Every year about this time the conversation in the Raider Nation turns to that of what changes, additions and subtractions can be made to make this team franchise into a winner again. Every year, we ponder who the team can trade for a draft pick or a potential upgrade. And in recent seasons, there have been a pretty good amount of teams that are more than willing to do business with the Raiders in such trades. Not only that but Raider free agents seem to garner a pretty decent amount of interest from other teams as well. Have you ever wondered why that might be? This past offseason, there were a few players the Raiders looked to unload or simply allow to leave. Players like Fabian Washington, Chris Clemons, Tyler Brayton, and Chris Carr. All of whom are on this year’s playoff teams and are still in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy.
Fabian Washington was traded to the Ravens for a fourth round pick last season and has started all but one game this season on arguably the best defense in the NFL. How could this be? Why would such a respected defense be interested in a guy that was considered a weak spot on a team that had lost 10+ games every season since he was on the team?
Chris Clemons was allowed to leave and was signed by the Eagles in the offseason after tying for the team lead with eight sacks. He had only four sacks for the Eagles this season and has been used only in situational pass rushing so by most accounts he was not worth the money spent on him. But why did the Eagles pursue Clemons so aggressively?
Tyler Brayton wallowed in Oakland for five underachieving years and yet when his “scholarship” was finally up with the Raiders, the Panthers swiped him up and he started all 16 games for them this season and had a career best 4.5 sacks. He has helped the Panthers not only make the playoffs but secure a top seed in the NFC with a first round bye. And while 4.5 sacks is not great, he was constantly applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks and complimented Julius Peppers quite well on the opposite side. In other words, he looked like the player that earned a first round selection by the Raiders out of Colorado. Where has this explosiveness and fire been for five years?
Chris Carr was allowed to leave as a free agent and the Titans were more than happy to sign him to a contract. His punt return numbers have never been better than they are this season for the Titans, who earned the top seed in the AFC with a first round bye and home field advantage throughout. How is it that Carr has nearly identical duties for the top seeded Titans as he did for the Raiders for three miserable seasons and yet he averages around 4 yards more per return this year than the previous three seasons?
Dominique Rhodes was released and re-signed with his former team, the Colts and they went on a tear by winning 9 straight games and making the playoffs before they were knocked out in the first round by the Chargers. And Lamont Jordan was a member of the Patriots of whom went 11-5 on the season which tied with the Dolphins for the best record in the AFC East but were the odd team out because the Phins beat the Pats in the regular season.
All of these former players enjoyed a great deal of success just one season removed from the lowly Raiders. How is it that these players could go from “rags to riches” like that? Isn’t it usually the case that only the desperate teams want the trash from a bad team like the Raiders? There were only two other former starting players that the Raiders traded or released last offseason. Barry Sims, who was released by the Raiders and signed by the 49ers, is at the end of his career. And Stuart Schweigert was immediately picked up by the Redskins but was released after one horrible preseason game and then eventually was signed prior to week 12 by the Lions.
The answer for this Raider team hasn’t been to get better players. That hasn’t been the answer for many years. They have been getting better players and higher draft picks and that is not working. It seems that the best teams in the league are just now becoming very aware of this and are reaping the benefits. Which is why they were so eager to sign all of these players last season. It has become painfully obvious that this Raiders team has been full of good players with a bad organization.
These playoff teams became as such because they recognize trends and are ahead of the curve. The Panthers and Titans both have great two back running games and a great pass rush which is what the Giants used to win the Superbowl last season. The Ravens have a great defense and utilize the now popular “Wildcat” formation with a good deal of success. The Eagles and Colts are models of consistency which is always a recipe for success. The Raiders have no great pass rush, have failed at half hearted attempts at trick plays and Wildcat formations (despite having McFadden who was doing it just last season in college) and are the model for inconsistency which is a recipe for complete failure.
Al Davis used to be THE avant-garde NFL mind. He was ahead of the curve in all of his personnel decisions and player signings. He would take the cast offs and malcontents and make them into great players. He would take the unknown commodities at coach and make them into Superbowl winning, future Hall of Famers. He had every other organization wondering what he was doing at all times and wondering how he was doing it. That is why everything was done with such a veil of secrecy. Now the only time other teams care what the Raiders are doing is when they might be willing to trade or release a player. They circle like vultures waiting to pick the carcass that once was a great and proud franchise. A tactic that has become increasingly evident as more former Raider players line up for these winning NFL teams.
So while the coaching search continues and the candidates are rumored, both head coach and (God forbid) assistant coaches, consider that there is still no General Manager making these decisions. There is still no accountability for Al Davis. There is still no coach on this team that is allowed to carry him self with any semblance of pride or poise. There is still not a single big name NFL assistant even being mentioned in the coaching search because they all have better options. There is still no sense from a player perspective that they should feel comfortable with the state of this team or respect any kind of game plan. And therefore there will still be no change coming in the seemingly endless futility that this team and it’s fans are forced to endure. And did I mention there is STILL NO GENERAL MANAGER?
So congratulations to all of the fomer Raiders that are on Superbowl contending teams this postseason. I am truly happy for you and I hope that you have continued success and happiness with your current respective teams. Let it be a constant reminder to Al Davis of this organization’s franchise’s inability to develop and/or properly use the talent it aquires because that may usher in some progress. But then again, that may just be a bit optimistic.