I talk about the division, the schedule and the roster on my drive home.
With new management in Oakland comes many changes including personnel, schemes, philosophies and even media relations. By nature change tends to make people uneasy. It’s hard to get that comfortable feeling many fans are looking for this time of year when there is so much change happening all at once. Many will agree that change is not always bad, but its the unknown of it all at the present time that make it tough to grasp. While I would love to answer the question of whether the changes are good or bad, the fact remains that only time will tell the whole story of how they will impact the franchise.
As I mentioned earlier personnel changes are part of the whole process and many player decisions are being made. On the surface it seems that the Raiders are just unloading bad contracts which leads many to believe the Raiders are just rebuilding for the future. Its understandable where that thinking is applied, but lets take a deeper look into the player changes to this point.
In week 6 of last season, Jason Campbell broke his collarbone. Very soon after the Raiders traded for Carson Palmer and it was at that point that everyone knew who the future starter was of the Oakland Raiders. The loss of Jason Campbell to free agency comes as no surprise. Out of no disrespect to Jason, the Raiders did not pursue him as a backup. They gave him the opportunity to go seek another starting job elsewhere. The market did not develop for Jason and he signed a contract with the Bears to backup Jay Cutler. As fans, the first reaction is “why not come back to Oakland as a backup”? No one will really know how both sides felt about the situation, but one thing is clear. Jason Campbell has a lot of close friends on the Raiders roster, many of which are wide receivers. If the Raiders are moving forward with Carson Palmer as the leader of the offense, then everyone has to rally behind him and believe that he is the man for the job without question. Jason is a good guy, but knowing he might still be the starting quarterback of the Raiders had he not broken his collarbone would always leave the sense of “what if” with the team. It was best for both sides to move on and start fresh.
Last seasons depth chart at quarterback consisted of Jason Campbell, Kyle Boller and Trent Edwards to start the year. Terrell Pryor was serving his suspension as handed down by the league, and later replaced Edwards as the third string quarterback. Once Jason Campbell went down two things became very clear.
1) Kyle Boller was not very good, which was assumed by his past failures.
2) The Raiders coaching staff had no faith in Boller’s ability to lead the team and remain competitive.
It was no secret that Boller would not return as the backup quarterback the next season which brings us to the present. Last year’s starter Jason Campbell has been replaced by Carson Palmer. For the time being Terrell Pryor takes over as the backup, but will have competition in camp when the Raiders add another quarterback.
From last season to this season, I don’t see any drop off in talent at the quarterback position.
One of the big story lines this off-season was the fact that Michael Bush was a free agent. He was a fan favorite of many because of his size and power, and he and McFadden gave the Raiders backfield that “Thunder and Lightning” combo. As much as Reggie McKenzie would have loved to have Michael Bush back as the Raiders backup running back, he knew it wasn’t going to happen at a cost he wanted to pay. Bush received 3.5 million per year over 4 years to back up Matt Forte in Chicago. That is a perfect example of “overpaying” for a position in this league. Something the Raiders are not looking to do anymore.
Michael Bush got his share of carries last season due to the injury of Darren McFadden. He finally got his chance to showcase his value to the whole league, while working as the primary running back in Oakland’s offense most of the season. He carried the ball 256 times for 977 yards with a 3.8 yards per carry average. There were only 8 running backs in the league last year with a lesser yards per carry average who had at least 100 carries. It’s hard to argue with numbers and as much as Bush was loved by the Raider Nation, Reggie did the right thing in letting him walk.
The Raiders later traded for Mike Goodson of the Carolina Panthers. Goodson was buried on the depth chart in Carolina behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. He is a much different back than Bush so it’s not really an apples to apples comparison between the two. Mike Goodson missed most of last season with a hamstring injury, so looking back at 2010 Mike Goodson carried the ball 103 times for 452 yards with an average yards per carry of 4.4.
With the Raiders once again moving back to the zone blocking scheme under new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, Goodson should be a good fit in Oakland. He is a one cut and go type runner which is exactly what you need to be in the ZBS system. He has the agility and speed to make big plays from the running back position as well, but will have to work on his ball security.
Not to be forgotten is Taiwan Jones who is working very hard to prepare for his Sophomore season. With one year in the pro’s under his belt now he should be ready to make his contributions to the offense as well.
Overall, while the Raiders will lose some power at the running back position, they also gain some explosiveness, and the overall production from the position should not decrease at all.
Kevin Boss was brought in last season to fill the void left by Zach Miller. Boss had high expectations to live up to after Miller had so much success in Oakland, and fell very short of meeting those expectations. Boss was mainly used as a blocking tight end and only caught 27 balls and 2 touchdowns on offense all season. He added a touchdown catch on a fake field goal as well. Giving that his contract was for 4 million per year over 4 years, its obvious his production did not line up with the money he was making. In their lies the reason in which he was cut. Four million dollars per year is way too much to being paying for that kind of production.
The Raiders will not have trouble replacing that production at tight end with Brandon Myers proving he is very capable of blocking and David Ausberry quickly emerging as a threat in the passing game from the tight end position. Reggie McKenzie also made it known that if he finds a tight end he likes, he won’t hesitate to bring him in as competition as well.
I don’t see the Raiders losing any production from the tight end position going forward, and with some younger guys developing their game it could soon become another dynamic position for the Raiders offense.
Stanford Routt’s release was the first big bang of the Reggie McKenzie era. Routt was a solid man to man corner back even though he led the league in penalties and surrendered 8 touchdowns to opposing wide receivers last season. However, it didn’t take anyone (including Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen) long to figure out he was being overpaid. Not only was he being overpaid for the current season, but he still had 4 years left on his contract averaging about 10 million per year. That alone had a lot to do with his release, but was not the only factor.
Routt built his entire game around playing bump and run man coverage. As part of the changes taking place in Oakland, the Raiders will be moving away from the philosophy of running strictly man to man coverage on defense. That change even further devalued Stanford Routt’s services as he had next to no experience in zone coverage. Zone coverage is very different from man to man and not every corner back in the NFL is capable of playing both. Look no further than DeAngelo Hall as an example of that.
The Raiders have brought in four new corner backs this off-season so far. Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer both bring a lot of starting experience and history of solid play at the corner back position. While neither player is viewed as a superstar, both are very capable of holding their own in pass defense and have played in similar schemes to what the Raiders will look to do this year. They have combined for 19 interceptions in their career to this point.
Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee were also brought in as players who will get a chance to show what they have in training camp. Both have been in the league for a few years and have shown flashes of talent at times. Reggie knows what he is getting with these two as they were part of the Packers organization as well and wants to see if they can earn a spot on the roster this year.
Overall the loss of Stanford Routt will be extremely softened by the switch in defensive philosophy. Also the additions of Bartell and Spencer might prove to be two very undervalued pickups by the Raiders.
Probably the hottest topic in the Raiders off-season to this point was the release of Kamerion Wimbley. Even though he played out of position for most of his time in Oakland, Wimbley brought an edge pass rush to the Raiders defense that will be tough to replace.
The Raiders recently added free agent Phillip Wheeler and he will likely slide in as the starting strong side linebacker. Wheeler is a very interesting value pickup for the Raiders. He totaled 84 tackles last season for the Colts and was quietly very stout against the run for them, an area in which Oakland has struggled in recent years. Wheeler also brings better coverage skills which was very much a pain point in Wimbley’s game at outside linebacker.
While the Raiders won’t be looking for Phillip Wheeler replace Wimbley’s pass rushing abilities, it is worth noting that while playing linebacker at Georgia Tech he totaled 18.5 sacks in 3 years from the linebacker position. One scouting report had this to say of Phillip Wheeler about his time in college “considered by many as one of the nation’s best-blitzing linebackers”.
The Raiders will need to find new ways to pressure the quarterback this year, but that should not be a problem under new head coach Dennis Allen as he thrives in that department. What the Raiders lose in pass rushing ability from Wimbley, they gain in run support and pass defense with Wheeler. With new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and Dennis Allen dialing up blitzes on game day, getting after the quarterback should not be a problem for this defense going forward.
So to answer the question of…”Are the Raiders rebuilding or reloading?” I’ll let you be the judge.
The Oakland Raiders came into the offseason with salary cap issues and needing to improve a team that finished a disappointing 8-8 last season. New general manager Reggie McKenzie was hired to reshape the Raiders’ front office and establish a new philosophy to guide the team into the future.
McKenzie has a plan and as time passes his philosophies will slowly be revealed. So far, McKenzie has made a flurry of moves designed to help the Raiders reach short-term and long-term goals such as getting under the salary cap and shedding back-loaded contracts that would have handicapped his plans in 2013 and beyond.
A lot of activity doesn’t always indicate a lot of change. As it stands, the Raiders will return 16 of 22 starters.
What does the Raiders activity or lack of activity mean for the team in 2012?
1. Reggie McKenzie wants to win and knows how to build a team to do it.
Overreacting, overvaluing and overpaying is not a recipe for success in the NFL. The most successful teams find value. Making a big splash is free agency is usually a recipe for failure.
The top free agents are almost always overvalued and no team loses a player they truly want to keep.
Without the cap flexibility, the Raiders were never going to be big players in free agency, but instead of signing one top free agent and overpaying for his services, McKenzie has already brought in two value free agents at positions of significant need.
McKenzie knows building a winner requires patience. Even with limited cap space the Raiders should be able to sign a handful of free agents that can help the team for a reasonable price.
The moves being made aren’t just moves to help the team in the future, but moves that can have a positive impact on the win total in 2012.
2. The Raiders may struggle to find a natural pass rush.
With the release of Kamerion Wimbley, the Raiders lose their best edge rusher. Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly will continue to apply pressure up the middle, but the Raiders lack a natural edge rusher.
A healthy Matt Shaughnessy will help the pass rush, but the Raiders will still have to rely on the blitz much more than they ever have before.
The struggle with the blitz is that elite quarterbacks can beat it consistently and the Raiders’ division could be adding another in the form of Peyton Manning to go along with Philip Rivers.
McKenzie still has time to find a natural edge rusher, but as it stands the Raiders will have to manufacture pressure on the quarterback.
Allen’s entire defense hinges on the team’s ability to get a pass rush, so the blitzing safeties and linebackers will have to execute in their new roles.
3. Darren McFadden’s health is vitally important.
Dennis Allen hinted that the Raiders would look into if the practice fields were contributing to the high-rate of foot injuries the team had sustained over the last few years. If the Raiders’ practice field has contributed to foot and leg injuries, McFadden has been hurt by it the most.
Michael Bush is testing the free agent market and is likely to find a team that will make him a full-time starter. That leaves Taiwan Jones and Marcel Reece to backup McFadden.
Jones and Reece are both very capable, but neither are proven running the ball or carrying the load when an injured starter goes down.
With Carson Palmer in the fold, the team can survive without McFadden, but if the team has playoff aspirations McFadden must stay healthy.
4. The offensive line is in flux again.
The Raiders offensive line has been in a constant state of change over the past decade. Tom Cable and the zone-blocking scheme initially brought some success, but that quickly faded and the Raiders began the transition back to the man blocking scheme over the past two seasons.
Greg Knapp’s return to Oakland means the zone-blocking scheme is coming back and the Raiders return only two of the five starters on the offensive line from a season ago.
To solidify the offensive line, the Raiders signed right guard Mike Brisiel from the Houston Texans. Brisiel is a solid zone-blocking guard that will provide a nice upgrade over Cooper Carlisle. Brisiel may also help implement the scheme as he is familiar with Knapp and offensive line coach Frank Pollack.
The question remains what the Raiders will do at right tackle, left guard and center. Stefen Wisniewski will either stay at guard or move to center and the Raiders will need to address whichever position Wisniewski doesn’t play.
The theory behind the zone-blocking scheme is that high-priced lineman are not required if the team knows what traits to look for in an offensive lineman. The Raiders will put the theory to the test in 2012.
Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski will also have to learn the zone-blocking system. Both should be able to pick up the scheme and both have traits that should translate, but it’s still something new and developing a new skill takes time away from their development of existing skills.
The Raiders should be able to run the ball, but pass protection could be an issue when the line might have three new starters.
Perhaps Joseph Barksdale is ready to compete for a starting job and maybe the zone-scheme can salvage Bruce Campbell’s career.
In the end, the offensive line could be a strength or a weakness of this team. We’ll just have to wait and see.
5. The Raiders will be much better in coverage.
The Raiders released 2011 starters Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, but brought back Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch. After a terrible year in coverage, a few changes were merited and McKenzie has started the process of solidifying the secondary.
McKenzie signed Ron Bartell to play cornerback on a modest one-year deal. It’s the kind of bargain contract that can pay huge dividends for the Raiders if Bartell is fully recovered from a neck injury he sustained early last season.
Bartell is 30 and had seven solid seasons in St. Louis before being released. He still has all the physical tools to be successful and he can obviously play, but even if there was some question if Bartell had lost a step, McKenzie is known for his ability to tell which players can play and which players can’t.
The Raiders have to figure out what to do on the other cornerback position. One option is free agent cornerback Tracy Porter who will have a visit with the team later this week according to Vittorio Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Porter is a young cornerback with the skills that will fit what Dennis Allen likes to do on defense. Porter’s best seasons came when Allen was his position coach in New Orleans.
Allen’s defense will help take the pressure off the secondary, but the changes have already been positive and McKenzie should continue to add solid depth.
A lot has been made of the Raiders lack of draft selections in the 2012 NFL draft. The Raiders have just two, but are likely to be awarded a few more by the NFL when they announce compensatory picks in late March.
The best pick that can be awarded is a pick at the end of the third round and compensatory selections can’t be traded.
In the NFL there is a salary cap and salary floor to keep all the teams as competitive as possible, but when it comes to draft selection they are traded like currency for acquiring players or more selections.
With such limited resources this offseason, the Oakland Raiders may need to take a page from the Oakland Athletics to stay competitive.
The most important lesson of Moneyball was the A’s determined a way to find value in the market. They did more with less and that’s exactly what the Raiders need to do this offseason.
Don’t Overvalue the Cornerbacks
Four of the 12 playoff teams in 2011 were ranked in the top half of the league in pass defense and three of those four teams were ranked in the top four overall. The Cincinnati Bengals were the lone exception having the 9th ranked passing defense in 2011.
The remaining eight playoff teams were all well below average pass defenses and the four worst pass defenses were all playoff teams.
It was an extraordinary year for passing and a terrible year for pass defense. Most teams will be in the market for help in secondary having determined the secondary is now an area of weakness. There are no shortage of options at cornerback to assist these teams.
It’s obvious that a great pass defense is not required to win a Super Bowl and with limited draft picks and salary cap room, the Raiders should play closer attention to other areas and not overvalue the available cornebacks.
The market is going to inflate the value of the available options, particularly Brent Grimes, Brandon Carr, Cortland Finnegan and Carlos Rodgers.
The Raiders should look for bargain options like Tim Jennings, Williams Gay, Richard Marshall and Terrell Thomas to see if one might be able to help solidify the group, but the Raiders should avoid the inflated costs of the top cornerbacks.
The Raiders have some decisions to make when it comes to player contracts. Kamerion Wimbley, Aaron Curry and Michael Huff need to drastically reduce their cap numbers to stick around.
There is still time to work things out, but the Raiders strategy has to be to find cheaper alternatives that can accomplish the same tasks if one or more of them are released. In some cases the generics could actually be better which could steer McKenzie to release and not worry about restructuring the player.
Manny Lawson would be a good sign a.nd fill-in at linebacker Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver was his position coach when he played for the 49ers. Lawson is similar to Curry. He can rush, but he’s not a particularly good pass rusher, but he’s solid against the run. Dennis Allen would be able to utilize Lawson is a variety of ways as a blitzer.
The Baltimore Ravens have plenty of free agents and they will not be able to sign them all. One that stands out is strong-side linebacker Jarrett Johnson. Johnson is particularly good at stopping the run, which has been a problem for the Raiders since 2002.
Johnson will be a popular free agent, but he’s been extremely durable. Johnson has played in 129 straight games for the Ravens, a franchise record. Johnson is 31 and that could keep his costs down on the open market.
Jim Leonhard has been extremely consistent for the New York Jets, but he’s 29 and hasn’t been able to stay healthy. He’s not likely to command a huge sum in free agency and the Raiders could use a strong cover safety if they are forced to put Michael Huff on the street inside of pay him $8 million in 2012.
Find a Big Man
If the Raiders are planning to play the 3-4 with any regularity they will need a nose tackle that can draw the double team up the middle.
John Henderson is likely to be released due to his contact and that leaves room for run defender on the inside.
Available nose tackle’s include Antonio Garay, Sione Pouha, Paul Soliai, Aubrayo Franklin and Kelly Gregg.
Franklin and Gregg would be the perfect players for the Raiders considering their cost would be minimal. The Raiders wouldn’t need a full-time player unless they planned on shifting to the 3-4 permanently.
Pouha, Garay and Soliai are likely to be cost prohibitive for the Raiders and they will look at some of the cheaper options.
If Tommy Kelly is released the Raiders could look at Broderick Bunkley to play defensive tackle. He improved drastically under Dennis Allen in Denver and was one of the better run defenders in the entire NFL last season.
A linebacker and a tackle could help solidify a run defense that has ranked routinely in the bottom of the league.
Get a Bush Replacement
Unless the Raiders can work out a favorable deal with running back Michael Bush, he’ll hit the open market where he is likely to fetch more than the Raiders are willing to pay. It would be a surprise if the Raiders placed the franchise tag on Bush consider the hefty price tag.
Bush departure would leave a hole behind oft-injured starter Darren McFadden. Oft-injured slasher Taiwan Jones and special teams ace Rock Cartwright are the other two backs. Jones may or may not be ready for an expanded roles in the offense. Cartwright is strictly a special teams player, but he’s also a free agent.
The Raiders either need a big bruiser or just another back that can run Greg Knapps’s zone-blocking system effectively.
Good news for the Raiders is that the market for backs is deep and not many are buying.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis would be a good option because he knows how to pass protect having come from New England. Greg Knapp is much more run heavy, but it is nice knowing that the player in the game can put a body on someone to spare the quarterback a hit.
Mike Tolbert is another back that knows how to pass protect and would be great second option to McFadden. He’s built like a bowling ball and could be uses in rush and pass situations.
Justin Forsett would be an inexpensive option for the Raiders. He’s not a big back, but he had a career year in Greg Knapp’s zone-blocking system. He’d be a good pickup as a true backup to McFadden and may actually be able to steal enough carries away from McFadden to keep him fresh.
McKenzie should also keep open the possibility that Bush could be re-signed at a reasonable price.
Take Advantage of Value in the Marketplace
If Reggie McKenzie realizes a certain player is being undervalued by market, he should sign the player and rehab his value.
The Raiders could have 6 or 7 good defensive ends and still sign a defensive end that is being drastically undervalued. It’s better to sign a good player for an affordable price and let the coaching staff worry about how to utilize the player.
There’s always room on the roster for good players, so if McKenzie thinks the player is good, the coaches will figure out how to put him in position to win games.
While the Raiders will be hunting in free agency for players at positions of need, they should also keep their options open at other positions to see if the league might be undervaluing receiver, defensive end, offensive tackle, etc.
That means the Raiders should be talking to everyone, including the top free agent receivers to get an idea for what the market is going to look like and what sort of deal the players are expecting.
It may be that the Raiders need to strike now to land a number one receiver, but they wont know until there is competition in the marketplace.
Allow me for a moment to walk the Raider Nation through a timeline of Hue Jackson’s tenure with the Raiders.
Al Davis hires Hue Jackson to revamp an offense that hadn’t been good in many years. With the aide of competent quarterback play and a healthy Darren McFadden, Jackson is wildly successful in his first year.
Tom Cable is fired for an 8-8 season and Hue Jackson is promoted to Head Coach.
He is working with a roster constructed by Al Davis and defensive coaches hired by Al Davis.
October 8, 2011
Al Davis dies and Hue Jackson is forced to take a more active role in managing player personnel because-although unqualified-he is the most qualified person in the building. Mark Davis begins to gather his advisory team or John Madden, Ron Wolf and Ken Herock.
Hue Jackson loses his starting quarterback to injury for the season. Jackson knows with the passing of Al Davis that a new front office would be coming in and in all likelihood he would be fired if he didn’t make the playoffs and maybe he would even need to win a playoff game to keep his job.
Trade for Carson Palmer. Hue Jackson was looking out for himself, knowing that he had little chance of making a playoff run with Kyle Boller and knowing a losing record would mean he would be fired. Hue Jackson pressures Mark Davis to make a lopsided trade for the only decent quarterback available. Hue’s ego and power begin to grow within the organization and some question wether that is a good thing.
Hue Jackson and the Raiders lose the most explosive offensive weapon on the team for an extended period of time, Darren McFadden.
Ride Michael Bush and get the young receivers more involved in the offense.
Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore injured.
No good solution can be found as the Raiders continue to ride Michael Bush and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Meanwhile, John Madden, Ron Wolf, Ken Herock and Tom Flores are advising Mark Davis to interview Reggie McKenzie when the season ends. Mark’s advisors are telling him to be cautious about Hue Jackson’s ego and power grab within the organization.
Defensive secondary not playing well.
Hue crossed his fingers that Chuck Bresnahan, without the constant supervision of Al Davis, can turn the Raiders defense into something resembling a solid unit. Turns out to be a non-solution and one Hue Jackson can’t directly change.
Hue Jackson heads into the final week of the season 8-7 after another epic defensive failure that he has little control over. His team has an outside chance to make the playoffs.
Hue Jackson, knowing his fate was now in limbo, his defensive coordinator incompetent and his team with a slim chance to make the playoffs, walks into Mark Davis’ office and asks for input on the General Manager hire as a last ditch effort to try to save his job. One he might have saved had he never walked though Mark’s office door.
Hue Jackson was acting in self-preservation and Mark Davis wisely refuses to grant Hue’s request. It was a slightly absurd request to begin with, allowing a head coach to have input in who is hired as his boss, but Mark Davis also viewed this as another Hue Jackson power grab. Mark Davis had been warned by his advisors to be careful regarding Hue Jackson’s ego and power aspirations.
The Raiders lose in week 17 and Hue Jackson voices his frustrations with the team and his lack of input on the general manager hiring process in his final two press conferences and in-so doing seals his fate with the Raiders. Mark Davis and his advisors collectively grumble at Hue’s final act and finishing the season 1-4 does not help Hue’s case, no matter how little he had to do with the collapse.
Reggie McKenzie is interviewed and Mark Davis and John Madden give McKenzie the impression that firing Hue Jackson and starting fresh is the best course of action. That makes things easier for McKenzie, because he likely desired the ability to hire his own guy, but would have considered keeping Hue around if Mark Davis had requested it. McKenzie gets a clean start instead of delaying the inevitable firing of Hue Jackson to hire his own coach.
The decision was made to start fresh under McKenzie. It is naïve to think that either Mark Davis or Reggie McKenzie made the decision to fire Jackson on their own. It was a collective decision and ultimately it was a series of events that went against Hue Jackson. Jackson is still a good coach and will land on his feet somewhere. His defense, his ego and his act of self-preservation ended his short tenure with the Raiders. The Raiders will be better for it and Hue Jackson will be a better coach for it.