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How I Spent My Offseason: Oakland Raiders Edition

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Our Texas correspondent was able to find a dry electrical outlet and working internet over the last few days and took a look around the AFC West. Over the next few days, we’ll get his summary on the offseason the other 3 teams in this division have had so far and what that means for the Chargers. We start at the bottom…

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Summary

And so the Jack Del Rio era begins. For Oakland, this will be their 9th Head Coach since 2002. (The Chargers have had 3 in the same time period.) So what will Captain Jack's crew look like in September?

If you were a Chargers fan in 2007, the first 5 games of the Norv Turner Era looked pretty bad and that was with one of the most talented and mature rosters in the league. Oakland in 2015 is not nearly that talented or as mature as the Chargers 2007 team. This could be a fairly bad first month for Oakland as the team tries to get itself figured out.

Under offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, do not expect anything too wild or innovative. Musgrave is well versed in a variety of offenses; the Erhardt-Perkins system, the Spread Offense, the West Coast Offense and good ol' Coryell power running, deep passing game. On the positive side (for Oakland) this might make the team unpredictable on offense this season.

As a developer of young QB talent, his record is decidedly mixed. He did fine in Atlanta with Matt Ryan in 2010, but not so well in Minnesota with Christian Ponder in 2012 and 2013. Last year, he was the QB coach in Philadelphia under Chip Kelly where second-year QB Nick Foles looked like he regressed some under Musgrave's tutelage. This is not favorable for a franchise that needs to develop a young QB.

On the defensive side, their new coordinator is Ken Norton, who Chargers fans may remember as the 49ers Mike ILB during the Super Bowl. This is Norton's first DC gig. He had been with Pete Carroll at USC and Seattle as his LB coach since 2004 and has no other coaching experience. He has spent most of his playing and coaching career in a 4-3 scheme. Del Rio is a defensive-minded coach, so expect that Norton will not be asked to do too much of the direct scheming while he grows into the job. Musgrave, on the other hand will probably get a lot of latitude with the offense and is an experienced coordinator and QB coach.

What Oakland really needs is some stability at the head coach position and in the front office. That stability has been conspicuously absent in the last two decades since the decline and demise of Al Davis. 3 years of .500 football with a clear blueprint would be a marked improvement in the eyes of the Oakland faithful.

Free Agency

The rivals were fairly active in free agency and it really was a case of giveth and taketh away:

Position Lost Added Verdict
WR James Jones Michael Crabtree ?
Denarius Moore
Vincent Brown
G Kevin Boothe
C Stefen Wisniewski Rodney Hudson Neutral or +
DL Antonio Smith Dan Williams (NT) Neutral
QB Matt Schaub Christian Ponder 1
RB Darren McFadden Trent Richardson 2
Maurice Jones-Drew Roy Helu
S Tyvon Branch Nate Allen +
CB Chimdi Chekwa
ILB Curtis Lofton
OLB LaMarr Woodley Malcolm Smith Neutral
TE Lee Smith
  1. This was likely a Bill Musgrave suggestion. Musgrave was the OC in Minnesota from 2010 through 2013.
  2. Based on what Latavius Murray showed last season, both of these backs are likely competing for back-up jobs. This may be Richardson's last shot at remaining a professional football player.

Unlike Kansas City, which seems to have lost a lot in free agency or Denver, which seems to have lost a little, Oakland looks like they broke even or perhaps came out a little bit ahead. The wild card is Crabtree; and if he produces, than the free agency part of Oakland's offseason looks fairly positive.

The Draft

Gone are the days of the AL Davis first-round reaches and drafting the fastest stone-handed wide receiver in the draft way too high (when not choosing purple-drank-addled QB's). The draft added some really interesting pieces to the Oakland roster:

Round Player Position
1 Amari Cooper WR
2 Mario Edwards Jr DT
3 Clive Walford TE
4 Jon Feliciano OG
5 Ben Heeney ILB
Neiron Ball OLB
6 Max Valles OLB
7 Anthony Morris OL
Andre Debose WR
Dexter McDonald CB

The first 3 picks are all solid prospects that are probably upgrades at the position from Week 1. The hidden gem of their draft may turn out to be Ben Heeney, taken in the fifth round who may be a starter before too long. There are other players that would have to be considered projects, but the Raiders did not reach for them. Oakland seems to have a plan after years of baffling personnel decisions.

Projected Starters

Offense

Position Player
QB Derek Carr
RB Latavius Murray
Roy Helu
FB Marcel Reece
TE Clive Walford R
Mychal Rivera
WR Amari Cooper R
Michael Crabtree
Kenbrell Thompkins
OL Watson
(L to R) Jackson
Hudson
Howard
Barnes

R denotes rookie

Defense

Position Player
DL Edwards, Jr.R
(L to R) Williams
Ellis
Tuck
LB Moore
(L to R) Heeney R
Mack
CB TJ Carrie
DJ Hayden
S Charles Woodson
Nate Allen

R denotes rookie

Schedule

WK DATE OPPONENT TIME (ET)
1 Sun, Sep 13 vs Cincinnati 4:25 PM CBS
2 Sun, Sep 20 vs Baltimore 4:05 PM CBS
3 Sun, Sep 27 @ Cleveland 1:00 PM CBS
4 Sun, Oct 4 @ Chicago 1:00 PM CBS
5 Sun, Oct 11 vs Denver 4:25 PM CBS
6 BYE WEEK
7 Sun, Oct 25 @ San Diego 4:05 PM CBS
8 Sun, Nov 1 vs New York 4:05 PM CBS
9 Sun, Nov 8 @ Pittsburgh 1:00 PM CBS
10 Sun, Nov 15 vs Minnesota 4:05 PM FOX
11 Sun, Nov 22 @ Detroit 1:00 PM CBS
12 Sun, Nov 29 @ Tennessee 1:00 PM CBS
13 Sun, Dec 6 vs Kansas City 4:05 PM CBS
14 Sun, Dec 13 @ Denver 4:05 PM CBS
15 Sun, Dec 20 vs Green Bay 4:05 PM FOX
16 Thu, Dec 24 vs San Diego 8:25 PM NFL
17 Sun, Jan 3 @ Kansas City 1:00 PM CBS

The schedule makers were kind enough to give Oakland two homes games to start the season, but cruelly put two playoff-caliber teams in those games. {Insert evil laugh here.} Chargers fans have to give a tip o' the hat to the schedulers for not having them open at home against the Bears or the Browns; instead those teams will host Oakland in games 3 and 4.

The schedule gets easier in November, with alternating tough and not-so-tough games, before finishing up the last 5 games of the season with a brutal stretch against divisional opponents and the Packers. The only prime time game is the Christmas Eve Thursday Night game against the Chargers, which will certainly challenge the whole "peace on earth, goodwill towards men" thing. It may also create a little friction in the households for some of the Chargers and Raiders faithful ...

Conclusion

The team will be looking for Derek Carr to make progress (he looked predictably awful at the start of 2014, but more capable as the season went on). The team will also be looking to exhibit some football intelligence as a team, and play with some actual discipline. This is what Jack del Rio practiced in Jacksonville before the Jags' talent cupboard went bare and why the Oakland front office wanted him.

If Carr and the other young players in Oakland make progress, 7 wins is certainly possible. 6 wins are likely. I'm thinking 7. Del Rio is a decent coach when he has some talent to work with. The talent level on this team continues to improve. Oakland is not ready to compete for a playoff yet, but if Carr continues to grow and the team has another decent offseason of improving its roster, Oakland may be a dangerous team in 2016 and beyond.