The Oakland Raiders took a step backward in 2017, and that's OK. It happens often in a league awash with parity, especially to teams coming off breakout campaigns.
The Raiders were widely expected to come back to earth after they ended a 13-season playoff drought with a 12-win 2016. Despite that record, though, they ranked 10th at Football Outsiders in defense-adjusted value over average. And the same source ranked them 12th in pythagorean wins, which "represent a projection of the team's expected wins based solely on points scored and allowed."
Yes, their 6-10 finish this season was a disappointment. But this team faced a tougher schedule and had a target on its back after it took the league by storm one year ago. The element of surprise was gone in 2017, and it didn't help that superstar quarterback Derek Carr spent most of the offseason recovering from a broken leg or that he broke a bone in his back in October.
Eleven months ago, only three head coaches received more votes than Del Rio for the NFL's Coach of the Year award. Del Rio was lauded for his aggressive mentality and praised for the way he changed the culture and helped turn around a downtrodden franchise.
|NFL Coach of the Year Voting 2016|
|Jack Del Rio||Raiders||4|
This was yet another indication that owners and front offices are far too impatient. Del Rio went 25-23 in three seasons with a team that won just 11 games in the three seasons preceding his arrival. And his performance in those first two years earned him a four-year contract extension in February.
"The Raiders have torn up Jack Del Rio's original contract and rewarded him with a new four-year deal," Raiders owner Mark Davis said in a statement less than 11 months ago. "We are excited to continue building on the strong foundation that has been established and this is a significant step in achieving that goal."
Again, the reality is the 2016 team played above its head. This was still supposed to be a work in progress, but it appears Raiders brass was led to believe the team became a perennial Super Bowl contender last season. Not even a speed bump was tolerable.
Those raised expectations cost Del Rio his job, which could do more harm than good to a young team that will be forced to adjust to a new coaching staff, a new environment and possibly even new personnel and schemes.
That's arguably the last thing the franchise needed.
Del Rio was a scapegoat for general manager Reggie McKenzie, who has failed to surround Carr with enough talent on either side of the ball. McKenzie deserves credit for taking Khalil Mack and Carr in the first two rounds of the 2014 draft, but the rest of his prime draft picks—DJ Hayden, Menelik Watson, Amari Cooper, Mario Edwards Jr., Karl Joseph, Jihad Ward, Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu—either haven't panned out or have fallen short of expectations.
But Mack and Carr saved McKenzie, who was Executive of the Year in 2016.
That's not to say McKenzie should have been fired. It's to say the Raiders overreacted to a regressive season.
Maybe this is a Jon Gruden thing. That's the buzz, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, among others. The franchise is slated to move to Las Vegas in 2020, and luring Gruden from the broadcast booth could make the team a bigger attraction in a new market.
But the best way to attract new fans is to win games, and there's no guarantee Gruden or anyone else will be more successful than—or as successful as—Del Rio.
After essentially inheriting a Super Bowl from Tony Dungy in his first year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Gruden won exactly zero playoff games in his next six seasons in Tampa before he was fired. He is no sure thing, and believing otherwise could cause the Raiders to take more steps back in 2018 and beyond.
The Raiders panicked, and there's a good chance they hurt themselves by doing so.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.