The Oakland Raiders haven't finished with a winning record since 2002 when they lost Super Bowl XXXVII to former coach Jon Gruden and the Bucs. Believe or not, that streak of non-winning years could end in 2015. Let's look at Oakland's offseason.
New Coaching Staff
Owner Mark Davis might have been sniffing some glue when he announced the hiring of new head coach Jack Del Rio in mid-January as he predicted Del Rio would bring the franchise championships as in plural. I suppose it's possible, although it's not happening this coming season. Was that a sexy hire like perhaps trading for Jim Harbaugh from that team across the Bay might have been? No, but Del Rio is a solid coach. He spent the past three seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Broncos. Prior to that he was head coach of the Jaguars, going 68-71. That may not sound great, but have you seen the Jaguars since Del Rio left? He also took the team to the playoffs twice.
It helped Del Rio's case to get the job as he had the backing of former Raiders coach and Hall of Famer John Madden. Del Rio beat out Tony Sparano, who did a solid job as the interim coach the final 12 games of last season after Dennis Allen was fired. Del Rio grew up in the East Bay Area, and his family is longtime Raiders season-ticket holders.
At worst, this should improve Oakland's defense, which was dead last in 2014 in allowing 28.3 points per game. The Broncos finished No. 3 in total defense last year under their new head coach. Del Rio hired Ken Norton as his defensive coordinator. Norton certainly has learned under one of the best, spending the past five years as linebackers coach with Seattle under Pete Carroll and six years before that as linebackers coach and assistant head coach under Carroll at USC. The Raiders job will be Norton’s first job with someone other than Carroll as his boss.
Crabtree Worth A Flier
I'm writing this story today about Oakland because the team announced the signing of former 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree, probably the biggest-name free agent left on the board. I like that deal because it's low risk and potentially high reward for just one year and $3 million with $2 million in incentives. Crabtree looked like a future All-Pro in 2012 when he blossomed once Coin Kaepernick took over as quarterback. Crabtree set career highs with 85 catches for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns. However, he tore his Achilles' tendon that offseason and hasn't been the same since. He played in only five games in 2013 and caught 19 passes for 284 yards and a TD. In 2014, foot injuries plagued him and Crabtree had 68 catches for 698 yards and five scores. His highest yardage total was 85, but remember that Kaepernick really struggled last season.
Crabtree now gets to catch passes from second-year QB Derek Carr, who really showed some good signs as a rookie. With all due respect to Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel, Carr was better than all those 2014 first-rounders (especially Manziel). Carr, a second-round pick, threw for 3,270 yards and 21 touchdowns while completing 58.1 percent of his passes despite having a pretty lousy group of receivers and almost no running game to speak of. The Raiders haven't had a receiver gain 1,000 yards since Randy Moss in 2005.
The Raiders pick No. 4 in the upcoming draft and many have them selecting either Alabama receiver Amari Cooper or West Virginia WR Kevin White. Suddenly what looked like a position of weakness could be vastly better with one of those rookies, returnee Andre Holmes and Crabtree. True, the team would have been better off with free agent receivers like Randall Cobb or Jeremy Maclin than Crabtree, but the Raiders couldn't lure either -- years of losing will do that.
Also, the team signed former Redskins running back Roy Helu and he's a good pass-catcher out of the backfield. The offensive line will be better with the addition of former Chiefs guard Rodney Hudson and maybe former Colts and Browns running back Trent Richardson can salvage his career as a backup to Latavius Murray. Norton's defense will have new additions such as defensive back Nate Allen (Eagles), tackle Dan Williams (Cardinals), and linebackers Curtis Lofton (Saints) and former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith (Seahawks), which makes this team worth considering when placing NFL picks.
Oakland is still a +5000 long shot on NFL odds to win the AFC title and any thoughts of the playoffs are at least a year away but nail this draft and maybe, just maybe, a winning record is possible this fall.