Less than 10 years ago, NFL legend and former Raider Jerry Rice was celebrating touchdown grabs in front of the Black Hole. Fast forward to today, and Rice now talks about a different Raider black hole. On the Countdown Daily segment on ESPN, Rice claimed that the Raiders are "in an abyss, right now. They're in a black hole, and they're not going to come out of it." The statement, which prompted a light chuckle from fellow ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck, is certainly understandable, but is it true?
Yes, the season is lost. And while all Raider fans felt a sense of hope after going toe-to-toe with the Falcons (who then had the best record in the league) and winning the next two games, any glimmer of optimism was crushed under the weight of a six game losing streak. It certainly doesn't appear that 2012 was a good year. By many measures, that is true. However, the season saw some positive developments, which will absolutely serve this franchise for the future.
Let's put things in perspective for a second. The Raiders dawned on a new era this season. The incoming regime under Reggie McKenzie saw sweeping changes in the front office, coaching staff, and personnel. 26 players from last year were replaced. There was certainly no denying the Raiders were, and still are, rebuilding.
Many fans have questioned the motive. In the eyes of many, the past 8 seasons were "rebuilding" years. The team finally saw progress. Two years ago was the first non-losing season since 2003. Last year's team should have been a playoff team, had the productive quarterback and star running back not been lost for the season. Why wouldn't the Raiders just build on that foundation?
The foundation was shaky, to say the least. While the Raiders did have some success, too much money was tied up in contracts for older players, whose play would only fall off over the years. Without hitting the "restart" button, the Raiders would be forced to pay a huge percentage of the salary cap to a few, aging players, and hunt for bargains in other positions. Such a strategy would keep producing mediocrity at best.
Now, however, there is a clearer view for the future. The salary cap restructure is underway. The holes that the Raiders have plugged over the years with stop-gap options have been revealed. Younger players have stepped up and shown promise, offering a nucleus to build around. Now the Raiders know where they have some depth and stability, and where they need to make some key acquisitions. Finally, there will be some salary cap flexibility and draft picks to do it.
Ultimately, a season like this was inevitable for the Raiders. But now, it is clear where changes need to be made. Future years can only bring improvement and progress. The turnaround is not far, and this time it will not be a few ephemeral seasons of 8-8, it will be for real.