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Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Raiders Reflect Transformation of Jack Del Rio

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterNovember 9, 2016

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 11: Head coach Jack Del Rio of the Oakland Raiders reacts during the first half of a game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 11, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Jack Del Rio is becoming one of the best coaches in football, a troll in Seattle and the end for Greg Hardy.

    

1. The New Jack Del Rio

I want to tell you a little bit about Raiders coach Jack Del Rio. 

I covered him in Jacksonville for several years when he was the head coach of the Jaguars. He was, at times, enigmatic, even volatile. He sometimes battled members of the media ferociously. He thought we were twerps (some of us were) who were out to get him fired (some writers were trying to do just that).

Del Rio didn't believe in backing down. He was a fighter. I always thought it was his best quality, and that he'd occasionally tell the media to screw off never bothered me. In fact, I liked it.

In the Jaguars locker room, Del Rio was well-liked and well-respected. The players always fought for him. Yes, Del Rio did some crazy things, like put an axe in the locker room (a symbol for the team to "keep chopping wood"). But I remember something Marcus Stroud, who played defensive end for the Jags under Del Rio, once told me: Jack gets us and we get him.

Del Rio, at times, was more like a player. That was both good and bad. Sometimes, Del Rio was too much like one, and not enough a coach. Yet it was easy to see that by the time he left Jacksonville, he was different from when he arrived. He was more mature and had learned from his mistakes. He was, well, a well-rounded coach.

He was also far more talented than we knew. The team fired Del Rio following Week 12 of the 2011 season. Since then, the Jaguars' winning percentage is under .300.

I always felt that if Del Rio got another shot, he'd be good—really goodparticularly if that team had talent.

That brings us to Oakland.

Members of the Raiders have always told me that what drew them to Del Rio was his ability to rebuild entire teams or, on a smaller scale, entire units, such as a defense, and do so thoroughly and quickly. As the defensive coordinator in Denver under John Fox, the Broncos defense was consistently one of the best. As coach of the Jaguars, a vastly undermanned team twice made the playoffs.

Like most teams do when deciding on a head coach, the Raiders spoke to some of Del Rio's former players from the Broncos and Jaguars, I'm told, and those players spoke glowingly about him.

The Raiders saw the same thing in Del Rio that I did: He was growing rapidly, was already highly experienced, commanded a locker room and would only get better.

One thing that's often been overlooked with Del Rio is his smarts. This week, Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, who played with Del Rio in Dallas, tweeted: "Jack Del Rio was one of [the] best teammates I ever had...smart and tough as hell...not surprised by his coaching success."

What you see with Del Rio is something few of us get to witnessa coach transform. Del Rio has learned dramatically from his Jaguars experience and is now a polished, smart leader.

I can see with my own two eyes a changed Del Rio. His press conferences are different now. He's calmer on the sidelines. The Raiders players talk publicly about how much they like, and respect, Del Rio. There's more strategy in his offenses. I see a different guy.

And the NFL is seeing a coach that was already good become even better.

    

2. Drew Brees Is Probably Right

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 23:  Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints points out instructions against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half on October 23, 2016 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/G
Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

The Saints quarterback recently said that distrust of the league office is hurting television ratings, and he is far from alone in believing that. I've heard from more than a few players who echo Brees' thoughts.

"I know the players don't have any faith in the way that things are conducted within the front office in the NFLcertainly when it comes to any type of investigation, when it comes to any type of commissioner discipline," Brees said. "It's really kind of a joke at this point, unfortunately. And it shouldn't be like that."

It's difficult to decipher the accuracy of what Brees said, but there's likely a kernel of truth to it, if not more.

From Deflategate, to the handling of CTE, to lack of handling of domestic violence issues, the various controversies the league has dealt with have created a layer of soot over the NFL, and that contagion has spread to the fanbase. At least, that's been my theory for some time (I wrote a damn book on this belief).

The way the NFL can regain that trust among the players, and maybe the fans, is through more transparency and consistency. That would be a big first step in helping to reverse what seems to be a trend (at least for now) of downward ratings.

    

3. NFL Teams Preparing Another Run at Jim Harbaugh

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 22: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines looks on from the sideline while playing the Illinois Fighting Illini on October 22, 2016 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan won the game 41-8. (Photo by Greg
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

I keep hearing several teams are going to make the Michigan coach mega-offers. He won't take them. Harbaugh isn't going anywhere anytime soon. I don't care if he's offered a trillion dollars, a starship and a Cuban cigar. Harbaugh. Is. Not. Leaving.

That won't stop teams from trying.

    

4. Dak Still Proving One of a Kind

Just how unusual has Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott been as a rookie thrower? Prescott is the first rookie QB in league history to make six starts with at least a 100 passer rating in his team's first eight games of the season, according to the NFL. He is also the first rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era, the NFL says, to start and win seven of his team's first eight games.

I keep waiting for Prescott to fall off a rookie cliff, but it hasn't happened yet. It may never happen.

    

5. When Is an MVP Not Worthy of the MVP Award?

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 23:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots in action during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 23, 2016 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Despite being forced to miss the first four games of the season, Tom Brady has started garnering support to be in the MVP conversation. But should a player suspended for four games even be eligible? Sure. But there's a growing sentiment that shouldn't be the case.

Trust me, you will hear lots of this from Tom Brady haters, and those haters multiply like tribbles.

I've even started hearing from team front-office officials that Brady should be ineligible for the MVP race because of those missed games. Their views don't have anything to do with the punishment itself, they tell me; it's simply that a 12-game season isn't enough to be an MVP.

I disagree. Brady is the MVP now and if he keeps up this pace, he'll deserve it at the end of the season.

Just be prepared for lots of arguments to the contrary.

    

6. The Irony of the Cowboys' Quarterback Situation

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 30:  Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys throws in the fourth quarter during a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium on October 30, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty I
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

After years of trying to find a replacement for Troy Aikman, and struggling to do so, the Cowboys now seem to have an abundance of good pass-throwers in Dak Prescott and Tony Romo.

Between Aikman and Romo, who stabilized the position, there was Quincy Carter, Anthony Wright, Ryan Leaf (yep that Ryan Leaf), Clint Stoerner, Chad Hutchinson, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson and Drew Bledsoe.

Then came Romo and now Prescott. It's almost enough to make a Cowboys fan forget how long it took to get here.

    

7. Troglodyte

From everything I have heard, especially from Bills players, the team's quality control assistant coach, Kathryn Smith, has been treated with great professionalism by the Bills and everyone across football. 

But I also believe the greatest hurdle women assistant coaches and game officials in the NFL face is from fans, and my thesis continues to hold.

As Smith was walking on the field prior to the Bills' game at Seattle on Monday, one troll Seahawks fan called her a "waitress."

Prescott Rossi @PrescottRossi

Seahawks fan calls Bills ST quality control coach Kathryn Smith a waitress, asks to get him a Pepsi, gets smacked by the woman next to him. https://t.co/LFguGYvBzz

Check out the reaction of the woman next to the troll, however. Good for her.

     

8. Frank Gore, Hall of Famer?

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 06:  Frank Gore #23 of the Indianapolis Colts scores a touchdown in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on November 6, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

It's difficult to make a case against the Canton candidacy of the longtime Niners running back and current Colt. Gore just keeps impressing. Against the Packers on Sunday he rushed for 60 yards and two touchdowns. For his career, Gore now has 12,632 rushing yards and 400 catches. That makes him just the fifth player in league history with at least 12,500 rushing yards and 400 catches, says the NFL.

Only four other players have done that, and they are all in the Hall of Fame: LaDainian Tomlinson, Walter Payton, Curtis Martin and Emmitt Smith.

     

9. Cam Newton Still Can't Catch a Break

Officials missed at least one call on the Panthers quarterback last Sunday that I saw. It was a hit to the head that is almost always called. But it wasn't against Newton.

This is a problem, no matter what the NFL or anyone else says, because it gives credence to people who say there are different sets of officiating rules for different quarterbacks.

My belief remains that some game officials, consciously or unconsciously, see Newton as basically a running back, not a quarterback, and they officiate his games that way.

Do other quarterbacks not get calls? Sure. But holy wow do a lot of calls get missed with Newton.

And yes, this will continue to be a story until the officials start to get it right.

    

10. The End

Former defensive end Greg Hardy was indicted this week on a felony count of cocaine possession in one of the least surprising pieces of news ever.

Whatever small possibility Hardy had of returning to the NFL after all his previous brushes with the law was just obliterated. This latest incident, I believe, officially ends the NFL career of Greg Hardy. 

    

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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