5 Mistakes the Oakland Raiders Can't Afford to Make This Offseason
The offseason isn’t officially underway yet but early planning and a bit of research will help bring the Raiders out of the AFC West cellar and into the playoff picture, eventually.
There were some poignant lessons to be learned from the 2014 season. The Raiders' front office should also take note of their past history that has descended the team to futility.
Despite finishing with a 3-13 record, Reggie McKenzie and newly-hired head coach Jack Del Rio have a team trending upward.
Based on Oakland’s recent history, and the track record of the successful teams in the league, here are several mistakes the franchise cannot afford to make heading into the offseason.
Don't Depend on Aging and Injury-Prone Running Backs
Typically a 27-year-old running back isn’t classified as aging, but Darren McFadden has dealt with several injuries throughout his career in Oakland.
He's constantly battling injuries that eventually force him to miss time and only once surpassed 1,000 rushing yards in a season. He’ll be a free agent, and the Raiders shouldn’t be interested in re-signing the seven-year RB.
Former offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s play-calling was heavily criticized for poor usage of the trio of RBs in Oakland.
However, there’s more to the story for Maurice Jones-Drew. He’s turning 30 in the offseason.
According to the 2014 season statistics, per ESPN.com, 30-year-old ball-carriers aren’t getting the job done in this league. Only two of the top 30 RBs (in rushing yardage) are age 30 or older, Frank Gore and Steven Jackson.
Jones-Drew’s tank could be half-full, if you’re an optimist, but the odds are stacked against him after an abysmal 2014 season.
Teams are either featuring an RB with less wear and tear or pairing two ball-carriers to split the load in an effort to keep both players from wearing out down the stretch.
Don’t Neglect an Inexperienced Secondary
This lesson is courtesy of the New York Jets. Albeit, they brought in Dimitri Patterson, but after he went AWOL, he was released, per ESPN New York reporter Rich Cimini. His veteran spot in the secondary wasn’t replaced.
In an eerily similar situation, D.J. Hayden, a former first-round pick tops the depth chart for cornerbacks in Oakland. Hayden was drafted three spots behind the Jets’ 2013 first-round pick cornerback Dee Milliner. Both players entered the draft with durability and injury concerns, subsequently both players have struggled to stay on the field in their first two years.
The Jets hoped Milliner would live up to expectations in 2014, and he only played two games.
The 2015 season will be Hayden’s year to live up to his billing, but he cannot do it without a veteran presence.
The NFL is loaded with physically talented receivers. A.J. Green, Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson wear defenders out. Covering a premiere wide receiver is a tall order for the most experienced CBs. The Raiders cannot allow Hayden, who has only started 14 games, to line up against the NFL’s best at this stage of his career.
Building through the draft is the wholesome, trendy way of developing an NFL franchise, but the Raiders need experience in the secondary, and that’s not coming from the draft. Oakland shouldn’t pass on this year’s crop of impact free-agent cornerbacks. McKenzie should hope to sign at least one of the following free agents.
Notable 2015 FA cornerbacks: Antonio Cromartie, Darrelle Revis, Byron Maxwell, Tramon Williams, Brandon Flowers, Walter Thurmond, Kareem Jackson, Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver.
Don’t Sign Free Agents on the Decline
McKenzie failed to bring in major impact players via free agency in 2014. Aside from Justin Tuck’s five sacks and a timely timeout to help Oakland in its first win, the GM’s veteran signings had minimal impact on the season.
There are enough mentors for the younger players in the locker room. Veteran production will be necessary in pushing this team into the playoffs.
As previously mentioned, a cornerback should be at the top of McKenzie’s FA wish list.
Of course, with approximately $50 million to spend, why not place a bid to entice Ndamukong Suh? Tuck would agree Suh fits the Raider mold, per Kevin Patra of NFL.com.
The thing about him, you know what you're getting every day. Some of the tactics, you could probably do without, but he's a hell of a football player," Tuck said. "I would love to have the opportunity to line up beside of him and let him take all the double teams that I normally take."
Suh is going to earn a contract that exceeds $100 million. The Raiders have a projected salary cap space north of $50 million this season. Given their need for game-changing talent and money available, Suh's fit with Oakland makes sense. Having Suh and Khalil Mack on the same defensive line would be fun to watch -- and immediately vault the NFL's No. 22 run defense in 2014 to one of the upper-echelon units.
Of all the free-agent wide receivers, Demaryius Thomas is the most likely to sign elsewhere due to the uncertainty or short-term solution at the QB position in Denver. Jason Pierre-Paul, Jerry Hughes, Mason Foster and Rey Maualuga are also names that should appear at the top of Oakland’s free-agent targets to address the holes within the front seven.
Don’t Force Derek Carr into Regression
How does a front office force its franchise QB into regression? This occurs by failing to surround him with enough talent to run an efficient offense.
Derek Carr had a decent rookie year considering the circumstances.
He threw touchdown passes to a bunch of No. 3 and No. 4 receivers. The offense had the worst rushing attack in the league, averaging 77.5 rushing yards per game. Finally, the offensive line had some holes on the right side due to Menelik Watson’s slow progression and Austin Howard playing out of his natural position at guard.
McKenzie has multiple options when addressing the weaknesses on offense.
Starting with the offensive line, he can offer large contracts to the following free-agent linemen: Orlando Franklin, James Carpenter, Mike Lupati, King Dunlap and Doug Free.
The alternative is selecting a guard early in the draft and a tackle no later than the third round. According to CBS Sports, it will be a weak draft class for guards this year, which makes the value on that position a higher need. The front office could also combine the two methods to ensure Carr gets maximum protection in the pocket.
Carr isn’t Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson—he’s not capable of leading the Raiders to the playoffs without a go-to receiver in crunch time. Whether it’s Thomas, Jeremy Maclin or a younger talent out of the draft, Oakland can develop its offensive centerpiece with high-quality skill players at WR.
Personally, drafting a WR or two is the better option. It’s a cost-effective choice with a high potential for decent production.
The Raiders have the fourth overall pick and will likely have the opportunity to draft Amari Cooper (Alabama). McKenzie also has the option of drafting exceptional second-round talent at wide receiver. Nelson Agholor (USC), Devin Smith (OSU) and even Jaelen Strong may fall into the second round.
This year’s wide receiver class is deep. Cooper is the most polished product in the talent pool. However, if Leonard Williams is somehow available with the fourth pick or an offensive lineman is chosen; Raiders fans can still feel confident in Strong, Agholor or Smith as solid second-round picks.
Don’t Be Impatient with Jack Del Rio
In recent history, the Raiders have been too hasty to ax coaches slowly developing the roster. Tom Cable went 4-8 and 5-11 in his first two seasons. In his third year, he redeemed himself getting the team to 8-8—and then he was fired.
In the following season, Hue Jackson maintained an 8-8 record with Cable’s players and was immediately fired—only given one year to make progress.
Unlike Cable and Jackson, this isn’t Del Rio’s first stint as a head coach. He’ll likely have a longer leash with management. Past head-coaching blunders can be attributed to the late Al Davis, but his son Mark Davis cannot make the same mistakes.
Del Rio has the task of turning around 13 years of futility and mediocrity. He’s in charge of a young team that's still learning how to win. The defense is currently inexperienced and in shambles with only two solid pieces. Carr is going to be a second-year starter and will be challenged now that teams have a full year of film on him.
The front office has to be liberal with Del Rio’s time span.
Though he’s experienced, he needs the on–field personnel to execute his game plans. McKenzie has to deliver another good draft class and he cannot miss in the free-agent market.
Every year, there are surprise teams that shoot to the top of divisions. Raiders fans may ask themselves, why not our team?
Well, at the start of the 2014 season, Oakland was literally building from scratch without premier talents. The Raiders weren’t fortunate enough to draft a player that directly affects the scoreboard like Luck or Wilson to carry the franchise. Instead, McKenzie drafted parts to a winning franchise. The process of becoming a contender will take longer and stability will aid development.
Barring a massive meltdown, allow Del Rio a full three years to show progression. At the end of the three years, evaluate and take into account incremental improvements.
If his track record is on the incline, keep him aboard. Yes, the motto is “just win, baby” but in the initial stages of this new regime, it’s more about development and forecasting. Just be patient.
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