The Road Ahead for the Oakland Raiders
Raider Nation seems to be waiting in much anticipation for the 2010 off-season to begin, despite knowing that what Al Davis wants, Davis will get, and a kick in the teeth to everyone else.
Raider Nation has afforded Big Al his stubbornness for a few simple reasons: a) three Super Bowl wins, b) 40 years with the highest winning percentage in the NFL, c) he's won by his way in the past.
Alas, we still hope that old Al realizes that the NFL is not exactly the same as it was in the 1970s, when it was easier to outsmart the rulebook. Nowadays, I wonder if a ref would call roughing the passer, because the defender has a strong case of halitosis.
With that said, I opine in vain as to what the Raiders should do this off-season, knowing that it will have no bearing on the actual direction of the Raiders. Knowing that Mr. Davis and the other 30 NFL owners, really don't care about what their customers think.
We fans of the NFL are just lemmings needed as a booster stool for wannabe gods to be above it all and reach the "next level" of consciousness and status.
Verily, verily that must sound ludicrous.
So here I go.
Rather than just haphazardly acquire players, the Raiders should have a game plan to approach both the free agency and the Draft. By that I mean, use free agency to upgrade the defense, and use the draft to upgrade the offense.
The Raiders also have a number of free-agents. With an uncapped season in the loom, I am uncertain as to the status of each player.
Nevertheless, there are a few I know for sure. Richard Seymour and Sebastian Janikowski are both slated to be free-agents, and so I would hope that both resign.
Linebackers Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard will be RFAs, if no CBA is signed. Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski is also an RFA. Safety Tyvon Branch is also reported to hit free-agency.
All of whom should be resigned, and I will elaborate more on the quarterback situation but only further along.
I would also like to explore a question I've presented a few times and that is whether the Raiders should return to the 3-4 as the base defense, and acquire LB Joey Porter. Porter fits the bill of all the things that Mr. Davis wants from a player.
Yet, Porter struggled in the 4-3 with Miami in 2007 (when the Dolphins finished 1-15) but excelled in 2008 when the Dolphins reverted to the 3-4 (when the Dolphins finished 11-5).
Between Porter and Trevor Scott, the Raiders could have a beastly pass-rush from the linebackers that would make life easier for the defensive-backs, and could potentially harken back to days of old when the Raiders had probably the most feared pass-rush in the NFL.
In order to convert to the 3-4 however, the Raiders would need a better nose-tackle. Steelers' NT Casey Hampton is slated to be a free agent, and would-like Porter-fit the bill of everything that Mr. Davis wants from a player.
The draft will also feature Alabama's NT Terrence Cody.
On the flip side, if the Raiders continue with the 4-3, a rookie like Cody would still be a good fit, while the Raiders could sign Odell Thurman as depth at linebacker. If not depth, a starter in the event that Morrison or Howard leave.
Yep you heard me-Odell Thurman.
Thurman hasn't played since his rookie season in 2005 with the Bengals and has been oft-suspended under the new disciplinary rules of Commissioner Goodell.
Much of Thurman's behavioral problems boiled down to a DUI and an indictment for assault. The charges of assault were dropped, while-I hate to say it, but it is true-a DUI is not the worst thing done by NFL players.
Don't get me wrong, I don't condone that behavior, but if you're asking me whether someone should lose his or her career over a non-malicious mistake, the answer is no.
I do believe that much of Thurman's problems were just hype needed by the sports media to sell news. I could be wrong, but I do think that Thurman deserves another chance.
And Thurman has been proving himself with the Orlando franchise of the UFL, where former Bengals and Raiders defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan is a coordinator and has been raving about Thurman.
Thurman would also fit the mold of Raider misfit with no where else to go.
Depending on free agency and whether the Raiders switch their base defense, the biggest hole for the Raiders is depth at cornerback. I'd like to see that addressed in the draft and free agency.
Veteran Dre Bly is slated to be a free agent, while the Raiders should use a pick in the first three rounds to add depth.
With 3-4: Sign LB Joey Porter; sign NT Casey Hampton or draft Terrence Cody; sign CB Dre Bly and draft prospect.
With 4-3: Sign LB Odell Thurman; draft Terrence Cody or other tackle; sign CB dre Bly and draft prospect.
First, I would like to see the Raiders hire Tim Brown to work with this group of receivers. Brown has reportedly offered his services to the Raiders, and I would like to see that happen.
Rather than sign a veteran receiver to compete for playing time, it makes more sense to hire a great receiver like Brown to work with the receivers, because unlike Terrell Owens or another receiver, Brown would not fill a roster spot or expect playing time.
As for the running-backs, Michael Bush is clearly the best every-down runner. That said, Darren McFadden has shown that be can contribute big plays. I would like to see McFadden used the way that New Orleans uses Reggie Bush. Perhaps not on special-teams, but rather a short yardage receiver that can beat his defender in space.
My belief is that the Raiders should target an offensive tackle with the top pick and a guard or center in the first three rounds.
At quarterback, the future of JaMarcus Russell still lingers. The Raiders have invested heavily into Russell and recently hired Hue Jackson from Baltimore as the likely offensive coordinator.
Jackson helped develop a raw quarterback in Joe Flacco from Delaware, which bodes well for Russell, because Russell was a raw talent when he entered the league in 2007 and had no support from then coach Lane Kiffin.
As of now, the Raiders seem to still want Russell as the future. Nevertheless, any casual observer could not deny the difference made with Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback.
Even Charlie Frye succeeded as a passer with the Raiders. Of course, that was also late in the season when the Raiders had been written off, or faced a lousy team.
Nevertheless, Russell had struggled against lousy teams, so I don't think that the competition was the sole reason for the success of Frye and Gradkowski.
However, I'm not saying that Frye and Gradkowski are inherently better than Russell is. I think that their performances proved that the Raiders have a good foundation in place to support a quarterback who is in it to win it.
That said, I'm still uncertain about Russell, and would hope that the Raiders would re-sign Gradkowski as insurance, in the event that Russell continues to struggle.
I look around the league and see a quarterback like Alex Smith with the Niners turnaround his career in 2009. Smith's career could be analogous to Russell's career.
Both entered the league as the top pick in the draft for Bay Area teams that had been in the NFL's cellar. Both entered as raw quarterbacks that needed to be developed, but did not have the support from coaches to do so, and both entered the league at relatively young ages (20 and 21), when many quarterbacks enter the NFL at 24 or 25.
My belief is that Russell can still be the future, but he needs competition behind him in order to stay focused. I also think that the Raiders should have Russell sit in 2010, in order to spend the season learning, which is something that most quarterbacks need to succeed.
Russell's career has been a rollercoaster, and of course, fans will point to him when it goes wrong. The fact however is that Russell entered the league in 2007 with a coach, Lane Kiffin, that refused to work with him.
The same coach likely colluded with Michael Lombardi to trade disgruntled receiver Randy Moss to New England and acquire Kiffin's friend and former player, Mike Williams from the Lions, along with QB Josh McCown.
I say "likely" as a mere courtesy to the possibility that I could be wrong now, but I don't think so.
Both McCown and Williams were acquired during the 2007 NFL Draft, as Moss was traded during that same draft. McCown would be named starting quarterback, so clearly, Kiffin had big plans for the two players acquired that day.
After Kiffin was kicked out, Davis tried to baptize Russell by fire, when the Raiders were still without direction.
Being without direction is a Raider tradition, yet, the Raiders also had a focus and intensity to win that overcame that. Despite the gossipers at ESPN, I think Coach Cable has brought that passion back to the Raiders, even if Cable lacks a high "football IQ."
Cable should rely on his coaches for the fundamentals of football and focus on being a Simon Cowell-esque "enforcer" to keep people on task. And of course, I mean the non-violent enforcer who knows how to tactfully challenge his unit.
With JaMarcus Russell: Draft offensive tackle with top pick; draft guard; resign Bruce Gradkowski to compete; hire Tim Brown to work with receivers.
With Bruce Gradkowski: Draft offensive tackle with top pick, draft guard; sit JaMarcus Russell for 2010 with the potential to start in 2011; hire Tim Brown to work with receivers.
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