As teams get mathematically eliminated from the NFL playoffs, we’ll give you a jump on their offseason by examining what went right, what went wrong and what needs to change before next season.
The Raiders probably figured they’d pick up where they left off when Derek Carr broke his leg late last season, but it didn’t happen that way. The Raiders started 2-0 and looked fine, then struggled badly in a loss to the Redskins in Week 3. That started a four-game losing streak, and Oakland never really recovered after that. The offense was surprisingly mediocre and the defense wasn’t good either.
What went right: Marshawn Lynch’s return wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry and had seven touchdowns, although he likely won’t reach 1,000 yards rushing on the season. Still, you’d have to say it was a successful return out of retirement for Lynch. Khalil Mack was good again with 10.5 sacks in the Raiders’ first 15 games, and he got some much-needed help from Bruce Irvin and his 7.5 sacks. End Denico Autry also had a nice season. He had five sacks.
What went wrong: We’ll talk about Derek Carr in a bit. The most troubling development of the season was probably Amari Cooper’s disappearance. Cooper had a great 210-yard game against the Chiefs, and 355 yards in all the other games combined through Week 16. He had games of 6, 9, 8, 9 and 0 yards this season. It was an amazing slide for a player who made Pro Bowls his first two seasons. Cooper wasn’t the only one who slumped. Nobody, aside from perhaps Mack and some offensive linemen (three made the Pro Bowl), had a big season for the Raiders. No receiver averaged more than 50 yards per game. Lynch won’t crack 1,000 yards. It was overall a huge disappointment.
Will the coach be back?: Jack Del Rio is an interesting case. He led the Raiders to a fantastic season just a year ago. Everything was worse in 2017. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton was fired in midseason, and the players didn’t seem to like that. Offensive coordinator Todd Downing, who took over after Bill Musgrave surprisingly wasn’t retained, is under fire after a bad season. It’s possible the Raiders force Del Rio to replace a lot of assistants but keep him, though that generally isn’t a path that works out well. Or, they might just fire Del Rio and start again. Hard to say. I’d keep Del Rio, but patience is in short supply in the NFL.
Do they have a quarterback?: Many have said Derek Carr is overrated, and even though he had a down season, I still believe he’s a fine quarterback. But make no mistake, this season was a disappointment. You have to wonder how an early-season injury, when he fractured some transverse processes in his back, affected him. He returned after missing just one game. This was a lost year for Carr. He threw twice as many interceptions as last season and going into Week 17 his passer rating was more than 10 points off last year’s mark. But I still think he is a quality quarterback. The tools are there.
Quick free agent fix: Derek Carr’s massive deal pushes the Raiders to the bottom 12 in projected cap room for 2018, according to Spotrac. So there won’t be any major splash. One area that could use some help is inside linebacker. That has been a major problem for the Raiders (they probably regret passing Reuben Foster), though NaVorro Bowman was a good midseason addition. He was lauded for his leadership, and played pretty well. He’s on a one-year deal, and bringing him back would be a good move for the Raiders. If he leaves, a veteran like Zach Brown or Demario Davis shouldn’t cost too much. But Oakland can’t try to patch it together at that position again, like they were before Bowman.
Quick draft fix: Cornerback Gareon Conley, the team’s 2017 first-round pick, had a terrible rookie season. He was injured most of the season, and played just two games. It might be tough to trust him as a projected starter for 2018. Therefore, it seems like cornerback should be a priority again. If Conley plays like the Raiders figured he would this season, that’s a great bonus. You can’t have too many good corners. It’s not a great draft for corners, but maybe that opens up an opportunity for the Raiders to trade down a bit and draft someone like Iowa’s Joshua Jackson. And perhaps they can use one of the mid-round picks they acquire on a running back who can be a long-term starter.
Give it to me straight, can my team make the playoffs in 2018?: The Raiders have to figure out exactly why their offense cratered. Was Amari Cooper hurt? Was Derek Carr held back by a coordinator who wasn’t ready for the job? You can pretty easily talk yourself into a Raiders rebound. They have a very good offensive line, a quarterback who has played well and some good receiving targets for him. In Khalil Mack they have one of the best defensive players in football, and some other players emerged around him. The Raiders have to figure out what to do with the coaching staff, but if they find the right answers there, I could see them competing for an AFC West title next season. It was a terrible, disappointing season but there are still reasons for hope.
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