader and legend Charles Woodson, and upcoming defensive tackle Pat Sims were all moves to bolster the already improved defense with some returning experience. Signing former first round pick Carlos Rogers who was coming off a good season will be a major acquisition in the coming season by adding even more talent and experience while also providing a mentor for last year’s first round pick DJ Hayden.
The Raiders didn’t only improve defensively. The team added career starter Matt Schaub who holds every Houston Texans’ passing record and is a former Pro-Bowl MVP. Though Schaub is past his prime and coming off a disappointing season that started out with potential championship aspirations, he still holds a lot of talent and should prove to be the consistent quarterback the Raiders never had last year. Adding former Packers’ wide receiver James Jones will give Schaub another target downfield as the veteran led the NFL in touchdowns just two season ago. Last season he had the highest yardage output of his career.
Resigning injury prone Darren McFadden is a risky move but the talent clearly outweighs the injury risk in the $1.25 M deal. Losing backup running back Rashaad Jennings will hurt but the Raiders more than made up for it signing one of the most talented running backs in the NFL in Maurice Jones-Drew. MJD originally hails from Oakland and grew up a fan. The running back timeshare will hopefully give an answer to keep McFadden healthy while giving an elite dual threat at running back defenses need to stay on their toes for. The two running backs are both dangerous running but also will add another dimension for the Raider pass offense as both are great pass blockers and pass catchers.
Former Raider Kevin Boothe decided to return to the Raiders after winning a couple of championships with the New York Giants to help the pass protection along with experienced pro-bowler Donald Penn. Though the roster may not be the youngest by any means, they provide some much-needed experience and consistency to the young platoon of players the Raiders had in years past.
The Raiders just missed out on star wide-receiver Desean Jackson and though this would’ve been a big move to provide legitimacy for this new look offense, GM Reggie McKenzie didn’t believe it was necessary to add the controversial player. McKenzie did not believe that Jackson’s gang ties were worry some but were concerned with his reputation as a me-first player who is very concerned with stats and money. The Raiders chose not to offer him a contract higher than the Redskins though they had the money to do so.
Looking forward, the Raiders have a very important draft ahead of themselves. NFL Draft analyst projects the offensive line, wide receiver, cornerback, and defensive end to be the biggest needs in this year’s deep draft. Playmakers like consensus future star and one of a kind talent Sammy Watkins is a player that comes to mind when looking at good fits for the team. Big receiver Mike Evans warrants a lot of attention because he looks like a special talent as well. Most Raider fans would love to see defensive game changer Khalil Mack come in and provide a building block for this veteran defensive team. Coming into a situation like this Mack could get immediate playing time but also be taught by some of the best defensive players in the game. Mack currently holds the NCAA division 1 record for most forced fumbles in a career and career tackles for loss. The Raiders could choose to go in a different direction to prepare for the future and take a quarterback and let him develop behind Matt Schaub but in the win-now situation Reggie Mckenzie has created, it seems unlikely. Offensive tackle is a possibility also with players like Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson likely going in the top 10 as well.
Regardless of who the Raiders select in this year’s draft, the team will be an improvement on last season’s roster without a doubt bringing in talent they haven’t held in years and reigniting Raidernation’s passion across the country. This team appeals to the older generation as it looks to be a hard-hitting and smart defense many grew up with, but also to the younger generation by gaining big names of the last few years on both sides of the ball. Whoever the Raiders select in this years draft should solidify the win now direction chosen by Reggie McKenzie and as a member of Raidernation, it’s time to start the new season and just say win baby, win.
Written by Rahul Lal