When Al Davis passed away, he left the franchise a wasteland – a boatload of bloated contracts, underperforming players, a roster lacking talent and very few draft picks or money with which to improve the club. When GM Reggie McKenzie took over, he was tasked with cleaning up the mess that All left behind. Two years of salary cap hell resulted in a talent-poor team that produced consecutive 4-12 seasons, which further cemented Oakland’s bottom feeder status in the minds of many.
But this offseason, armed with money to spend and a full slate of draft picks, McKenzie went to work and has reshaped the Raiders. He’s stocked the roster with proven winners, veteran leaders and young, explosive talent. The 2014 Raiders look like a far different, vastly superior team than any they’ve fielded since their Super Bowl run in 2002.
And yet, despite a very busy offseason in which they’ve improved their roster arguably, the Raiders still get absolutely zero respect. Illustrating that point is an article that recently appeared on MMQB in which writer Greg Bedard discussed whether or not the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – a team that also finished 4-12 in 2013 – will be able to win the NFL South this season. An NFC South that is home to a perennial power in the New Orleans Saints, an up and comer in the Carolina Panthers and an Atlanta Falcons squad that is rich in talent, and better than their 2013 record would indicate. It’s a tough division, but one Bedard thinks the Bucs can win.
While they didn’t haul in an Alterraun Verner or Michael Johnson, the Raiders put together a collection of talent that is one of the better free agent classes in football. They brought in veteran leaders like Justin Tuck, Matt Schaub, Maurice Jones-Drew, James Jones, LaMarr Woodley, Tarrell Brown, Carlos Rogers and Antonio Smith. Players with a history of success in the league to combine with their young, explosive talent like Khalil Mack, Rod Streater, Sio Moore, TJ Carrie and DJ Hayden. Oakland’s offseason was every bit as productive and successful as Tampa Bay’s, yet while writers like Bedard opine about the Bucs’ chances of winning a tough division, they think the Raiders being able to climb out of the cellar is a ludicrous proposition.
To underscore the point, Mike Wilkening of Pro Football Talk recently picked the Raiders to be the worst team in the NFL in his preseason power rankings. Despite the fact that a number of teams finished with the same – or worse – records than Oakland, Wilkening and others feel that the Raiders will be dead last in the league. That they’ll finish behind teams like the Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings, among others – teams whose offseason’s haven’t been nearly as good as Oakland’s, and have a number of serious questions that have yet to be answered.
And it all boils down to a matter of respect. Or rather, a lack of respect when it comes to the Raiders. It’s been so long since they’ve won anything, nobody believes them capable of it anymore.
It’s that perception, and that lack of respect that McKenzie and HC Dennis Allen are seeking to change. With a number of veterans who are seeking their own sort of redemption and respect, the Raiders are a vastly improved squad. They will be a much better team that is going to battle hard for the wins.