Wednesday, January 30, 2013

No Leaders Means No Progress for the Oakland Raiders

Over the last few weeks, John Madden, Chris Johnson and a few different media sources confirmed unsettling suspicions about how the Raiders perceive themselves inside the organization.

Madden told an beat writer that Dennis Allen was working with less than optimal talent levels on the roster in 2012. If Madden says it, you can be sure Mark Davis knows it, even without the SFGate article.

The lack of roster talent should have been obvious to everyone but more often than not it takes someone "in the know" to comment for people to finally see the light.

It's not just a matter of salary cap woes that brought on the lack of talent problem. Though this is an appropriate fallback position for GM Reggie McKenzie to take.  I have to wonder what else in the way of strategy Reggie has in mind to fix this problem. What else does he have to say to Mark Davis about the noticeable regression in performance during 2012? Dennis Allen has nothing to say other than "We have to play better."  The salary cap loosening up a bit only goes so far to address the issues.

The bigger problem is apparent thanks to some recent comments by former Raiders CB, Chris Johnson.  Johnson told a beat writer the locker room he was part of while with the Raiders had no leaders. None to speak of. The guys paid to be leaders did nothing except show up to collect their game checks.

This is something else that should have been obvious - and addressed. For years Al Davis paid big money to guys with the expectation that they helped win games. I have to wonder how much Al emphasized being locker room leaders to his large payroll signings. Clearly just adding talent to your team does not add up to a winning team. Leadership has to be there.  Just ask Ray Lewis.

The problems keep compounding for the new regime.  Not only was there no leadership a few years ago, there is no leadership now either. The coaching staff, which is supposed to lead the leaders, has no leaders among them to speak of.  Not a single one.  The head coach may as well be driftwood.

Factor in a first round draft bust in a position the team desperately needed to come through at Middle Linebacker and what is left?  Just about every position needs to be looked at as a need not a nice to have.  That adds up to a lot of rebuilding years to come.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

New Look Raiders May Be Continuing to Re-Shape the Front Office

On one hand, I can't help but think the Raiders are completely stuck in the same gear heading into Spring '13  with the draft, OTAs, mini-camp and even into next season.  On the other hand, the draft, potential trades and free agency always offers an opportunity to help change that perception.

My nagging doubts about improvement next season are based on what I saw this past season. It was a step back even from the Tom Cable era and the mockery Lance Kiffin made of things as well. On top of the Knapp catastrophe phase 2, I was not impressed with Dennis Allen at all.  Even taking into account the lack of roster talent to work with, the guy just showed nothing and he says nothing either.  He's just a very limited individual.  He's not a leader and that is what bugs me.

Then again, Hue was too much of a loose canon and clearly had no concept of trade value.  As a result of  Hue Jackson, the Raiders do not have a second round draft pick in '13.  Instead, we have Carson Palmer carrying 20 million in salary over the next two years (unless he retires).

So we have weak coaching, an erratic QB that is damaged goods, a star running back that just wants to leave after next season and sparse talent on defense.  Yea, there is upside like Marcel Reece at FB, Lamarr Houston at DT,  and Phillip Wheeler at LB.  It's just not enough to carry the team.

It's a tough job for Reggie McKenzie to get more out of less as a GM.  Maybe one year is not fair to judge his progress but in the business of pro sports, patience from fans wears thin quickly.

The front office is saddled with salary cap problems due to bad payroll decisions by Al Davis.  His efforts to win at all costs has really cost the Raiders the ability to bring in talent for the future.  How ironic.

The bottom line is Reggie has not improved the personnel very much since taking over as GM.What we have seen brought in for the most part are dollar store/bargain bin guys who we really don't need except on special teams.

What we do need is talent and the only way to get more talent is to give up underperforming talent and sacrificing some talent that is a bit painful to part with (like Jano and Shane Lechler for example).  Maybe Reggie's  logic with not seeking to trade Darren McFadden is because McF is probably the team's best caliber athlete. One more year of McFadden (before he hits free agency) may be worth hanging onto instead of trying to backfill with an unknown quantity at RB. With so many other needs to fill, that thinking makes sense.

RB Taiwan Jones has not fit into the plans much. Mike Goodsen is a nice change of pace back. See, if we had a second round pick we could go after a guy like Eddie Lacy to potentially take over for a departed McFadden.

I would have to think they will go defense in the first round.  There really isn't a top 5 CB in the draft so maybe a DT or LB.

Wishful thinking is Carson Palmer retires. The problem is, who would replace him?  Unless they draft or trade for a QB, Terrelle Pryor is the logical choice to take the job. I can't see them replacing Palmer with a retread like Matt Leinart.

Of course, we know Dennis Allen (and perhaps Reggie as well) is not a fan of Pryor's abilities. He has seen very little action and was not even suited up most game days.  Not developing Pryor at all is a mistake. No need to look further than across the bay to see what a dual threat guy with a big arm can do for you.

We need a mobile QB.  In my fantasy GM role, Dennis Allen is forced to play Pryor so we can develop his talent.  Bring in a guy like Vince Young in on the cheap to mentor him.  Yes, that Vince Young,  At this point a humbled and hopefully more mature Vince Young will do a lot more good for Terrelle than a washed up Carson Palmer.  Heck, bring in Michael Vick too if he is available as a backup on the cheap.

I have read where Mark Davis is possibly seeking an executive for McKenzie to report to instead of Davis directly.  This would help offset Mark's need for oversight.  Mark has already said judging football talent is not his strength.  With McKenzie firing blanks thus far, a football executive, like a VP or something to be Mark's eyes and ears would be a benefit - if Mark found the right person to fill that niche. That is a wait and see item but I like it as far as Mark Davis making strategic moves to build an infrastructure where none previously existed in the front office except Al's yes men.

Right now, I sense McKenzie and Allen are on thin ice and can be considered lame ducks if the team starts slow next season.  A losing record all but assures them an exit pass.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Reggie's Comments are Out of Whack

Like most of you I tend to read what local beat writers have to say about the Raiders.  A recent piece by Vic Tafur on caught my attention.  I could not believe what Reggie McKenzie said regarding Dennis Allen's handling of the Zone Blocking System.

“I was proud the way he identified the issues and attacked them,’’ he said. “He didn’t just continue to run this (zone-blocking) offense … He stood up and said, ‘OK, we’re going to make a change.”

When exactly did the Raiders stop using the ZBS?  After the season ended? Firing Greg Knapp solves only part of the problem.  So how exactly did DA attack this issue and solve it if both Reggie and Dennis Allen were behind the ZBS?

What you are really saying Reggie, is that it took you guys all season to figure out the ZBS was a mistake.  You are supposed to be the football expert at Raiders HQ.  You were hired to understand the team's personnel, hire a head coach and sign off on a coaching staff that would match up a strategy that suits the talent on the roster.  Yea we get the need to build for the future but also, make decisions based on the present.

Why did you hire Dennis Allen if it's ok to not understand our flagship running back is not suited for the ZBS before the season even started?  Did you not see that he was successful without it?  You were hired, Reggie old pal, to make that analysis when you were hired, not after a blown season.

Proud of Dennis Allen?  Ok, coaching in the NFL is a hard job and the guy is a rookie head coach.  BUT, if all the guy brings is his faith, a choir boy mentality and ZERO personality (you know, not the kind of personality that players can step up and really want to play for) then what justifies bringing in Allen at all?

We understand the franchise is in deficit spending mode, the salary cap situation forbids us from loading up on talent and replacing dead wood like Carson Palmer. But please, Reggie old pal, get it straight on how this team should be led.  If this is a 5 year plan then maybe DA will pan out.  Right now, this is looking like a crash and burn for another season.  That is something the Raider Nation does not deserve.

Darren McFadden is going to walk away after the 2013 season when he is a free agent.  Why keep him if he clearly does not want to be here and we need the draft picks or at least comparable talent in a trade?

Step up to the plate Reggie.  It's your move in the house of cards on Harbor Bay Parkway.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Oakland Raiders Defense Needs a Major Overhaul

In case you missed it, Stanford football had a good year, losing only two games and winning the Rose Bowl. This was not in small part due to an excellent defense which at times looked dominating. If not for a letdown at Washington and a close call against Notre Dame, Stanford may have had a shot to play for a National Championship.  Had they been undefeated, their signature win over Oregon would have pushed them into the top 2 or 3.

Jason Tarver was defensive coordinator at Stanford in 2011 and helped build that excellent defense.  However, as Oakland Raiders Defensive Coordinator, he was less than spectacular in 2012.  Granted, the personnel on defense wasn't much to work with but it still falls on the DC to have something to show for your efforts overall.

Offensive Coordinator Greg Knapp had little to show for his efforts too and he was fired along with the offensive line coach AND linbebackers coach Johnny Holland.

So why would the LB coach be asked to leave and not the DC?  Was it Holland's fault Rolando McClain is a washout?  That Travis Goethel couldn't stay healthy (what else is new?)?   That Miles Burris was better suited on the outside than in the middle?  That there was no one else capable of playing MLB?

Somehow Tarver survived the purge but he won't be so lucky if the Raiders tank next season like they did in 2012.  Dennis Allen will be first out the door, followed closely by Tarver and possibly GM Reggie McKenzie.

The bottom line is Tarver is in the situation where he must make lemonade out of lemons. The Raiders front office has to help him out by swinging deals to bring in talent on defense. They must also draft superbly well and reel in quality free agents.

Let's look at the almost empty shelf that currently makes up the Raiders woeful defense.

The defensive line was once a Raiders strength but has pretty much deteriorated when Richard Seymour's arthritis or his knees or hamstring or whatever, made him a very expensive benchwarmer.  Seymour likely is now gone.  It is debatable whether Andre Carter has anything left to be an adequate replacement.  Probably not.

Matt Shaughnessy is now a free agent.  He never fulfilled the great promise he showed as a rookie, partially due to injuries.

The Raiders' best DL, Lamarr Houston will be heading into the final year of his contract in 2013 making a mere $575.000.  His agent is Drew Rosenhaus.  If Houston has another good season we can expect Houston/Rosenhaus to tell the Raiders to show him the money. We all know what that means.  Good luck keeping him around.

DL David Tollefson was barely part of the action as was rookie DL Jack Crawford.  DL Desmond Bryant is a FA and may not be invited back.

If nothing else, DL Tommy Kelly has proven he is not slacking off just because he's already been paid double digit millions.

OLB Phillip Wheeler is a bright spot.  You can look at OLB Miles Burris as a bright spot too if you want. To me he looked like a rookie and was beaten as often as he made plays.  Though he tallied a lot of tackles, it didn't really amount to much. He may not even win a starting OLB position on a team with better depth.

Journeyman LB Omar Gaither will be lucky to stick around and we can be sure Rolando McClain is going to be shopped around as trade bait.

Michael Huff is on the back side of his career but we can expect him to return.  He was awarded a 4 year 32 million dollar contract n 2011 that he is still lazily making his way through.  He's not the CB or Free Safety we need.

Our cornerbacks are pedestrian:  Brandian Ross, Coye Francies, Phillip Adams, Joselio Hanson are all bargain bin types. It's like the dollar store. You'll get usable merchandise in a pinch but is it really what you want?

The only guy worth keeping is FS Matt Giordano.  He's a playmaker and so is Tyvon Branch though he took a step back in 2012. Branch whiffed on tackles and basically looks a little shopworn, like a boxer that has taken too many hits to the head. NFL players do not have a long shelf life normally and Branch's body has taken a lot of abuse at Strong Safety lined up in the box.  He's not the force he was two+ years ago.  No, Mike Mitchell is not the answer either at SS.

Adding more bargain bin guys is not going to cut it.  Reggie McKenzie needs to pull off some good trades to rebuild this defense in a hurry.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ok, Greg Knapp is Fired. Now What?

As it stands today, the Oakland Raiders are a non-team, completely irrelevant and without proven leadership that can carry out a successful rebuilding phase.

Dennis Allen is still a rookie head coach and he has done very little (if anything) worthy of praise in year one. In fact, as Owner Mark Davis stated, the team's performance regressed from early season promise. This includes the coaching.  Allen should resign but that is rare for a coach to give up voluntarily.  He is still under contract and so is GM Reggie McKenzie.  They will be given at least one more season to perform as an NFL caliber team.

The brain trust of Mark Davis and unofficial consultant, John Madden, are guiding the ship.  It's just not good business sense to turn over the GM and head coaching posts so soon.

The problem facing the franchise in 2013 will be finding enough talented players to make a difference from 2012.  They need to unload underperforming, over-priced guys like Darren McFadden and Carson Palmer, see if they can acquire additional draft picks, trades, anything to start filling gaps, especially on defense.

We all know how bad an OC Greg Knapp was. However, he cannot be blamed entirely for the team's offensive failures.  The firing of the OL coach indicates they are going to place a premium on that area in the forthcoming rebuilding.  They need to keep whoever they have at QB, upright.  

Unless Palmer agrees to a massive pay cut, they are surely going to try and trade him.  The problem is his massive contract will make that difficult to do, especially considering the beating he has taken thus far in his career. He's a very expensive liability for any team.

It remains to be seen if Matt Leinart will be with the team in 2013 with a contract renewal. Terrelle Pryor is still under contract but he's not that expensive.  Maybe they will give him a chance to earn his keep but he doesn't seem to have the qualities of a number one guy just yet.  Neither does Leinart or a washed up Carson Palmer.

The bottom line is if the Raiders select a QB with their first round pick in the draft, that is a lot of salary overhead to invest at QB position.  The problem is the Raiders don't have a pick in every round in 2013. Look for McKenzie to select the best OL on the board in round one and swing deals to try and land the best QB available and load up on defense with the rest of whatever picks he can get.

That is unless there are some trades between now and April.

Darren McFadden has already been paid the bulk of his massive contract. He has one year remaining at a "measly" six million. This is the best time to trade him for some draft picks or for talent at other positions. Each year he has shown ability but he has never been consistent.  The Raiders need the draft picks.  It's that simple.  Finding serviceable running backs like Mike Goodson to replace McFadden is achievable in the draft and free agency. McFadden should be used as trade bait.

It sounds crazy considering how reliable Sebastian Janikowski has become, but with one year remaining on his contract, he would bring in good trade value.  It will be interesting to see if they hang on to Jano or try to trade him.  Can they find another reliable PK?  Probably not as money as Jano but what is the trade off?  A shitty defense for another season because the team can't rebuild with just draft and free agency?

Shane Lechler is a free agent.  Doubtful they will re-sign him for big money with so many pressing needs elsewhere. Maybe he will re-sign for a reasonable salary.  Same for Richard Seymour even though he seemed disinterested to be a Raider last season.

If the Raiders can head into Spring OTAs and mini-camp with a QB who has solid credentials (whose name is not Carson Palmer); an improved offensive line; a handful of good running backs and receivers; a rebuilt defense from stem to stern, then there is good reason for optimism in 2013.