By Jim Turvey
The 2013 season was a step in the right direction for the Raiders, but in order to continue in the right direction (an 8-8 record seems a reasonable goal for the next year of the rebuilding process), the upcoming offseason will be of great importance. By reassuring Dennis Allen of his job, the Raiders completed one of the biggest steps, in my mind, of the process. Stability is a huge part of any successful franchise, and Dennis Allen being given a chance to prove himself in the next part of the rebuilding process shows a fundamental understanding of the process by Reggie McKenzie and Mark Davis. With Allen coming back, there are now several player moves that need to be made. Let’s take a look at them:
Re-sign a vast majority of this year’s upcoming free agents
The Raiders clearly didn’t have the talent to compete in 2013, but keeping around many of the players who were starters this year to provide depth for next year would seem to be an important part of the rebuilding process. While players like Rashad Jennings, Jared Veldheer, Lamarr Houston, Tracy Porter, and Charles Woodson would remain starters, while players like Darren McFadden, Tony Pashos, Jason Hunter, Pat Sims, Mike Jenkins, and Usama Young could be perfect for the 2014 Raiders’ depth, as they know Allen’s system already.
Make sure to make draft significant NFL-ready talent in first two rounds
This may seem obvious, but in the past the Raiders have had a penchant for drafting based on potential, rather than NFL-ready talent – this is not the year for that. The Raider fanbase is ready for rookies who are going to contribute to get this team moving in the right direction. If either Clowney or Watkins (in that order of preference) are still there at number five, the Raiders must pounce. Otherwise, trading down for extra picks may not be a bad option, as depth built through the draft could be an excellent way to provide an organizational turn around. Don’t be surprised if the Raiders target receiving targets (both wideouts and tight ends), as well as players in the secondary or on the defensive line. The offensive line was a weakness last year, but if they can stay healthy this year, with Tony Sparano coming back, that unit should be all set. Personally, I believe one of Pryor and McGloin (my gut says Pryor) will be able to suffice at quarterback if the Raiders get some more options in the passing attack.
Assess free agency after the draft
The Raiders should look to be players in free agency again this offseason, as they have done a good job clearing cap space to sign players. However, they should assess their needs after the draft, and use free agency similar to how they did last year – signing cheap players who fill needs, rather than throwing large amounts of money at the flashiest free agents. This type of “scrap-heap” free agent signing has been popularized in baseball (in part thanks to the A’s!) and is beginning to gain popularity in the NFL as well.
Continue to develop home grown talent
The Raiders have several young players – last year’s draft class in particular – that seem like potential NFL starters, but will need to be continually groomed during the offseason. Sio Moore has all the makings of a top-notch pass rusher, and Mychal Rivera seems like a perfect redzone target, but both are not there yet. D.J. Hayden may have the most potential of the bunch, but is certainly the most raw at this point.
The Raiders have taken steps in the right direction, but we’ll know far more about this team come August than we do now.