And so it goes for the Oakland Raiders: another long season; another strange offseason; another chance to look ahead to the future of the franchise.
It’s been quite a while since we could look at the Raiders without some sense of bewilderment. Once one of professional football’s most successful organizations, Oakland has fallen to the NFL wayside, an island of misfits looking for direction at every level.
And so it goes.
Yet things aren’t always as bad as they seem. Sure, 10 straight non-winning seasons don’t look all that promising for the future of the franchise, especially after a 4-12 record a year ago. Sometimes, though, it takes a complete overhaul to rebuild a foundation, and the Raiders appear to have settled on making the necessary changes at the most important levels.
Call me crazy, but seeing Dennis Allen still at the helm for a second season is one of those necessary changes.
In the last 20 years since Art Shell’s first tenure with the team (six seasons), the Raiders' head coaching position has been a revolving door of discontinuity and unrest, perpetuated by 10 coaching changes and a lot of uncertainty. For NFL franchises to find sustained success, coaching stability has to be at the top of the priority list.
Allen’s return means at least another year for the former defensive coordinator to get his pieces in place. It may seem like an outdated NFL stereotype, but it holds some truth: Building under a new head coach takes more than one season.
The same also holds true for the general manager position.
It’s no secret the late Al Davis has more than one hand in the player personnel aspects of the franchise, and by the end of his time in Oakland, the Raiders had become the laughing stock of the NFL where free agency and the draft were concerned. He was a bright football mind in his earlier years, but his approach to team building wasn’t what the Raiders needed to compete in the modern NFL.
With Davis’ passing in October of 2011, the door opened for Oakland to take a more traditional approach to personnel decisions, hiring former Green Bay Packers director of football operations Reggie McKenzie to hold the general manager position. This wasn’t McKenzie’s first offseason at the helm of the franchise, but it was perhaps his most important.
The one-time Los Angeles Raiders linebacker understands what it means to be part of one of the most storied franchises in the history of the sport. Not all of his decisions have been popular, but there are reasons to be hopeful—or perhaps, more accurately, cautiously optimistic.
McKenzie didn’t make many high-profile signings this offseason, but he did add a bevy of veteran leadership and established talent that included former Chicago Bears linebacker Nick Roach, former Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Pat Sims, cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter and future Hall of Fame defensive back and former Raider Charles Woodson.
Woodson doesn’t have a lot left in the tank—and none of the aforementioned signings were game-changers in any sense—but he’ll certainly provide some leadership and direction for a team long in need of both, as well as some excitement among the fanbase.
But McKenzie created some big question marks with his decisions in April’s draft—decisions that have a vague sense of Davis-like risk.
McKenzie chose to trade down from the No. 3 selection to No. 12, selecting Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden well ahead of his projected draft position. Hayden, who nearly lost his life after a freak injury last season, spent the end of 2012 attempting to recover from the torn vein in his heart.
While no one wants to see Hayden’s injury derail his football career, McKenzie certainly took a huge risk in selecting the cornerback, especially as early as No. 12. It’s a commonly accepted notion for teams to draft the player they want in the first round (regardless of value), but it was a bit of a head-scratcher considering the talent that was still available at that point in the draft—not to mention the players available at Oakland’s original No. 3 position.
If Hayden pans out, McKenzie will look like a genius for his forward thinking and willingness to go against the grain. If he fails to get off the ground at the NFL level, McKenzie will have more questions to answer.
The rest of the draft was smooth sailing for the GM, though, and this offseason has generally been a step in the right direction for the Raiders.
Along with those steps, the Raiders also fired offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and hired Greg Olson to replace him. With Knapp's departure, Oakland is now in a position to once again feature star running back Darren McFadden in a scheme better suited to his running style, abandoning the team's zone-heavy blocking scheme in the process.
We’ll take a closer look at some of those moves, and also break down position battles to watch as the 2013 season approaches.