How to Revive an NFL team: the Oakland Raiders
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In this series, LiveBall Sports will take the two weeks of dull time in the NFL season to look at some teams that have underacheived expectations, and what they need to do to compete in 2010.
I have previously written that the 2009 Raiders were not a team without talent, but the talent was pretty spread out because the Raiders waste money and don’t draft well. This was prior to the Richard Seymour trade.
If my ideas could restore the Raiders to competitive-ness, then I’m probably overqualified to be working this job. So all Raider-like disclaimers apply, but I’m going to try to work within the framework of the organization with these suggestions. These are things that the Raiders could do to improve, without doing things like “fire the owner” or “hire Mike Leach.”
Much of what the Raiders do is based on the concept of organization pride and being different. In recent years, that has meant “losing”, but the Raiders can still rebuild around talented players who are unwanted by other teams. When the Raiders have been successful, that is how they did it. More recently, they’ve taken that mentality to the extreme, seemingly ruling out the acquisition of players who don’t “think like Raiders,” which pretty much means anyone with a desire to improve as a football player.
Here’s how I’d start to revive the Raiders…
Step #1: Fire the Head Coach This one is more of a given, especially given the off-field allegations with Tom Cable. Better coaches have failed to win with the Raiders, but embarrassing the organization is a fireable offense. This is not the image that Al Davis wants from his organization; not of domestic abuse. Cable has failed on the field because Davis has gifted him a horrible team, but these issues speak not to Cable being worthy of being hired in the first place. This move is just saving some face.
Step #2: Trade “the Franchise” It’s not going to be the popular move, because frankly, he’s all the team has, but Nnamdi Asomugha is probably at his wits end with losing, and he’ll be 29 in July, which means if the Raiders do not trade him right now, he will walk after the 2011 season and the Raiders will receive nothing but a compensatory draft pick sometime down the road. It’s going to be the first uncapped year in the last 17 seasons, so some team will take him at the price of 30+ million over the next two years, and you’d think the Eagles or the Patriots would be willing to throw one of their first round picks (plus maybe a third or a fourth) at you. For the Raiders, the salary relief is just as critical as the draft pick, which they need because in 2011, they do not pick in the first round. And if you don’t trade Nnamdi this offseason, he crosses that magical threshold of 30, and at that point, you probably can’t get a first rounder for him.
On the other hand, competing next year gets quite difficult without him…
Step #3: Use the Franchise Tag on Richard Seymour Seymour might not be the Raider most excited about a future in Oakland, but if you’re Al Davis, and you dealt a 2011 first round pick for Seymour, there’s no way you can justify letting him walk after one year. Notice I’m not saying you have to keep him: you can shop him and try to get a third and a fifth (Marcus Stroud’s price tag) or a second and a sixth (Jason Taylor’s price tag). The more picks, the merrier. But the guy is still pretty good, and if you’re planning on competing in 2010 and trading Asomugha to the highest bidder (as I’m suggesting) having Seymour’s leadership can’t hurt.
Step #4: Bring Marc Trestman back as head coach Trestman was the actual driving force behind the post-Gruden Raiders west coast offense, and short of breaking out the spread offense, the Raiders need an identity. Might as well pull out the only thing that has worked well for them over the past decade. Trestman has been coaching in Canada the last two years, leading the Alouettes of Montreal to the Grey Cup just earlier this week. Trestman is a quarterback guru who worked under Dave Wannestedt in Miami for a season before he was fired, and worked with two quarterbacks there who figure to be available this offseason: A.J. Feeley and Sage Rosenfels. Acquiring either will give the Raiders…something, at least. Which reminds me–
Step #5: End the JaMarcus Russell Experiment With two full seasons as a starter, it’s probably time to give up the notion that Russell is the next Elway. At this point, he’s unlikely to be the next Marques Tuiasosopo. The structure in Oakland hasn’t been beneficial to him, but the issue isn’t coaching, it’s that Russell was a bad pick who the Raiders haven’t offered up really any talent that could mask his deficiencies. Furthermore, although one of the issues with this passing game is spotty receiver play, the problem is that the Raiders, at different times in the last three years, have passed on the opportunity to draft Calvin Johnson, DeSean Jackson, and Michael Crabtree. Letting go of Russell can’t fix the past, but it can free up some dead weight in an uncapped year.
Step #6: In the draft, it’s Clausen or no one in the 1st round By moving back to the west coast offense, the Raiders can make it much easier to find a quarterback in the draft to work with. But they also have to keep in mind that this system change takes young wide receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy, and starts to work away from their talents, and makes development at this level tougher on them. But it’s a trade off. A west coast system fits TE Zach Miller, WR Chaz Schilens, and RB Darren McFadden much better than the current system. Javon Walker has excelled in the west coast, but that’s moot if he gets released as expected. The idea with the draft is that you don’t want to spend a first round pick on a quarterback unless the system fits the quarterback perfectly like the west coast fits Clausen. Clausen is from California, and throws the deep ball well, which helps bring Heyward-Bay and Murphy back into the gameplan. After Clausen, there’s really no other system QBs sitting around near the top of the draft, so you’re looking at late round help (BYU’s Max Hall?), with a veteran (such as Jason Campbell or Chad Pennington) playing early on, and looking at quarterbacks again in 2011.
Step #7: Don’t fool around on the OL any longer The Raiders hired Tom Cable with the idea he could work some wonders on the OL, a unit where the Raiders haven’t used a draft pick since 2004 above the third round. Robert Gallery returns for the last year of his contract as line captain, and Cooper Carlisle should have about a year left on his veteran legs, and Samson Satele fits a west coast scheme very well at Center. But the Raiders simply can’t play at the tackle position, where it’s Mario Henderson and a whole lot of nothing. They need to consider using the highest pick they have in the draft on an offensive tackle such as Russell Okung or Trent Williams. Then, they should consider using their second round draft choice on Mike Iupati from Idaho. The firing of Cable needs to come along-side a re-commitment to the offensive line. The Raiders may or may not land their quarterback in this draft, but there’s no excuse for not being able to run next year.
Step #8: Release all that dead-weight Russell and Walker might be the posterchildren for what is currently wrong for the Raiders, but players such as OL Chris Morris, OT Cornell Green, LB Sam Williams, and then perhaps DE Greg Ellis (5 sacks, but only 21 tackles), and nickelback Stanford Routt (no picks since 2007) as well.
Step #9: Even though not all the pieces are in place, start adding depth today Really, the only places on the field that the Raiders have built up depth in the past is in the secondary and at running back, and that’s not really excusable. It’s one thing to draft JaMarcus Russell, but it’s another thing to release Jeff Garcia knowing that all you have behind him is camp fodder. The Raiders could use depth everywhere, but especially at receiver and on the offensive line. Depth, in the NFL, is just as important as who starts.
Step #10: Kirk Morrison’s role in the porous run defense can’t be overlooked The Raiders obviously have issues on the interior with run defense, but that can be fixed with a late round draft pick. What the Raiders have to get their team on is a middle linebacker who can play the run. Morrison can slide out of the middle or to the bench next year, and he can play linebacker in the nickel scheme, but if you leave him in the middle, and he continues to get blocked, the Raiders will continue to get gashed by the run, even if they put eight in the box. A two down linebacker can almost certainly be found in free agency.
The above is really all I have for trying to fix the Raiders. Significant strides can me made by moving back towards a west coast offense philosophy, but this is not an offense that can be fixed in one year. The defense probably can, but a trade of Asomugha would open a bigger hole in the secondary, and the front seven would need to pick up the slack. I would still do it though. He’s not re-signing here. And anyway, the Raiders have managed to win the last two games they had to play without him over teams that finished (or will finish) the season over .500. He may be the best corner in the game, but the Raiders have never used him as such, and should move him now.
That would barely begin to fix the Raiders problems, but maybe it’s a good place to start.