After a little over a decade of absolute misery, the Oakland Raiders came into this offseason utterly eager to drastically improve their roster.
And they have.
Once rash money throwers, general manager Reggie McKenzie has implemented a new identity into a franchise that has missed the postseason 11-straight seasons: spend wisely, and set the organization up for future endeavors and success.
Failing to own a winning record since their 2002 year that resulted in a Super Bowl drubbing, the Raiders have just 53 wins since. 53! That’s like how many victories Tom Brady has over the past five years. But McKenzie’s seen enough, and has put his rebuilding scheme into full circulation.
Prior to this past free agency period, the Raiders’ cap space stood at $63,633,401 million, and McKenzie didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on bringing some proven talent on board. And after evaluating McKenzie’s moves, it was clear that he didn’t want just highly-skilled players, he favored nabbing winners.
To restore order in a storied franchise, McKenzie recognizes that if this team is to endure a sufficient turnaround, he must lodge proven champions to alter the culture, and to be effective mentors for the youngsters. McKenzie’s ditched the overpriced gridiron athletes, saved up money from the debt the late Al Davis put them in, and promptly revamped their relevance.
It’s no wonder why McKenzie made his objective to swapping leaders Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley up early.
Despite signing ex-Jets’ tackle Austin Howard first, in the aftermath of the Roger Saffold fiasco, Tuck and Woodley were wooed to Oakland immediately following Howard’s agreement. Right then-and-there, you could envision the direction McKenzie wanted to steer the Raiders in.
Both have won Super Bowls, and each are tremendous generals on-and-off the field, which McKenzie sought to accumulate: bonafide, experienced commanders. And McKenzie got ’em both for next to nothing. Tuck got two-years, $11 million, coming off an 11-sack season, and Woodley earned a two-year, $12 million deal. While Woodley has had trouble with injuries recently, a new environment, and start, may be just what the doctor ordered.
Not to mention, both Tuck and Woodley will serve as vital tutors to the Raiders’ 5th overall pick Khalil Mack, whose a monster linebacker in the making, and was one of the smartest selections in terms of the future for their defense.
McKenzie didn’t stop bulking up the defense though, or the offensive line.
Seeking to fill the void lost by Lamarr Houston shipping off to Chicago, McKenzie went out and added defensive tackle Antonio Smith. Only missing one game over the last six seasons, Smith’s durability isn’t going unnoticed, and his 6-foot-4, 289-pound frame isn’t either. A diligent line-clogger, Smith provides much needed size and strength on the D-line. And being in the AFC West, having a consistent defensive line is almost necessary.
Donald Penn and original Raider Kevin Boothe were then fished out to stabilize the O-line.
Born in Los Angeles, California, and being a former Pro Bowl selection, Penn’s signing was a no-brainer. Penn, like the other signings, presents great size (6-foot-5, 340-pounds), and protects the outside edge with brute strength and tenacity. Boothe, who was drafted by the Raiders in 2006, is another tank sized lineman. Posing a 6-foot-5, 320-pound build, Boothe comes home to Oakland after capturing two Super Bowl titles with the New York Giants.
McKenzie then pulled off what I thought was a brilliant move: snatching underrated wideout James Jones.
Although the Raider faithful pleaded with Oakland’s brass to sign DeSean Jackson by trending the hashtag “DJaxToOakland” on Twitter, Jones is a player I see winning over the Black Hole’s hearts. Oh, and Jones is a winner – you see the trend developing?
Now, of course, Jones isn’t as explosive as Jackson, but he’s just as valuable, and just the type of wideout they needed to incorporate in their offense. Despite only putting up three touchdowns last year, you got to remember, Aaron Rodgers was out for a good portion of the season, and he was behind Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson on the depth chart. A phenomenal possession receiver, Jones is not too far removed from posting 14 touchdowns (2012).
However, McKenzie still needed to bolster the offense, so, a trade for quarterback Matt Schaub and signing of Maurice Jones-Drew was executed.
There are many critics/fans who probably doubt Schaub’s productivity due to his horrendous 2013 campaign with Houston, but a fresh atmosphere may do him some good. Sometimes, a change of scenery can revitalize a player, which is how I describe Jones-Drew’s situation. Jones-Drew is from Oakland, and because he scampered the field behind a putrid line down in Jacksonville, having a beefy O-line and split carries will benefit him.
And should Schaub meltdown, second-round draft pick Derek Carr is waiting in the wings. So, it’s not like McKenzie didn’t instill a backup plan, and hasn’t thought of years following the Schaub era.
Few may not imagine Oakland going toe-to-toe with the other AFC West teams, because Denver, Kansas City, and San Diego are coming off playoff seasons, but they’re dead wrong. Yet, if Oakland is adamant about shunning the negative outsiders, they’ll have to learn how to finish out games.
For most of their tilts last season, Oakland was in it. But because the Raiders were unable to convert at the most crucial times, and made unforced errors at pivotal moments, Oakland suffered from defeat more often than not.
McKenzie has given them players to clean up their act, and now, it’s up to them.
Winning a Super Bowl might be a stretch, but for once, McKenzie’s given the fans hope. Hope that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Hope that soon, the Oakland Raiders won’t be the laughing stock of the NFL. Hope that top-10 picks will be a thing of the past.
There’s only one way to go in McKenzie’s eyes, and that’s up.
Here’s to new beginnings.