The time for excuses for the Oakland Raiders is over.
After spending two years tearing apart a struggling team beset by bad draft picks and out-of-whack contracts, general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen finally got the chance to build the type of team they wanted since coming aboard before the 2012 season.
Two years of bargain-basement shopping led to back-to-back four-win seasons that left the fan base and owner Mark Davis frustrated. McKenzie was able to open the wallet this offseason, committing to more than $100 million worth of contracts for new players in trades and free agency in hopes of ending an 11-year playoff drought.
“What’s been done here in the past is unacceptable and we need to begin to win some football games,” Allen said. “We’re all in on that philosophy and that’s kind of our attitude.”
The Raiders used most of that money this offseason on short-term contracts for aging players with a history of success in the NFL, guys with questions about whether they would still be able to reach those levels at advanced ages.
There has been a notable impact on the team’s mindset already after adding players such as Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Maurice Jones-Drew and James Jones.
“This year we have that sense of urgency here,” said fullback Marcel Reece, one of three Raiders position players who have been with the franchise since 2008. “There’s more veteran leadership on both sides of the ball. It’s encouraging to have a group of guys around you that have the same sense of urgency.”
Whether that translates to more success on the field will depend heavily on the performance of quarterback Matt Schaub, slated to be Oakland’s 18th starting quarterback since 2003. Schaub was run out of Houston after last season when he set an NFL record by having an interception returned for a touchdown in four straight games.
Despite a rocky preseason and a sore throwing elbow, the Raiders believe Schaub can solidify the revolving door at quarterback and once again be the player who posted five straight seasons with a passer rating above 90.
“You can’t make it anywhere in this game without having confidence through the roof,” Schaub said. “You’re going to go through ups and downs as a player. It’s how you bounce back from it.”
Here are some things to watch with the Raiders this season:
SHINY NEW CARR: Even before Schaub took his first snap in Oakland, the Raiders drafted his replacement when they picked Derek Carr out of Fresno State. Carr has a stronger arm and is a better athlete than Schaub. He could take over the job sooner than expected if Schaub struggles to start the season or is hampered by a sore throwing elbow that forced him to miss some practice time. Carr still must show he can stand in against NFL pass rushers and be as effective operating from under center as he was in the shotgun at Fresno State.
REVOLVING CORNER: For the third straight offseason, the Raiders brought in a pair of new starting cornerbacks. Oakland hopes Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers fare better than Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell in 2012, and Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter last season. Rogers was originally slated to be the nickel cornerback but moved into a starting role with last year’s top pick DJ Hayden still sidelined by a stress fracture in his right foot.
RUN TO DAYLIGHT: Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden are coming off rough seasons when both averaged less than 3.5 yards per carry. The two former 1,000-yard backs showed signs of resurgence this summer as both were in good health and tiptop shape. With a big offensive line suited to a power running game, Jones-Drew and McFadden are set up to have strong seasons that could take pressure off the passing game.
MIGHTY MACK: No. 5 overall pick Khalil Mack gives the Raiders a potential impact pass rusher they have lacked in recent seasons. Mack is still learning the pro game but has shown the strength and athleticism to get to the quarterback. With the additions of Tuck, Woodley and Antonio Smith on the defensive line, the Raiders might not need to rely as heavily on blitzes last year, which should help shore up a suspect secondary.
HOME SWEET HOME: The Raiders are playing this season with a one-year lease at the dilapidated Oakland Coliseum. Davis has said he is not interested in another short-term lease and wants to get a deal for a new stadium in Oakland before committing to stay here. Davis has already met with city leaders in San Antonio and also has interest in moving the team back to Los Angeles if no deal is reached in Oakland.