When Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen took over the Oakland Raiders franchise prior to the 2012 season, they had a lot of work ahead of them.
The team was in a terrible position in regards to the salary cap and available draft selections, making addressing the lack of talent and depth an extremely difficult task.
Just one offseason later, the salary cap situation is now much improved, and could even be considered favorable by the time the 2014 season rolls around. In April’s 2013 NFL draft, the Raiders will have what will seem like their most significant crop of draft selections in quite some time.
Fans and media alike knew that if McKenzie and Allen were going to build this team, and do so the right way, it was going to take time. While they should be given some serious time to do so, especially considering the mess they inherited, there is reason to believe that it may not take as long as one would first assume.
No, the Raiders are not likely to come out and compete for a Super Bowl in 2013. That’s almost a given. However, considering how quickly some other teams have shown significant improvement over the past few seasons, the blueprint is there to get to that point not too long after.
Take the Seattle Seahawks for example. After 4-12 and 5-11 seasons in 2008-09 respectively, they made the move to bring head coach Pete Carroll in from USC in 2010.
After back-to-back 7-9 seasons under Carroll, the Seahawks made the jump in 2012 to becoming one of the NFL’s best all-around teams. Heading into 2013, you can bet they will be an extremely popular Super Bowl pick.
The Seattle defense was arguably the NFL’s best unit in 2012, but what did the Seahawks and some of the other up-and-coming teams around the league have in common in their seemingly quick success? They all found their quarterback.
Hardly coincidental at all, the first thing that the Raiders need to do in getting this franchise back on track is to figure out exactly what is going to happen with their quarterback position moving forward.
Carson Palmer will turn 34 this season, and while he surely was not the problem with this team in 2012, that makes it a virtual certainty that the Raiders look to determine their quarterback of the future much sooner than later. In fact, his big contract and cap numbers make it conceivable that Palmer could be cut this offseason.
In Terrelle Pryor, the Raiders have themselves quite the polarizing player. Whether the coaching staff deems him ready or not, there will always be a significant portion of the fanbase that wants to see his incredible athletic ability on the field.
This is not to say that he is that quarterback of the future, or that he isn’t. The only opinions of which that matter are the Raiders' coaches and management themselves.
If they do indeed see Pryor as a player still in the necessary development process, there is significant reason to believe that the Raiders look to take a quarterback in the upcoming draft.
While it has become quite the popular opinion that there is not a first-round-worthy quarterback in this class, it is important to remember all teams grade prospects differently. Should the Raiders grade a quarterback as an early first-round pick, they could easily take him at third overall. With the new rookie wage scale, the money is hardly as much of an issue.
Essentially, if the Raiders see a player in this draft as a franchise quarterback, more so than someone already on the roster, they have to take him.
Of course, there is still much to be done outside the quarterback position on this Raiders team moving forward as well.
Areas of most significant need include the offensive line, receiving corps, pass rush, and the defensive backfield. The latter two go hand in hand, and improvements in both areas would allow Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver to do a lot more with their defensive schemes.
We can expect the Raiders to address all of these areas in the draft, and possibly with some less expensive options in free agency, but that’s where the ever-critical process comes in.
As the Raiders continue to rebuild this team and get out of the difficult salary cap situation, the biggest emphasis, as alluded to in the quarterback discussion, needs to be placed on the draft. With Reggie McKenzie’s former team, the Green Bay Packers, GM Ted Thompson’s unwillingness to spend available cap money in free agency might frustrate their fanbase at times, but there is no arguing with the success that franchise has had.
If McKenzie has brought that kind of philosophy to Oakland, with a little bit of his own tinkering here and there, it’s something to get behind. If his Packers roots are any indication, you can bet that McKenzie will hold on to draft picks and stockpile them as best as he can. The days of the Raiders moving first-round selections for aging veterans are likely over, and that’s a very good thing.
Beyond that, it is about hitting on those draft picks. McKenzie was lauded as an extremely respected talent evaluator coming in, but we won’t know for quite some time just how successful he and his personnel department will be in that area. Building a successful franchise is impossible in today’s NFL without drafting well, so this will be the key.
It seems simple to say that figuring out the quarterback position, stockpiling draft picks, and drafting well will turn the Raiders franchise around, but it is of course much easier said than done.
Something that would help that process along even more is a key element of a successful franchise that the Raiders have all too often overlooked in recent history—continuity.
This time around that should be possible, with McKenzie given the reins in the front office, and trusting in Dennis Allen as the head coach to work with him. However long it does take get this franchise back where it needs to be, ownership needs to be patient. Hitting the panic button and starting over is the last team this team needs.
The way that the Raiders will turn from a joke to a juggernaut is being patient and doing it the right way. Trading first-round picks for disgruntled veterans mortgages far too much of the future, and overpaying for free agents on the open market is almost as bad.
Building a franchise the right way may be boring in the headline department, but that’s not the worst thing either. When was the last time an NFL team won the Super Bowl after signing and/or trading for some of the biggest available names in the offseason?
While there is something to be said for veteran presence in the locker room, there is no denying that the NFL is a young man’s game. Again looking at the Seattle Seahawks, should you put together a few solid drafts, you just may have yourself a legitimate contender.
The NFL is a much better league when historic franchises like the Oakland Raiders are winning. It hasn’t shown up in the win column yet, but they are headed in the right direction. We all expect that the rebuild will take time, but if the most can be made of the next two drafts at least, the Raiders could be back in contention much sooner than we all thought.