Despite an offseason in which they’ve vastly upgraded the talent on their roster, most people still don’t seem to be giving the Oakland Raiders much of a chance to be competitive in 2014. The Vegas oddsmakers certainly don’t think much of the new-look Raiders, giving them the league’s second worst odds — behind only the Jacksonville Jaguars in fact — to win the Super Bowl.
We obviously shouldn’t get crazy and anoint the Raiders as the best team in the league and the soon-to-be world champs — frankly, everybody is going to have a very difficult time dethroning the Seattle Seahawks. And we probably shouldn’t even say Oakland is going to win their division. But given their offseason moves, and the players they’ve brought in, the Raiders look well positioned to be far more competitive than anybody seems willing to believe. And all you have to do is look to Oakland’s colorful and storied history to see it.
The Raiders have a hard earned and well deserved reputation as the league’s misfits and outlaws. It’s an image that was crafted and carefully nurtured by Oakland’s late owner, Al Davis. He loved having that “renegade” and “maverick” label and did all he could to perpetuate it. Davis cultivated that image by taking in the league’s misfits and castoffs. He sought out the players with chips on their shoulders and something to prove — players like Jim Plunkett, Lyle Alzado and John Matuszak. Davis took that rogue’s gallery and mixed it with young draft talents like Howie Long, Marcus Allen and Lester Hayes. The mix of grizzled veterans and talented youngsters combined to help build the aura, mystique and swagger that used to be synonymous with the Raiders. They were one of the most intimidating and dominating teams in the NFL. And oh yeah, they also won a couple of Super Bowls.
But poor draft picks and ridiculously lavish contracts doled out to vastly overvalued players as Davis desperately chased another ring in vain has led to more than a decade of misery for the Raiders. And for their fans. Worse than that, they left the cupboards for the future absolutely bare.
Having been a part of the Raiders’ organization, it’s a history that GM Reggie McKenzie knows very well. And in charting the way forward, he’s looking to that past. He’s brought in the likes of Matt Schaub, Maurice Jones-Drew, James Jones, Justin Tuck, Lamarr Woodley, Antonio Smith, C.J. Wilson, Tarrell Brown and Carlos Rogers — players with some gas left in the tank, chips on their shoulders and a lot to prove to those who think they’re washed up and over the hill. Adding them to a nucleus of youngsters like Rod Streater, Andre Holmes, Menelik Watson, D.J. Hayden and Sio Moore, McKenzie is attempting to recapture the magic of those Raider teams of old.
The veterans McKenzie has brought to Oakland all know what it takes to win in the NFL and have a track record of success in the league. The Raiders need to learn how to win again, and McKenzie’s veteran additions will pass along those lessons to Oakland’s core of young playmakers. McKenzie has put the pieces in place for the franchise to have success now, and more importantly, down the line.
Nobody is saying the Raiders will win it all this season. But it would be foolish to take them as lightly as some seem to be taking them. If this team is able to play to their potential, if the veterans play to form and the youngsters step up, that mystique and swagger — not to mention, the wins — will return to Oakland. If they are able to put it all together, the Raiders will be a force to be reckoned with once again.