The biggest news of the Raiders offseason had little to do with the team they’ll be putting on the field in September.
That news was, of course, that they’ll be moving to Las Vegas after a long and fruitless attempt to find a stadium deal in Oakland. The fact that they’re on their way out hasn’t done much to damper excitement about what lies ahead for the team in 2017, however.
General Manager Reggie McKenzie’s rebuilding effort was a lengthy one, but it has resulted in a team positioned for a long run of success wherever they are playing their home games. Quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Amari Cooper, a talented offensive line and 2016 defensive player of the year Khalil Mack are the foundation of that promise and will be major drivers for the team again this year.
Adding running back Marshawn Lynch was an intriguing move as the prospect of putting Beast Mode behind that line is one that leads to visions of great offensive success. We’ll have to see what’s left in the tank after Lynch sat out last season, however, and the Raiders’ ultimate hopes rest heavily on a defense that remains a work in progress outside of Mack.
Biggest positive change: Carr ended last season on the sideline because of a fractured fibula, which created a painful game of “What if?” for the Raiders after a 27-14 playoff loss to the Texans with Connor Cook at quarterback. Had Carr avoided injury, the Raiders were well positioned to win the division and get a bye that would have allowed them to open the postseason on their home field.
While there’s no way to guarantee that he’ll remain that way, Carr is healthy now and his contract extension further cements him as the biggest reason to believe that the Raiders can fulfill the highest of expectations for the 2017 season.
Biggest negative change: The Raiders didn’t lose any major contributors this offseason and the biggest staff change involved bumping quarterbacks coach Todd Downing up to offensive coordinator. That move seems unlikely to lead to much of a difference for a unit with talent across the board.
As mentioned, the defense doesn’t have the same kind of talent and the Raiders added former Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano to Ken Norton’s defensive staff in hopes of maximizing what is on hand. Should the unit fail to improve and friction exist between them, it could put a cap on the team’s upside.
Coaching thermometer: Jack Del Rio took over a team that went 3-13 in 2014 and went 7-9 in his first year on the job before taking the Raiders to their first playoff appearance since 2002. That’s enough to avoid any concerns about a coaching change and the desire to keep building around a strong core of talent should keep it that way unless things go terribly wrong in the near future.
We’d like to crack a beer with … Gabe Jackson. Jackson also got a lucrative extension this offseason, which makes him part of that strong core and another example of how well Oakland’s rebuild has turned out. For these purposes, though, the right guard is the representative of a line that can sometimes get undervalued due to the other star power. We’ll give him the chance to shed some light on a big reason for the Raiders’ success.
How they can prove us wrong: Lynch having nothing in the tank would be a blow, but the biggest obstacle to the Raiders taking a spot at the top of the AFC would almost certainly be another year with a defense that forces the offense to be nearly flawless in order to win games.