ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) – The meticulous rebuilding job in Oakland crashed as soon as quarterback Derek Carr broke his right leg in the penultimate game of the regular season.
Instead of thoughts of a Super Bowl, the Raiders lost a chance at the division and then their first playoff game in 14 years with a 27-14 loss to Houston on Saturday.
With most of the key pieces in place, now the Raiders hope having a healthy Carr will next season help them take another step toward a championship.
“Nobody wants to take one swing and hope that you have a magical year one time,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “I think you want to build your roster strong, build your team strong and build the culture strong so that what you’re able to put in and put together is a roster that can go out and compete at a championship level year after year. That’s what the goal is.”
The Raiders (12-5) seem in position to do that with a nucleus led by Carr, All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack , Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper and a stout offensive line headed by Pro Bowlers Rodney Hudson, Donald Penn and All-Pro left guard Kelechi Osemele.
Those players helped a team that lost its first 10 games in 2014 when Carr and Mack were rookies become one of the top teams in the league before Carr’s injury derailed the season.
“I’m going to sit back and I’m just going to reflect on it. I’m going to know that, ‘Hey, it’s not easy to win 12 games in this league,'” Carr said.
“Who knows if we’ll do it again. Hopefully we do. That’s the plan. We want to win all of them, but that is not an easy thing. The fact that we were able to do that is exciting, but like I said, there’s so much to get better at and work on that that thing in our stomach that makes us sick and makes us angry is going to propel us moving forward so we can compete and be better versions of ourselves.”
MOVING TIME: One of the biggest questions facing the Raiders is their future home. Owner Mark Davis plans to apply for relocation this offseason in hopes of moving the team to Las Vegas, where a new stadium could open in 2020 with help from $750 million in government funding. The Raiders need approval from 24 of 32 owners to move but no matter what gets decided this offseason, the team is expected to stay in Oakland for at least the next two years.
EXTENSIONS: The other big financial decision revolves around star players Carr and Mack. Both are eligible for contract extensions on their rookie deals this offseason. Carr is a higher priority since he can become an unrestricted free agent in 2018, while the Raiders hold a fifth-year option on Mack’s contract because he was a first-round pick. It will take big money to lock up those players and if GM Reggie McKenzie follows his pattern of using roster bonuses instead of signing bonuses, it could limit what other moves the team could make in free agency.
CARR’S HEALTH: The Raiders saw what life without Carr looks like and it wasn’t pretty . Despite the broken leg, there are no long-term worries about his health and he expects to be ready to participate when the offseason program begins in April. The team might give Connor Cook more work during the offseason so he is better prepared if he has to step in for Carr at any point in 2017.
FREE AGENTS: Oakland has to make decisions on several key free agents on its roster. Perhaps the most notable is running back Latavius Murray. While rookies Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington played well, Murray still led the team with 788 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns and is the best pass blocker of the group.
“I’d love to finish my career here,” Murray said. “I think that says a lot about any player who’s able to stay in one place. I’d love to finish what I started but I know how things could go.”
Among the other key free agents are tackle Menelik Watson, linebacker Malcolm Smith, defensive tackle Stacy McGee, defensive backs DJ Hayden and Nate Allen, and receiver Andre Holmes.
BIGGEST NEEDS: Despite the 12 wins, the Raiders did have some holes on the roster they would like to fill this offseason. Perhaps most notable is to get more interior pass rush to help Mack and Bruce Irvin. Oakland finished last in the league with 25 sacks.
“I didn’t feel like we got enough inside push,” Del Rio said. “That’s going to be an area for sure that we’re going to have to be better and do better.”
Other areas of improvement are in the secondary where the Raiders need to cut down on big plays, linebacker, slot receiver and right tackle.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.