The Oakland Raiders entered this offseason as the only team from their division not to make the playoffs. The organization has been in shambles since going to the Super Bowl in 2002 season and now general manager Reggie McKenzie has to start unfolding his plan. He has cleaned out all the bad contracts and it’s time to start laying the building blocks for the future.
As cliché as it sounds the NFL is a quarterback driven league and the Raiders do not have a franchise quarterback. The question is, is there a franchise quarterback in this year’s NFL draft? Going in to the college football season and most of the way through it, Teddy Bridgewater was considered the best quarterback coming out of college. Now, Johnny Manziel is climbing up draft boards and teams like the Raiders are faced with the question, are Manziel or any of the college quarterbacks worth an early first-round pick?
Manziel was great in college but he is undersized and there are questions about his off-field character. With Bridgewater there is a question of competition, size, and some concerns about arm strength. Derek Carr has scouts wondering can he do a better job than his brother, former No.1 overall pick David Carr did in the NFL. Blake Bortles is the hot name right now, and while his collegiate production is solid, he too has not played a ton of top competition.
The free agent market for quarterbacks is pitiful. Josh Freeman will be available but he has not shown anything recently that would suggest he could carry a team. The Minnesota Vikings situation he jumped into was a difficult one but he did not fair better with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers his last couple of seasons. Michael Vick will be a free agent but his best days are behind him. The last thing the Raiders need is another stop gap.
Sitting at number five in the draft the guy the Raiders want may not still be on the board and they may need to consider moving up to secure their guy. The difficulty is the Raiders have other needs besides just quarterback. Darren McFadden will not be back next season and the team needs help out wide receiver and tight end.
Tight end is exactly where I would start. Tight ends are quarterback safety blanket. Look around the league at how tight ends have helped offenses recently. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots offense is completely different with Rob Gronkowski. The absence of Dennis Pitta had a huge effect on Joe Flacco. Jason Witten has been Tony Romo’s security blanket for years. The 49ers offense runs at a different level when they can get Vernon Davis going.
McKenzie should make signing Jimmy Graham the Raiders No. 1 priority. Graham is a free agent and the New Orleans Saints have had chances to extend him and have not tried. He can stretch the field and make the big play and he is dominating in the red zone. Having a player of his caliber makes the entire offense go to another level. Most linebackers cannot run with him and he is too big for safeties, think young Antonio Gates.
At the receiver position the Raiders will have several options. Quality receivers like Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt, James Jones, and Eric Decker will be available. Denarius Moore is a solid receiver but not nearly consistent enough. Bringing in a veteran to help him develop would be wise.
The Raiders also need help in their secondary. Last season’s first-round pick D.J. Hayden struggled. He will need to take a major step forward in his sophomore season. The team may consider bringing in another young cornerback, especially since the cornerback market is not deep this year.
No matter what direction the team chooses to go, they need immediate help on the field. Hayden only played in eight games, started two, and he had just one interception and two pass defenses. Second-round pick Menelik Watson started just three games. Third-round pick Sio Moore showed some promise with his 4.5 sacks. He even made the Pro Football Writers All-Rookie team. He was the lone bright spot, fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson didn’t even make the team out of camp.
McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen know their time is short and they have to act now. Handling this offseason correctly is vital to the direction of the team. The Raiders cannot afford to make any mistakes this year. They play in what is now the toughest division in football and if they are going to have a chance to compete it starts with finding talent to fit your system.