A Good Offseason, but Still Some Work To Do!
In my Oakland Raiders: Rebuilding Process Nearly Complete" target="_blank">previous article , I documented all the positive steps Al Davis, Tom Cable, and the Raiders organization have taken to bring the team back to respectability.
In the final step of that article, I stated that the coaches and players had to bring all the new and improved pieces together into one cohesive unit for the process to truly be complete. That is a true, yet incomplete statement.
There are still some areas in which the Raiders must improve in order to complete the transformation from AFC doormat to playoff power. What follows is my take on what those areas are and how the Raiders might address them.
Veteran Leadership at Critical Positions.
The Raiders are one of the youngest teams in the league. This is a good thing in a lot of ways, but it has its drawbacks. The wide receiver position is one in particular that could greatly benefit from a wile old veteran. But, not just any veteran will do; it must be the right kind of player.
A lot of fans and experts are calling for the Raiders to sign Terrell Owens as a mentor for the very young Raiders receiving corps. This, in my mind, would not be the best idea. Owens is the classic Prima Donna and brings a lot of baggage and turmoil with him. The subsequent circus would undo a lot of the "team-first" attitude coach Cable has constructed and could be catastrophically counterproductive.
There are two options that would be better for the team.
The first is to do nothing and let the young guys learn and grow together with their new quarterback Jason Campbell. This would create a sense of camaraderie nonexistent before. It would take longer for them to develop, but would also make the receivers a closer unit and better teammates to each other, and the rest of the team.
The second option is to find the right man for the job. This hypothetical player may or may not be out there.
Kevin Walter of the Houston Texans is a restricted free agent with only a third round tender right now. His production on the field and behavior off the field make him a very good candidate to mentor the young wide receivers in Oakland. A third round pick is a small price to pay for shortening the learning curve and boosting performance of a bunch of young players that are going to be part of the future of the team.
Will Davis pay the price and pull the trigger? Only he knows.
Solidify the Offensive Line
Although the Raiders have improved the talent and depth on the previously porous offensive line, some work still remains.
Mario Henderson played better than expected at left tackle, but he wasn't great. Bringing in a player that has played at that position successfully, a proven entity if you will, would go a long way to improving the line. This would mean that Henderson could go to the right side, which would be an improvement over Khalif Barnes and Langston Walker , who are competing for that spot now.
Some options for improving the left tackle position include acquiring Ravens left tackle Jared Gaither for the first round pick required by his now signed tender offer. This might be a little expensive for the team, so I don't realistically see it happening.
Another option is to sign unrestricted free agent Flozell Adams , a risky proposition at best due to his age and injury concerns. He would also expect a large salary. I'm not sure Adams would be worth risk.
The center position has been reason for concern since Barrett Robbins left after the 2003 season. The trade that sent Jake Grove to Miami for Samson Satele disappointed a lot of fans, including myself. Satele seems to have the understanding, but lacks the physical power to play consistently at the NFL level.
An answer to this problem could be signing unrestricted free agent Kevin Mawae . Mawae, the president of the player's union, is known as one of the best centers in the last 25 years, if not the dirtiest! A one year deal for Mawae would bring a football IQ unmatched by anyone currently on the offensive line.
The right guard spot is another position that needs to be addressed. There is some good young talent, but no clear cut starter. Cooper Carlisle did not play horrible last year, but he didn't really shine either.
One possible solution would be to go after disgruntled New England Patriots team page" target="_blank">New England Patriot Logan Mankins . Mankins has a first and third round tender attached to him. That's pretty expensive, but might be worth it considering that he is only 28 years old, plays at a very high level, can play center, and still has a lot of gas in the tank.
Improve the Coverage Skills of the Outside Linebackers
This can happen one of two ways: Bring in new talent or coach up the existing guys.
I'd have to say that with the players I've seen on the market now, the Raiders may be forced to just coach up the existing guys. We already know that Thomas Howard can get the job done in coverage, but Kamerion Wimbley , Quentin Groves , and Trevor Scott may be serious liabilities in that aspect.
Wimbley has the most experience at the linebacker position, so it may be wise to start with him. I'm concerned that he is not quick or agile enough to be very effective in coverage. Groves is learning the linebacker position after being a defensive end in Jacksonville. Trevor Scott has spent his whole career with his hand in the ground as a defensive end. Like Groves, Scott will be learning the basics of linebacker.
Other than Keith Bulluck , there are no real legitimate starting 4-3 outside linebackers available in free agency now and he is coming off of serious injury. He's also 33 years old!
Therefore, the Raiders are kind of stuck with the players they have. This is, without question, the biggest question mark about this team. Other than Howard, who do they have that can cover backs and tight ends from the linebacker spot? No one really. This worries me and a lot of other fans.
Whatever happens with all of these questions I've raised, the Raiders will be a better team than they have been over the last seven years. The question is, if they don't address some or all of these questions, can they be good enough to give the fans what they crave, a playoff berth?
Only time will tell.
What do you say Raider Nation? Will the Raiders make the playoffs with the team as it is now? If not, what do they need to add or change to make it happen?
Let me hear you!