The NFL season is approaching and Shutdown Corner is previewing all 32 teams, counting down our power rankings with one team a day until No. 1 is unveiled on Aug. 4, when the preseason kicks off with the Hall of Fame Game in Canton. Go to our Facebook page after you read the preview for all airing of grievances; we’ll have a daily discussion there to go with each preview.
The Oakland Raiders had a quiet offseason, which is exactly what they needed.
They didn't fire their coach, they didn't make any crazy trades, they didn't sign any big-name free agents. They even moved down in the first round of the draft, a prudent move for general manager Reggie McKenzie.
The Raiders are bad, have been for most of the last decade, but at least they recognize there's a problem. No more mortgaging the future to get aging defensive linemen or quarterbacks who haven't been good since 2007.
McKenzie is building slowly, and it will take some time (not that he had much choice, with almost $50 million in dead money on the cap). This year will be tough for Oakland. But it's not about this year for the Raiders, for a change.
Is the roster better, worse or about the same?: Sadly, probably worse. Quarterback Carson Palmer, longtime punter Shane Lechler, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, safety Michael Huff, defensive linemen Tommy Kelly, Matt Shaughnessy and Richard Seymour, tight end Brandon Myers and linebacker Philip Wheeler are gone. Some of those players were overpaid, overdrafted, past their prime – in some cases all of the above – but it's hard to say the Raiders are better off without all of them.
Best offseason acquisition: With an absurd amount of the cap being used on players no longer on the roster, there wasn't much Oakland could do. Linebacker Kevin Burnett had a good 2012 for the Dolphins, finishing fourth among 4-3 outside linebackers in Pro Football Focus' rankings, and the Raiders got him for a modest two-year deal worth $5.25 million. Those are the type of low-risk contracts the Raiders loaded up on this offseason. At least they didn't tie themselves into huge deals and have flexibility going forward.
Biggest hole on the roster: There are a lot of problem areas, so let's just pick the entire defensive front seven as a hole. LaMarr Houston is a really good end, but the rest is a project. It's hard to figure out where the pass rush will come from. Perhaps rookie linebacker Sio Moore plays well, Nick Roach thrives in a regular role, Burnett keeps playing well and the Raiders have some pieces to build around in the offseason.
Position in flux: The Raiders have a few options at quarterback, and they're hoping one hits. They traded for Matt Flynn (who has put forth two great games in his two NFL starts but couldn't beat out Russell Wilson in Seattle last year), drafted intriguing rookie Tyler Wilson and still have the incredibly athletic Terrelle Pryor. This will be a legitimate camp battle. The best guess is Flynn gets a shot and fares reasonably well, but the team is still intrigued enough to give the talented Wilson a look so it can have some clarity on its quarterback situation going into next year's quarterback-rich draft.
Player you might not have heard of yet, but will soon: Someone has to catch balls for Oakland without Heyward-Bey and Myers around anymore. Rod Streater could take a step forward. He was raw as a pass catcher coming out of Temple but the undrafted rookie had a promising 2012, especially when he had games of 96, 100, 62 and 77 yards in Oakland's last five games.
Stat fact: The Raiders could have a mind-blowing nine new defensive starters (safety Tyvon Branch and Houston are the only holdovers guaranteed a job this year), including new safety Charles Woodson, who is back wearing the silver and black.
This team’s best-case scenario for this season is: Winning the Jadeveon Clowney sweepstakes. Bottoming out and getting the first pick in 2014 is fine, as long as the Raiders find some young players to build around during a rebuilding season. Figuring out the quarterback situation would be nice, too (and allow them to not be tempted by a quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater if once-in-a-generation end Clowney is on the board). Getting a good season out of the draft class, and especially a healthy year out of cornerback D.J. Hayden, the first-round rookie coming off a horrific accident and heart surgery, would be a positive.
And here’s the nightmare scenario: Owner Mark Davis freaks out when the Raiders are predictably bad. A shakeup now would be awful and set the franchise back. McKenzie needs time to build the roster. While Davis' firing of PR head Zak Gilbert might seem like a minor thing, Raiders fans better hope that isn't a red flag that Davis is going to have knee-jerk reactions about other things. It would also be bad if all three quarterbacks stink, Hayden isn't healthy (abdominal surgery in May is a red flag), receiver Denarius Moore continues to stagnate ... well, there are a lot of things that could go wrong, let's just say.
The player who could swing this team’s season one way or another: Darren McFadden is probably the most talented player on the roster. He has been great when healthy, but he has spent his NFL career masquerading as Mr. Glass. Even more alarming is that he wasn't very good when healthy last year. The Raiders scrapped the zone-blocking scheme that McFadden struggled in and are moving back to a power-running scheme. It's all moot if McFadden can't stay healthy, and the Raiders offense without McFadden could be frighteningly bad.
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