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NFL Team Report - Oakland Raiders - INSIDE SLANT
Here's the deal on the 2013 Raiders: They should be a better team and almost certainly will be.
Unfortunately, the won-loss record with Reggie McKenzie as general manager and Dennis Allen as head coach may not be much better, which would lead to some interesting decisions for owner Mark Davis, who has pledged his allegiance to McKenzie but not necessarily Allen.
Amazing as it sounds, the Raiders' backslide to a 4-12 record after going 8-8 in back-to-back seasons wasn't representative of how truly bad the team really was.
This was actually a team more worthy of a 2-14 season or worse and the top pick in the NFL draft, given that three of their wins last season came against Kansas City (twice) and Jacksonville, teams that both went 2-14.
Oakland's other win came at home in a shootout against the Pittsburgh Steelers that featured the lone breakaway run in a poor statistical season by running back Darren McFadden.
The Raiders were poor on offense, poor on defense -- particularly in a historically bad month of November -- and poor on special teams. In terms of being competitive, the Raiders ranked with Art Shell's 2-14 team in 2006 and Joe Bugel's 4-12 disaster in 1997.
Both those seasons led to coaching changes. This time, with McKenzie being given some leeway to deal with a problematic salary cap and restructuring the team's scouting department, the general manager and head coach made sweeping changes.
On offense, Greg Knapp and the zone-blocking scheme that rendered McFadden impotent were dumped in favor of Greg Olson and a gap and power scheme and a retooled passing attack.
Quarterback Carson Palmer indicated he'd rather move on than accept a contract reduction, leading to a deal for Seattle backup Matt Flynn.
Defensively, the Raiders will have at least eight new starters, with strong safety Tyvon Branch and defensive end Lamarr Houston the only locks to start off last season's porous unit.
The special teams will be presided over by Bobby April, the veteran assistant who will replace Steve Hoffman.
The departures of Palmer, defensive tackles Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly and cornerback/safety Michael Huff will help account for a staggering amount of dead money under the cap -- more than $40 million -- and clear the way toward having Oakland's financial house in order in 2014.
What does that mean in 2013?
The Raiders will almost certainly run the ball better with the scheme change, although McFadden's health is always a concern. The passing game is a question mark under Flynn, who will compete with Terrelle Pryor and perhaps even rookie Tyler Wilson before the season is out.
On defense, the improvement overall could be significant with a second year in Allen's scheme and better personnel to execute it -- most notably cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins and the return of free safety Charles Woodson to the secondary.
There is almost nowhere to go but up for the special teams as well, although losing perennial Pro-Bowl punter Shane Lechler to free agency is a step backward in that area.
The problem is the Raiders could have enough trouble scoring and while improved, won't be dominant enough on defense. It's hard to imagine a top end any better than 7-9, and another season of double-digit losses appears likely.
Had the Raiders actually had a 2-14 record instead of 4-12, moving up to six wins would seem more significant.
Strengths: Defensive end Lamarr Houston is a potential standout and linchpin of a defensive line that went with younger and more active free agents in Vance Walker and Pat Sims at defensive tackle to stop the run, a decade-long Raiders issue. Cornerback is much improved even with the iffy health of top pick D.J. Hayden with Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter. Branch should benefit from the wisdom and back-end skills of Woodson at safety. Sebastian Janikowski remains one of the NFL's top kickers.
Weaknesses: The passing game has been a struggle throughout the offseason with Flynn and a youthful receiving corps that counts no one as a go-to, veteran receiver. Leading receiver tight end Brandon Myers departed in free agency, leaving precious little pass-catching experience. The offensive line, other than left tackle Jared Veldheer, remains a work in progress and has all spots up for grabs other than his spot and center Stefen Wisniewski.
NFL Team Report - Oakland Raiders - NOTES, QUOTES
--Count Lamarr Houston as a Raider who is buying into the system of defense along with possibly as many as eight new teammates as starters.
Houston is moving from left end to right end to take advantage of his pass-rushing skills.
"I think we look great," Houston said. "We have a lot of new players and I think we are jelling really well. We are getting along and learning this defense together, and we're working through all the kinks together. We finished right where we wanted to finish before training camp."
Chemistry, Houston said, has not been a problem.
"I don't think chemistry is an issue," Houston said. "I think Reggie and Dennis did a great job of getting the guys that will fit with this team and the guys they want on this team. I think the chemistry is already there."
--Safety Charles Woodson, who made no secret of his desire to return to uniform No. 24 when coming back to the Raiders, was still wearing No. 2 with Tracy Porter wearing his old uniform number.
Woodson wore No. 2 at Michigan when he won the Heisman Trophy. The NFL numbering system requires that he wear between 20 and 39. An attempt out of college to get the rule waived was unsuccessful.
"Actually the `2' looks very, very good," Woodson said. "I remember coming out in '98 and trying to petition to wear No. 2 and it didn't happen. Maybe I'll take another shot at it this time around. The 24, I think it'll eventually work itself out so I'm really not too worried about it right now."
--The early reviews of the Raiders' quarterback play by the team's regular writers was not good during the mandatory minicamp, although general manager Reggie McKenzie said in a local radio interview he wasn't overly concerned about the scouting reports of the local media.
On ESPN, analyst Ron Jaworski ranked Matt Flynn dead last among NFL starting quarterbacks, saying he had problems with his arm strength and ability to make tight throws.
Here's how offensive coordinator Greg Olson summed up the quarterback situation during the mandatory camp: "We're not sitting here claiming we have Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. We never made that statement or that claim. But we've got guys we feel are very capable of running an NFL team and an NFL offense and they both possess different types of skills, so we'll try to play upon those skills until someone separates themselves."
--The Raiders waived linebacker Mario Kurn, who did not practice with the team during the mandatory camp due to injury.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We all understand that we put a lot of work into this, and this is the time of year that we've got to mind our Ps and Qs and do the right things and get back to training camp in shape, come back to training camp mentally and physically ready to go." -- Raiders coach Dennis Allen.
NFL Team Report - Oakland Raiders - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Cause for concern: The Raiders made cornerback D.J. Hayden the No. 12 pick in the first round and were adamant he would have been the pick at No. 3 overall had they not traded down. That is representative of a player who they think should be an instant standout. However, Hayden needed surgery to remove scar tissue related to a torn inferior vena cava in November that nearly cost him his life. How much he'll contribute right away remains to be seen.
Position battles: Khalif Barnes vs. Menelik Watson at right tackle. Barnes held the position through the offseason. He played well after missing eight weeks with a groin injury, cutting down his false-start penalties and upgrading the position after Willie Smith took over following his injury. Watson is an intriguing athlete with limited experience, a former basketball player. The hope is Watson will take over at some point, even if it is during the season.
Rashad Jennings vs. Latavius Murray at backup running back. Given Darren McFadden's history with injury, the Raiders will probably need a lead back for up to or more than a quarter of the season. Jennings is a big back who can get tough yards, but isn't good for much more. Murray's upright style is a bit of a concern, but he has shown very good hands and can be a weapon leaking out of the backfield as a receiver.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYERS: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--WR Duke Calhoun (not tendered as ERFA).
--G Cooper Carlisle (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Omar Gaither (not tendered as UFA).
--T Zach Hurd (not tendered as ERFA).
--QB Matt Leinart (not tendered as UFA).
--DT Richard Seymour (not tendered as UFA).
--CB Shawntae Spencer (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHT FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--LB Sio Moore (3/66): $3,054,002/4 yrs, $690,832 SB.
--TE Nick Kasa (6/172): $2,280,600/4 yrs, $120,600 SB.
--RB Latavius Murray (6/181): $2,266,200/4 yrs, $106,200 SB.
--TE Mychal Rivera (6/184): $2,264,852/4 yrs, $104,852 SB.
--DT Stacy McGee (6/205): $2,238,680/4 yrs, $78,680 SB.
--WR Brice Butler (7/209): $2,227,500/4 yrs, $67,500 SB.
--DE David Bass (7/33): $2,208,600/4 yrs, $48,600 SB.
DRAFT CHOICES UNSIGNED
--CB D.J. Hayden (1/9).
--T Menelik Watson (2/42).
--QB Tyler Wilson (4/112).
--CB Phillip Adams: Potential RFA; $650,000/1 yr.
--T Khalif Barnes: UFA; terms unknown.
--LB Kaelin Burnett: ERFA; terms unknown.
--CB Coye Francies: Not tendered as ERFA; $630,000/1 yr.
--CB Joselio Hanson: UFA; $905,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--G Alex Parsons: ERFA; terms unknown.
--CB Brandian Ross: ERFA; terms unknown.
--RB Jeremy Stewart: ERFA; terms unknown.
--T Alex Barron: FA; $715,000/1 yr.
--LB Kevin Burnett: FA Dolphins; $3.6M/2 yrs.
--DE Andre Carter: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR/KR Joshua Cribbs: UFA Browns; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--QB Matt Flynn (trade Seahawks).
--DE Jason Hunter: UFA Broncos; terms unknown.
--CB Mike Jenkins: UFA Cowboys; terms unknown.
--RB Rashad Jennings: UFA Jaguars; terms unknown.
--P Chris Kluwe: FA Vikings; terms unknown.
--LB Kaluka Maiava: UFA Browns; $6M/3 yrs, $2.035M SB.
--TE Jeron Mastrud: Not tendered as RFA by Dolphins; terms unknown.
--CB Tracy Porter: UFA Broncos; $2.5M/1 yr.
--LB Nick Roach: UFA Bears; $13M/4 yrs, $5M guaranteed.
--DT Pat Sims: UFA Bengals; $1.5M/1 yr, $250,000 SB.
--S Reggie Smith: FA; terms unknown.
--DT Vance Walker: UFA Falcons; $1.3M/1 yr.
--DB Charles Woodson: FA Packers; $1.8M/1 yr, $700,000 SB.
--S Usama Young: FA Browns; $985,000/1 yr, $100,000 SB/$100,000 WO/$65,000 RB.
--DT Desmond Bryant: UFA Browns; $34M/5 yrs, $15M guaranteed.
--S Matt Giordano: Not tendered as UFA/Rams; $840,000/1 yr.
--RB Mike Goodson: UFA Jets; $6.9M/3 yrs.
--WR Derek Hagan: Not tendered as UFA/Buccaneers; terms unknown.
--WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (released).
--S Michael Huff (released/post-June 1 designation).
--DT Tommy Kelly (released).
--P Shane Lechler: UFA Texans; $5.5M/3 yrs, $1M SB.
--LB Rolando McClain (released).
--S Mike Mitchell: UFA Panthers; $840,000/1 yr.
--TE Brandon Myers: UFA Giants; terms unknown.
--S Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (released).
--QB Carson Palmer (traded Cardinals).
--DE Matt Shaughnessy: UFA Cardinals; 1M/1 yr.
--TE Mickey Shuler (relased).
--DE Dave Tollefson (released).
--LB Philip Wheeler: UFA Dolphins; $26M/5 yrs, $7M SB/$13M guaranteed.