Raiders Have Big Decisions To Make Heading Into the Offseason
Elias Trejo – Jan 8, 2017
The Oakland Raiders season has come to an end with their loss against the Texans this weekend. The 2016 Raiders have been the best Raiders team put together in over a decade. Their 12 wins were their highest total in 17 years and their playoff appearance was their first since 14 years ago. A lot of good happened this year but it was derailed when Derek Carr was injured in week 15. Now the Raiders head into the offseason looking to take the next step as a franchise and the decisions they make this summer could dicatate whether the Raiders are ready to become a real super bowl contender.
Ken Norton Jr. has been the Raiders defensive coordinator for two years now. While he has been able to keep the same system in place, he has essentially had two completely different units each year. Were the defensive problems caused by lack of continuity or were the problems caused by lack of a good scheme and play calling? The Raiders defense has talented pieces and a great coach is able to help elevate a player's production.
There were some good moments with this year's defense. They were tied with the best turnover differential in the league. However, a big part of that was the offense taking care of the ball. In games where Carr started they had a +19 turnover differential. In games that Carr didn't start this year the Raiders had a -6 turnover differential. This is a defense that had the potential player of the year and several talented veterans, but as a unit they didn't dominate like you would have hoped.
Their scoring defense is ranked in the bottom half of the league and every team in the league had more sacks than the Raiders did this season. It's hard to win games when you can't get to the quarterback and when you let below average offenses have above average games. The offense, at times, helped mask the issues on defense, but when the offense can't put up above 24 points the defense needs to be able to step up and win games.
The Raiders need to decide if they want to seek opportunities to improve their defensive coordinator position and other coaches on the defensive staff. There are options out there that have a better track record than Norton Jr. and coordinators that might be able to turn this defense from a bottom half defense to a top defense in the league.
The question is whether Jack Del Rio believes his defense's production matched the talent level on defense. Many would say the defense was often the achilles heal for the Raiders and often times that's what differentiates a team's ability to be a real Super Bowl contender. You need a quarterback and a strong defense to have a real shot at winning the title, and the Raiders only had one of those this year.
In House Free Agents
The Raiders will be faced with some key decisions in free agency this offseason. Reggie McKenzie's first full draft is finally coming up for "renewal" and many of his 2013 draft picks are heading into free agency. The draft picks set to become free agents are Latavius Murray, Menelik Watson, DJ Hayden. Mychal Rivera and Stacy McGee. The Raiders will have to decide if any of those players are worth keeping heading into the new season.
The most productive member of this draft has been Murray, but he is set to become 27 years old this January and he hasn't exactly been a dominant running back. With the offensive line as strong as it is, Oakland may be able to find the same type of production but less expensive in the draft. With guys like DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard looking good this season it's possible Murray may find another home this offseason.
Hayden and Watson will likely be gone as injuries and lack of consistent positive production have plagued their careers. McGee may be the only one that is kept from this class this offseason and that's still a big question mark. Perhaps some of these guys get signed to a one year prove it deal, but there is no guarantee they would make the roster in 2017.
Oakland also has some decisions to make on key free agent acquisitions. Malcolm Smith, Nate Allen, Andre Holmes, Matt McGloin, Perry Riley and Jon Condo are all set to become free agents as well. Smith and Riley have been starters this season but you could make an argument that their talent level could be easily upgraded in the draft or free agency this offseason. McGloin has likely lost his back up spot to Connor Cook and Holmes might be the only one of this class that might be brought back.
The one to keep an eye on is Brynden Trawick who played well the last two games. It's possible he could be kept over Allen. Condo is the longest tenured Raider out of this group and seeing what Oakland does with him could provide us with a good idea of how they will deal with Sebastian Janikowski when his contract is up.
Oakland will have a choice this year about whether they want to focus on continuity or upgraded talent and lowering the cost of their "role players." There are no blue chip players or stars in this entire group and it's very possible for the Raiders to get similar production or better production if they replaced them. The key for most successful teams is to get their players to outproduce their contracts and not many of these players can say they have done that.
We could see a few players get extensions this offseason. Carr and Khalil Mack could see new contracts this summer that would put them among the highest paid in their positions. These two players are the two most important players in the franchise. Gabe Jackson, Justin Ellis and TJ Carrie may be other draft picks from the 2013 draft class that could see themselves getting extended.
Donald Penn, Reggie Nelson, Aldon Smith and Sebastian Janikoswki are other players who will have one more year left on their contracts after the 2017 season. It's possible the Raiders look into extensions for them, but if there are no extensions given to these players during the offseason that could be a sign that their tenure in Oakland is coming to an end.
New Free Agents and Draft
Over the last three years McKenzie has added at least one free agent that has become a Pro Bowl caliber player. Odds are McKenzie will add at least one free agent that will have a positive impact on the team. There are still holes on this team that need to be addressed if Oakland is to become a championship caliber team. The Raiders need to look at upgrading the interior of their defensive line and their linebacking core. Adding players that will help improve the pass rush will help as well. On offense most things look good, but watch for the team to look for more offensive linemen in free agency.
Don't expect the Raiders to target a certain position in this year's draft. It appears that the last couple of years their picks aligned with their needs, but as the roster has become more complete it opens the door for Oakland to start adding talent that improves the depth of the team. Don't be surprised to see a running back or a player with potential "character concerns" be picked by Oakland late in the 1st round. The locker room is stronger than it's ever been and the leadership on this team should allow Oakland to make decisions that they couldn't make two years ago.
There is no doubt that the Raiders have a great opportunity to reload this offseason and come back stronger than ever. Free agents will want to come join in on this environment because this team appears to be set up for success in the future and the culture created is something the players seem to love. The Raiders are set up once again to have more cap space than most other teams in the league and we should see them move aggressively to put a team together that can win a Super Bowl in 2017.
The season is over for the Raiders, but their chances of getting a fourth Lombardi Trophy is getting more realistic than it's been in a very long time.
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