It seems like every year since the Raiders lost to the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, Raiders fans have found a reason to be excited about the upcoming season.
However, whether it was big name free agent signings like Deangelo Hall and Randy Moss or high draft picks like Darren McFadden, Robert Gallery, and the quarterback who shall not be named, the results were always the same: The Raiders ended the season at the bottom third of the league.
This season looks like it could be different.
In the past, many of the moves made by the Raiders in the offseason were attempts at quick fixes. The Raiders are notorious for drafting workout warriors and mostly at the skill positions (see Darren McFadden, JaMarcus Russell, and Darrius Heyward Bey). In the years after the Super Bowl, they also made a name for themselves by signing big name free agents (see Deangelo Hall, Randy Moss, and Javon Walker).
It appeared that the only offseason strategy by the Raiders front office was to try and luck into a franchise changing player. Anyone who follows the NFL closely knows that this type of player is almost impossible to come by.
This offseason, a distinctly different tactic was taken by the Raiders. First, there were no big name free agent signings. Instead, the Raiders addressed some key issues through solid veterans who came at a reasonable price. The Raiders added size and strength to their linebacking core by trading late round draft picks for Kamerion Wimbley and Quentin Groves and added some much needed depth to the interior of their defensive line by signing free agent big John Henderson.
These pick ups were a breath of fresh air for Raider fans. They are not the type of flashy signing that some might have wanted, but they were all attained at reasonable prices and address core issues in the Raiders defense without much risk.
Of course, most will agree that the biggest offseason acquisition by the Raiders was the trade for quarterback Jason Campbell.
Campbell has proven himself to be a legitimate option at quarterback in the NFL. His numbers have improved every year in the league and have done so in spite of being part of a dysfunctional franchise, constantly having his starting job threatened and having to change offensive coordinators every year.
Cutting the quarterback who shall not be named was addition by subtraction, trading for Jason Campbell ensured that the most important position in football would be manned by a hard working and dedicated player with lots of potential.
After keeping a low profile in the free agent market, many analysts predicted the Raiders to make fools of themselves in the draft. Many made predictions that the Raiders would draft players like Mike Iupati, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Bruce Campbell far earlier than they deserved to be picked. Well, for the second time this offseason, the Raiders surprised everyone with an incredibly well thought out draft.
The Raiders started by filling major holes in their defense in Rolando McClain and Lamarr Huston. By all accounts Rolando McClain should push for the ROY award and become an anchor for this defense for years to come. Lamarr Houston has proven to be one of the most promising picks from this year's draft. He works hard and has a passion for the game that just cannot be taught.
Next, the Raiders added some much needed depth to their offensive line by drafting two monster offensive linemen in the third and fourth rounds. Both Jared Veldheer and Bruce Campbell need some work as they are still rather unpolished, but give these guys a year or two in the league and they could become dominant starters on the Raiders' offensive line. In the meantime, Veldheer is already looking like a legitimate option to replace the new weakest link in the Raiders offensive line, Samson Satele.
With their remaining picks, the Raiders added depth to the WR/KR, DB and LB positions. Travis Goethel and Walter McFadden (6th round and 5th round picks respectively) have already made strong arguments to make the roster with their play and Jacoby Ford (4th round pick) has the speed to make a difference in the return game while adding depth to the wide receiver position.
The Raiders' offseason was not perfect, but it was a major step in turning this team around. No, the Raiders will not make the playoffs this season, but they should be able to stay in contention until the end of the season, which is a big improvement over the past seven years.
They still have a lot of work to do on their offensive line and the wide receiver and running back positions are a little thin in terms of depth. That being said, anyone who watched the Raiders' 2010 offseason knows that they are on the right track. They are finally beginning to address the glaring weaknesses that have kept the Raiders in the cellar of the NFL standings. It should be a good year for the Silver and Black and I look forward to seeing it.