Given the (over) reaction by some, you would have thought DE Lamarr Woodley had declared that the Oakland Raiders were the best team in football. Or that he had maybe guaranteed a Super Bowl win.
Given the amount of attention and scrutiny his comments made during an interview on a local radio program received in some quarters, you would have thought Woodley said something more controversial than simply stating his belief that the Raiders are a playoff-caliber team this year.
We’re sort of in a dead zone when it comes to solid, reliable information right now. There isn’t much really going on in the NFL, and there really are only so many ways to spin the Donald Sterling story. So, with the draft still a week away, and lacking any actual football-related news to report on, folks seem to be grasping at straws in an effort to manufacture some headlines or generate some more page views.
Certainly, Woodley’s comments didn’t seem anywhere near “controversial” enough to merit the level of attentions they’ve received.
To be frank, asking Woodley about his hopes and expectations for his first season in Silver and Black was a stupid question to begin with. What did they expect him to say? That he didn’t think the Raiders would be competitive this season? That they’d finish under .500 and miss the playoffs yet again? Woodley took to his Twitter feed and expressed his annoyance as this (non) story about his audacious remarks gained some traction in certain sectors.
In most of the discussions about Woodley’s playoff comments during his radio interview, one of his most salient points about last season’s Raiders’ squad somehow got lost in the shuffle:
Last year, going back and watching some film on the Raiders, there were a lot of opportunities here where they just didn’t close it out. Some games good in the first half, they just didn’t close it out at the end of the game. So now we just have to learn how to close out games, and it’ll be more wins than losses.
And it’s a fair point. The Raiders were competitive in a number of games, and second-half collapses doomed them to double-digit losses again. If, as Woodley says, last season’s squad knew how to close out games, the Raiders may have finished with a much better record than they did.
Some are suggesting that Woodley is merely being a professional and saying all of the right things about his new team. They suggest that his statements about the Raiders being playoff contenders may not be 100 percent sincere, and that as a newly-signed free agent, he’s putting the most positive spin on the situation as he can.
But Woodley could have signed in a number of other places. He didn’t have to come to Oakland, but he chose to do so. Could it be because he buys into GM Reggie McKenzie‘s vision for the franchise? Could Woodley have looked at McKenzie’s offseason moves, saw him bring in players like himself, Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith, Tarrell Brown, and Carlos Rogers — proven playmakers who know how to close out games — and liked what he was seeing?
Could he have seen McKenzie bring in veteran players like Matt Schaub, James Jones, and Maurice Jones-Drew and knew the offense would be steadier and far more productive than it had been in some time? Could he have looked at everything and wanted to be a part of it?
Yes, some things would need to break right, and some players would need to have bounce-back years for the Raiders to make the playoffs. But given that they were better than their 4-12 record indicated last season and have significantly improved their roster over the course of the offseason — and of course, with parity being what it is in the NFL — Woodley’s comments don’t actually seem so outlandish.
If the Raiders can play to their potential, they are going to make Woodley look like a very smart man.