2014 Wrap-up  

Oakland Raiders (credit: justblogbaby.com)

Owner Mark Davis was looking for more out of the 2014 season.  Late in 2013, he said that 2013 marked the end of a two-year deconstruction phase of a team that went 8-8 in 2011.  Last spring, the Raiders led the NFL in available salary cap space and signed (or traded for) a large contingent of veteran players. Some like OT Donald Penn, DC Carlos Rogers, DT Antonio Smith, DE Justin Tuck, DB Charles Woodson, and DB Usama Young were functional within a role.  The remaining transactions - OL Kevin Boothe, DC Tarell Brown, OL Austin Howard, WR James Jones, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, RB Darren McFadden, QB Matt Schaub, DE LaMarr Woodley - did not make the desired impact.

This spending spree led Davis to believe that 2014 should show a positive change for the team, but he was clearly disappointed in the 0-4 start to the season, as the team parted ways with Head Coach Dennis Allen before the bye week, placing the interim head coach tag on OL coach Tony Sparano.  Sparano’s Raiders did not fare better over the next 6 weeks, as the team opened 0-10 for the season. 

Things began to turn around on November 20th as the team posted its first win with a home victory over division rival Kansas City, which ended a 16 game losing streak for Oakland.  Rookie QB Derek Carr led the team on a 17 play, game-winning scoring drive, hitting WR James Jones for a 9 yard TD pass with 1:42 remaining to win the game.  In addition to Carr’s successes, the Raiders were fueled by 112 yards and 2 TDs from RB Latavius Murray who was just beginning to earn more time in the Oakland backfield. 

The Raiders finished up 3-3 down the stretch which led players like Tuck, Antonio Smith, and Donald Penn to push for the interim tag to be removed from Sparano.  Some felt that Sparano had a good shot at landing the permanent job as he worked to build a relationship with Mark Davis.  That was critical as Davis said he never felt a connection to Dennis Allen after not being involved in the search process that ultimately put Allen in the big chair.  


2015 Coaching Changes

The Raiders are our first team to undergo a full coaching change from the Head Coach on down.  This immediately adjusts how players will be viewed internally as relationships between players and coaches, along with schematic changes will impact who stays and who goes.

By firing Allen late in September, Oakland was the first team to fire a Head Coach in 2014.  They did not hold formal interviews until after the season and the Owner and General Manager Reggie McKenzie took a divide and conquer strategy to the process.  Davis explained the process this way:

“The process that we went through is there was a wide net. I did about seven people and Reggie did about five or six. In order to do that in a short amount of time, we had to split up. When it came down to it I had one person I felt should be the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Reggie had somebody he wanted me to talk to for a second time and that was coach Sparano.” “Nobody else really got to the stage of a second interview. After we had the interview with Jack for the second time, Reggie and I went back and talked for about an hour. We fully agreed on it. It was simple. I believe he’s [Jack Del Rio] right for the Raiders right now. I think he is the guy, and he understands us.”

With former Jaguars Head Coach and Broncos Defensive Coordinator, Jack Del Rio in place, the first order of business was to put the offensive coaching staff in place.  Del Rio tabbed former Eagles QB coach Bill Musgrave at OC, former Falcons OL coach and Vikings Head Coach Mike Tice as OL coach, former Lions Assistant OL coach Bobby Johnson as TE coach, former Chiefs TE coach Bernie Parmalee as RB coach, former Bills WR Rob Moore as WR coach, and former Bills QB coach Todd Downing to the same position.  

The question will be what system will Musgrave leverage in Oakland?  When he took over as the Offensive Coordinator in Minnesota under Leslie Frazier, the same questions were posed.  He has worked under Mike Shanahan, Mike Mularkey, and Chip Kelly, feels strongly that typical West Coast verbiage is too much and likes a streamlined system with easy to learn formations so players can be fast.  Instead, Musgrave typically leverages language from the Ron Erhardt system. He talks positively about West Coast passing concepts, the formations and protections that Mularkey brought from Pittsburgh, and a run game that leverages the strengths of the players on the roster.  This would seem to mean that Oakland will remain more of a Gap scheme team, leveraging their current players’ strengths and those of new OL coach Mike Tice.  Musgrave explained that he does believe in running the ball and that he learned quite a bit about how to tailor a system to his players during his year in Philadelphia.  Musgrave has a history with QB development, and his work with Matt Schaub at Virginia and Matt Ryan in Atlanta was a big piece of him landing the Vikings OC gig.  Musgrave prepared two starters last year with the Eagles and seems excited to work with Derek Carr.

On the defensive side of the ball, Del Rio certainly brings his own brand and style, but has also surrounded himself with an eclectic group of coaches.  This starts with former Seahawks LB coach Ken Norton Jr as Defensive Coordinator.  Then Del Rio reached into the college ranks for former Miami (FL) DL coach Jethro Franklin and former Florida State LB coach Sal Sunseri to the same positions with Oakland.  Finally, he dipped back into the Raiders well for DB Marcus Robertson and Rod Woodson as DB coaches.  

Del Rio and Norton have a history that dates back to their time as LBs for the Cowboys and early indications are that while both men will work on the gameplans, but that Norton will call the plays.  Norton will be a first time playcaller and Defensive Coordinator, but explains that Pete Carroll has been preparing him, along with the other members of the staff, to be coordinators and Head Coaches.  He wants to bring the aggressive, proactive elements of the Seahawks defense to Oakland and has already highlighted Khalil Mack as a player who will do a great job in the SAM position that Bruce Irvin fills in Seattle.  When you combine that with what Del Rio got out of Von Miller from a similar standpoint in Denver, the future looks bright for Mack.  Now while the base defense and fronts in general will be multiple and leverage the personnel accordingly, the biggest remaining question is what will Oakland be looking for in the secondary from a coverage perspective? This will drive much of their defensive decision making.


2015 Roster Changes (as of 3/6/2015)

The biggest changes to the roster have been at the Safety position where the team resigned Charles Woodson to a 1 year deal on January 25th which on paper gave them stability there with the potential healthy return of Tyvon Branch.  Unfortunately, that will not be the Raiders’ plan, as they released Branch on March 3rd, saving around $3.0M in cap space.  I am less sure of what the longer term plan will be at the position.  They could resign RFA Brandian Ross, but he does not bring the same elements to the defense that Branch does when healthy.

The next major consideration is the current roster's health.  The team released MLB Nick Roach (post-concussion symptoms) and DB Usama Young’s (ACL/MCL tears) were released with the Failed Physical designation on March 6th.  LB Sio Moore is dealing with a hip injury and RB Kory Sheets Achilles’ injury may limit them at the beginning of training camp.  Finally, DE Lamarr Woodley should return from his biceps injury by OTAs, but he is rumored to be a potential cap cut and is not the only one.  The team is also rumored to be considering the release of QB Matt Schaub.  They were also considering releasing RB Maurice Jones-Drew, however, Jones-Drew beat them to the punch by retiring. Furthermore, between the relationship between Musgrave and Schaub and the importance of the backup QB (see NYJ, HOU, TEN, PHI, WAS, ARI, and STL), I would imagine the Raiders find some way to keep their backup QB around

With a projected $55.4M available in 2015 Cap Space, the Raiders will need to decide on what to do with their own free agents which include:

UFAs: TE David Ausberry, DC Tarell Brown, WR Vincent Brown, RB Darren McFadden, WR Denarius Moore, DC Carlos Rogers, DT Pat Sims, DT CJ Wilson, C Stefan Wisniewski

RFAs: DS Larry Asante, DC Chimdi Chekwa, WR Andre Holmes, P Marquette King, DC Brandian Ross, RB Kory Sheets, WR Rod Streater

ERFAs: DE Denico Autry, TE Brian Leonhardt, OT Matt McCants, FB Jamize Olawale, DS Neiko Thorpe

Let’s take a position by position look at the Oakland roster. Positions are ordered by overall need.