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The Future of the Oakland Raiders.
This is quite nice.
Just last year, talking about the past would mean talking about how the Raiders were full of Hall of Fame quality players, won three Super Bowls, and had the NFL's best winning percentage.
Are you asking why it's nice that we're not talking about that anymore?
I know I would be.
Well, if we're being honest that is the past for the Raiders.
And what a glorious past it was.
But I'm talking about a... newer past.
I'm talking about a decade of decadence.
A twelve year span where the Oakland Raiders were completely devoid of the one thing that they needed.
It's been a long time since the Raider Nation had hope.
Sure, there were the 2010 and 2011 seasons where the Raiders managed to scratch and claw to 8-8 records, but they were merely illusions portrayed by fluke wins and a terrible AFC West.
Sure, Hue Jackson got a little life out of Darren McFadden and Carson Palmer.
But they were also destroyed by a Broncos team featuring Tim Tebow instead of Peyton Manning.
Yeah, they swept the Kansas City Chiefs.
A team on their way to a first overall pick with Matt Cassel under center.
And true, the Chargers had Philip Rivers, but under Norv Turner, he was far from fulfilling his true potential.
Those Raider teams did win a few games, but they did it with borrowed cap space and ancient veterans who were dashing towards their expiration date.
Over the last three years, Reggie McKenzie has been desperately trying to find money and young stars for the Oakland Raiders to build on.
He comes from Green Bay's system of building teams through the draft, and that's not something you can do overnight, especially when the Bengals and Seahawks have your priority draft picks for players like Carson Palmer and Aaron Curry.
Mark Davis showed flashes of his father when he fired Dennis Allen over the phone, and while they may intimidate future candidates with that kind of unprofessionalism, that's not who the Raiders are anymore.
The Raiders who blow their first pick on the guy with the fastest 40 are gone.
The Raiders who give loaded contracts to washed up free agents are a thing of the past.
The Raiders who have tested my sobriety for the better part of the last decade have been buried.
You may still be laughing after reading that first segment.
All that stuff is gone, huh?
The Raiders are finally headed towards the light at the end of the tunnel?
How's that 0-5 record treating ya?
The 2014 Oakland Raiders are not one that history will remember fondly.
The same could have been said for the 1998 Indianapolis Colts.
It's not fair to compare Peyton Manning to Derek Carr.
But it is to compare what they bring to the franchise.
Growing pains are a necessary part of young players coming along in the NFL.
Nobody jumps right in with both feet and has all of the answers.
In fact, as bad as this start has been, I'm not sure it's going to get better.
Juggernauts like Seattle, Denver (twice), San Francisco, and San Diego again still lurk just over the horizon.
If the playoffs were ever a possibility, the 0-5 start and shadow of future opponents has surely knocked that out.
No, the 2014 season is almost completely meaningless.
Free agents like Matt Schaub, Justin Tuck, and Lamarr Woodley are unlikely to return, and I don't think they'll be missed by the Raider Nation.
The quest for a new coach is probably happening now, with Bay Area neighbor, Jim Harbaugh being high on the list of potential suitors.
The 2014 season, much likes seasons 05-13 sucks and will continue to do so.
But lets look at why I'm writing this article.
I've said "Maybe next year" so many times as a Raiders fan...
That I've forgotten what optimism feels like.
Let me explain why I'm optimistic about the future of the Raiders.
Any good franchise is built on the addition of talented young players.
Linebackers Sio Moore and Khalil Mack are outstanding as pass rushers and against the run, despite what the statistics say. A great defensive line can make any linebacker look amazing (See: Manti Te'o), so a poor one can have the same effect. If the Raiders get some help in the front four of their defense... These two could form a terrifying duo.
Rookie cornerback TJ Carrie has allowed the sixth worst passer rating on passes attempted on him, and played outstanding football against one of the best passing attacks in football last week against the Chargers when given the opportunity. You could say that Chekwa/Roger's inability to play nickel corner made it so he wasn't tested often, but he's played extremely well whenever he was given a chance. He's a huge part of why the Raiders are 6th against the pass so far this year.
Left Guard Gabe Jackson has been a very pleasant surprise for the Raiders this year. He shut down JJ Watt, a guy that many are calling a MVP favorite in their week 2 showdown against the Texans and allowed 0 pressures against the Chargers. He's created many a hole for runningbacks McFadden and Jones-Drew to run through... Though they haven't been able to take advantage consistently enough to make an impact.
The addition of Menelik Watson has always been a blackmark against Reggie McKenzie's drafting, but last week, when he got a start against one of the highest rated defenses, he played extremely well. Not only was his pass protection much improved from what the Raiders saw in the pre-season, but the Raiders running game seemed to be resurrected. McFadden looked like the 2011 version of himself, and even MJD got a couple of successful runs in.
But if we're being real, there's only one Raider young'n that anyone gives a hoot about.
Rookie sensation, Derek Carr.
What is there to say about Carr?
He's the whole package. He has an understanding of how offenses and defenses work in the NFL thanks to a childhood spent watching his brother watch film. He ran a faster 40 yard dash than Johnny Manziel did, and has an absolute cannon for an arm.
The 0-5 start isn't reassuring, but let me try some other numbers for you.
Peyton Manning's First 5 Starts- 169 attempts, 4 TDs, 12 INTs, 55% completed, 1,129 yards. (Rookie).
Tom Brady's First 5 Starts- 159 attempts, 7 TDs, 4 INTs, 62% completed, 1,023 yards. (2nd season).
Andrew Luck's First 5 Starts- 221 attempts, 7 TDs, 7 INTs, 53% completed, 1,488 yards. (Rookie).
Derek Carr's First 5 Starts- 167 attempts, 8 TDs, 5 INTs, 61% completed, 1,016 yards. (Rookie).
Yeah. That's pretty impressive.
Now, obviously, it's not about how you start in the NFL, it's about how you finish.
It's about how he improves over time that will define his legacy.
But for him to have numbers like that... When his teams were so much worse than those other guys... Pretty impressive. He doesn't have Reggie Wayne or a Pro-Bowl offensive line, or Marvin Harrison.
He's got Denarius Moore, Mychal Rivera, and a miserable run game.
Those names don't sound familiar? Then you're clearly not a Raiders fan.
Not to mention there are some solid veterans on the Raiders squad who can be helpful over the coming years.
Donald Penn, James Jones, Austin Howard, and Tarrell Brown have played well for the price the Raiders paid.
And just think, if D.J. Hayden can come back in, stay healthy, and play well, that's one more piece the Raiders don't need to draft.
So, if we're keeping count.
The Raiders will bring...
Their franchise QB, a stud left guard, a right tackle with potential, two consistent veteran lineman, a reliable number two receiver, two amazing outside linebackers, and a pair of young corners into the 2015 season.
The Raiders will likely pick in the top five again, and I would love to see them grab somebody like Amari Cooper to help with Derek Carr's growth.
I believe in Reggie McKenzie and the good he has done for the Oakland Raiders.
And I believe in the future.
If Reggie McKenzie and Mark Davis can find the right guy to call the plays, and they hit on one or two free draft picks while picking up talented free agents...
Next year could be the year for the Raiders.
True, they've got to face off against the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers of the NFC North, and both the Bengals and the Ravens will be a handful.
But that's a walk in the park compared to the monsters they had to survive this season.
Not to mention, the other games will look something like the Jets, Titans/Jags, and the declining Chiefs.
If the Raiders can add the right pieces and get everybody on board.
Next year could be the next year I've been waiting for since Super Bowl 37.