This is my Friday column on the Raiders. 49ers fans — feel free to skip this.
I wrote off the Raiders 15 minutes after free agency began, wrote them off as soon as general manager Reggie McKenzie let franchise left tackle, Jared Veldheer, sign with the Cardinals. The Raiders will be lucky to win five games next season, I wrote.
Since then, the Raiders have signed 11 new starters. All but one are older than 28. McKenzie is building a win-now team. Think about that. He is not building for the long term. He wants to win now.
Let’s try to see things from his perspective.
He signed a quarterback, Matt Schaub, who is six months younger than Eli Manning. Like Manning, Schaub was a Pro Bowler in 2012. Like Manning, Schaub stunk in 2013. His passer rating was 73 – awful, but not as awful as Manning’s, which was 69.2.
Schaub’s 89.8 career passer rating actually is much better than Manning’s, which is 81.2.
Here’s the thing.
Schaub may have the football equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder. In four-consecutive games last season, he threw an interception that got returned for a touchdown. An NFL first. If you type into Google, “How many pick sixes,” Google assumes you’re asking about Schaub. “How many pick sixes has Schaub thrown,” pops up on your screen.
The Pick-Six King.
If he can overcome that stigma and stop throwing touchdowns to the other team, the Raiders have a puncher’s chance this season.
McKenzie signed three new starting offensive linemen – Donald Penn, Kevin Boothe and Austin Howard – three new starting defensive linemen – Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith and LaMarr Woodley – and two new starting cornerbacks – Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, former 49ers. Those three position groups should be strengths for the Raiders next season.
McKenzie signed a running back, too. Maurice Jones-Drew, who is two years younger than Frank Gore, and has 509 fewer carries. In 2011, Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing yards despite playing for the Jaguars, a team that finished 5-11.
McKenzie also signed a wide receiver, James Jones, who led the NFL in touchdown catches two seasons ago.
Here’s the thing.
The Raiders have the most difficult schedule in the NFL next season. They play the 49ers, Seahawks, Cardinals and Patriots, for starters. The Raiders also play in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, the AFC West. All three of the Raiders’ division opponents – the Broncos, Chiefs and Chargers – made the playoffs last season. And even though the Raiders have improved this offseason, so have the Broncos, Chiefs and Chargers.
The Raiders could win seven games if Schaub and Jones-Drew bounce back and the rest of the old guys stay healthy. Are seven wins enough for the Raiders to climb out of the AFC West basement?
The Raiders may be more competitive than last season, may even come close to doubling last season’s win total, which was four. But if the Raiders yet again finish dead-last in the division, who cares how much they improved?
Remember, it’s a win-now roster. McKenzie went all in. If he were building a team for the future, then improvement would be an appropriate metric to judge the Raiders by. But none of the 11 starters McKenzie signed this offseason is a young, franchise player whom the Raiders can build around for the next five seasons. McKenzie mostly signed players who are on the downsides of their careers. Veldheer was a young, improving, franchise left tackle, but McKenzie inexplicably let him go.
To justify all of McKenzie’s moves, the Raiders have to make the playoffs next season. Make the playoffs, or you’re fired, Reggie.
Here’s the thing.
That’s how things would work in the real world. The Raiders may not be in the real world.
Mark Davis, the owner, actually might be satisfied with 7-9, even from this win-now roster. I can understand why. Firing McKenzie and bringing in a new GM would mean more roster adjustments, more rebuilding, starting over yet again. The Raiders probably would get worse before they get better.
How much more losing can Davis stomach? During his three seasons as the owner, the Raiders have lost 32 games. Embarrassing. Competitive must sound dandy to Davis right now. Seven wins might just save Reggie and coach Dennis Allen. They have different standards in Raiders World.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.