Wednesday, February 29, 2012

NFL Offseason Preview -- Oakland Raiders

This is a great use of a first round 2003!
Though the Super Bowl is over and games don’t begin until next fall, the NFL season never truly ends. In many ways, the “game” that goes on in between the games is just as important, if not more so, than what happens on the field. Here, in the offseason, is where the course of all 32 NFL franchises is determined. To highlight the importance of this period, and to take a peek at what each team is facing, I’ll be embarking on an ambitious series in which I briefly preview each team’s offseason. We’ll examine the major questions each team faces, what type of cap room they have, who they should be targeting in the draft, etc. My goal is to complete this prior to the start of free agency (March 13)…..which will likely not happen. Oh well.

We continue the previews with a team that has no draft picks for the next 15 years, the Oakland Raiders. In case you missed them, here are links to each of our past previews:

 *Cap figures are taken from South Florida Sun-Sentinel.  Estimated cap is $124 million.*

Oakland Raiders

2011 Record:  8-8
PPG For: 22.4 (16th)
PPG Against:  27.1 (29th)
2012 Cap Number:  $140,861,316
Draft Position:  In the arms of a cornerback…as in, they traded all their picks for Carson Palmer, who consistently puts his passes in the arms of a cornerback.

I’ll give this to the Oakland Raiders; they certainly have demonstrated an unparalleled commitment to consistently being the dumbest franchise in the NFL. How else would you describe a team that, despite finishing just one game out of the playoffs at 8-8, still manages to be a total laughingstock? Believe me, we’ll all be telling the story of the 2011 Raiders to our grandchildren someday:

“And then, just when it looked like the Raiders would be successful, the evil Al Davis rose from the grave to trade 27 first round picks for…(cue the evil music) CARSON PALMER!!!”

I’ll tell you what; since the Raiders are so irrelevant and since you and I both care about them so little, why don’t I keep this as brief as possible, OK? Good.

The Good: 

As is typically the case with any Raiders team, the cupboards are full of athletic talents. Of course, most of them can’t actually play football, but one of them actually develops every now and then. Last year, the Raiders saw several offensive guys take big steps in their respective careers. Darrius Heyward-Bey was formerly nothing more than an extremely fast punchline for the “Cryptkeeper” Al Davis era. But after watching him break out last season for 64 catches and 975 yards (in just 14 games), it’s fair to wonder if Davis actually got this one right. If either Denarius Moore, who was impressive in his rookie campaign, or Jacoby Ford could become consistent threats, then Oakland would actually have a pretty formidable group of receivers.

And, of course, there’s Darren McFadden. We’ll set aside his injury problems for a later section of this preview so we can just take a moment to focus on the positive. And the positive is that, when healthy, McFadden ranks right up there with Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster as one of the best running backs in the league. He singlehandedly carried the Raiders offense through the first six games, and it’s no surprise that the team struggled to consistently perform after he was gone. I’m no Raiders fan, but I love DMac and I hope he can find better luck going forward.

The Bad:

Where to start?

The defense, which finished near the bottom of the league BEFORE having to release its best CB, Stanford Routt?

Carson Palmer, whom the team mortgaged their future on only to see him make Jason Campbell look like the second coming of Joe Montana?

Look, I can sit here all day and point fingers at various players or units, but a problem this deep starts at the top. Al Davis ran this franchise directly into the ground, and things are not going to change unless they take a totally different philosophy to building a football team. Reggie McKenzie brings with him a lot of promise and ability, but he’s working from a very deep hole. We’ll see how quickly things change. One thing I know for certain is that change won’t happen this year. The Raiders are too far over the cap, and they have too few draft picks to make any significant changes. Hopefully the new owner, who is Al Davis’ son, exhibits more patience than his dad.

Key Free Agents:  T Khalif Barnes, S Tyvon Branch, DT Desmond Bryant, RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell, S Matt Giordano, LB Quentin Groves, FB Marcel Reece (RFA), C Samson Satele, CB Lito Sheppard

3 Key Questions:

#1 – How much different will this roster look?

Oakland is about $20mil over the cap…$20mil! And they have several key guys that they need to make decisions on! Khalif Barnes, Tyvon Branch, Michael Bush, and Samson Satele were all starters last season, and you’d have to figure that they’d at least like to have Barnes and Branch back. But how? They’ve already had to cut their best cornerback, so it stands to reason that they’ll be patching up other important spots as well. Along with the usual restructuring of deals, expect to see Oakland make at least one or two more surprise cuts to get under the cap. Of course, that wouldn’t be so bad if they had any draft picks to fill the holes. Instead, Oakland is stuck in idle next year. No influx of young talent, no ability to keep veteran talent. What a horrible spot to be in.

#2 – Does Carson Palmer have one more good year in him?

They’ve already paid the hefty price, so the only thing they can hope for is at least one decent year in return. Palmer gave them pretty much the opposite of that last year, throwing 16 INT’s in just 10 games while guiding them OUT of the playoffs. But hey, any time you can give up a first rounder for that…….

#3 – Can Darren McFadden stay healthy?

I had him as the best RB in the league prior to his injury, so that tells you how big a loss he was. McFadden is the rare back that can grind out yards and keep the offense on the field, while still breaking a big one at any time. The ultimate evidence of his value is that, despite how good Michael Bush was in relief, the team never looked the same without him. The record showed that as well.

So, can he stay healthy? That’s impossible for me to say, but evidence suggests that he’s not a good bet. Unfortunately, the Raiders aren’t going to have the luxury of retaining Bush as an insurance policy. Somehow, someway, they’ll need to find a way to manage McFadden’s touches while still keeping the offense humming. Good luck.
Draft Thoughts: 

Here are my draft thoughts for the Oakland Raiders:


That is all.

Summary Thoughts:

I think Oakland is going to be pretty miserable next season, with the caveat that the team could overachieve if McFadden can stay on the field. Even then, there are so many obstacles for them to overcome. And hey, I haven’t even mentioned that they’ll be breaking in yet another new coach! The Raiders recent history has been that of instability and incompetence, and until that changes they’ll continue to lose. Shy of Carson Palmer finding the fountain of youth, this looks like yet another wasted season for them.

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