Well let me start by saying that this will easily be my longest thread so I apologize ahead of time and secondly, there's quite a few folks on this site and others eating a lot of crow right now.
Like Lacob before him (And ironically right now as well with recent firing of Mark Jackson) RM has been under fire from the jump. People immediately called his GM skills into question because he fired his own Jackson as his first real act as our new GM (Something people are still steamed about). It was like some believed (and continue to do so) that Reggie was supposed to wave a magic wand and magically undo a decade's worth of bad decisions while retaining the overpaid guys we had in order to build off our .500 club and, all in one year. Never mind the fact that the team in question fell apart due to a lack of discipline and quality depth and Hue had all but used up his locker room's and MD's good will by the end of the season.
Yes - Hue had the offense cracking and Dmac playing his best ball (While he was healthy). BUT - he also traded away RM's first and much needed draft picks for Palmer (Dividing the locker in the process) and couldn't do a damn thing on defense while setting the NFL record in penalties. I personally just didn't see Hue be willing to sit through the last few years of necessary deconstruction. He would have wanted to keep "his" guys and try to win now and he felt like he had earned the right to dictate that blueprint. Therein lie the problem - RM knew that he would first have to clean up the financial mess by ridding the team of players and bloated contracts the Raiders could no longer afford. I also think he made up his mind then that he would shift the team back to the kind of defensive Juggernaut it used to be when he was a player. BTW I still don't get why most, to this day, give Hue a pass for keeping Bres when he could have axed him the second Al died but then they rail DA for Knapp even though he replaced him. Anyhow, so RM fired Hue and found his guy - a young defensive minded HC.
Allen was young and up and coming DC and just helped DEN's D take a step back toward respectability after a disastrous couple of years prior. Since he had never been a HC before he was perfectly willing to learn on the job and suffer the deconstruction phase knowing they would start building the team that he and RM wanted in the future. Here's what I think happened - I don't think either man truly understood just how bad things were until they were here waist deep in the muck. Both men publicly stated that they didn't fully grasp what a huge undertaking this would be some time after the season began if I recall correctly - might have been later. Once it became clear how dire the situation really was, the need for the entire franchise to start over from scratch became the only move. Again, that's strictly my opinion but looking at where we are now - it makes sense to me. Moving on.
We all witnessed what happened next - the tough times of watching our best players leave for bigger money and the chance to win elsewhere, that first non draft that didn't really begin until round 4, the Knapp debacle and a decline to 4 - 12. Many were pissed. But others who had listened carefully to RM in his initial presser in terms of long term goals kept the faith that it was all part of the master plan.
The turning really started with the firing of Knapp, the chucking of the ZBS and the other assistant coaches who needed to go. Many forget that DA was rebuked several times and denied access from other teams on his 1st, 2nd and sometimes 3rd choices before finally finishing his staff that 1st year. Both he and RM corrected those forced mistakes and hired a better OC and some top end assistants that are still with us today. IMO that was the first real step in starting the rebuild in the right way.
Then came RM's first real draft - we traded down for the 1st time in Raider history, grabbed a top level CB coming off a life threatening injury, a raw OL prospect with potential and some need filling youngsters that filled holes in our roster but needed seasoning. In hindsight, I think DA & RM knew it would be another rough year after the realization I mentioned above as we still had some contracts holding us back financially and very little depth because of it. As soon as the injuries mounted both those concerns became undeniable issues. The loss of Palmer and the QB carousel that followed lead to a second 4 - 12 season and rumors of put up or shut up started circulating once MD stated something needed to change for the positive.
Which leads us to this off season. We had more $ to spend than any other team and more than enough holes to plug. To add to the strife we had a plethora of our own FA's that needed to be signed as well. Most thought Veldy & Houston would be a top priority and I honestly believe they were until they wanted more $ than they were worth on the market according to RM. No matter how you feel about them leaving - their releases allowed RM to sign more FA's and plug more overall holes. In a phrase - we got better across the board because of their release. More importantly, we didn't overpay to keep them. I believe this was huge as neither were the kind of player that warranted top player money IMO. Don't agree? Think about Tommy Kelly.
The usual hater pundits laughed at us for signing guys with something to prove but a bit long in the tooth but didn't bother taking into account the now healthy young top level CB from the year before (Hayden), the now healthy OL who showed some spark in limited work (Watson) and the continued development of the young guys who showed they will be players in this league (S.Moore, Rivera, McCants, McGee, Mady) and the guys who didn't get much of a chance at all last season (Maiava, Murray)- Most from the last draft. Most wondered if we were reading RM correctly - were these signings just more gap stop counter-measures? Quality depth? Vets for leadership to the young pups until they are ready? It was hard to tell but I liked the picking up of vets with rings, all pro status and pro bowls under their belt as we had no one with that kind of experience on our team save Woodson prior to that. I could start to see what the master plan could be - grab established vets mixed in with young up and coming players and create the vets' replacements internally through the draft. When FA ended only one question remained:
What would we do in the draft?
Most of you know I was all for trading down and collecting another 2nd or more. I figured RM would be targeting a QB and WR in rounds 2 and 3 as most trades would have put us in the Donald/Lewan range and any QB or WR at that point would have been a reach unless we traded with NYG or SF. All that speculation ended the second the Jags grabbed Bortles - suddenly one of the top 4 was going to fall to us. I immediately got excited as did 90% of the nation. If we did trade down we would get quite a haul if Watkins and/or Mack were still available @ #5 but then the Bills did the unthinkable and gave up the farm to jump in front of us to steal Watkins (who I still believe was our targeted pick til Mack fell) but even more incredibly - Mack was suddenly ours for the taking!!! I don't think many thought this would happen - I sure didn't. And once it did - all thoughts of trading down vanished. In RM's words - "I stopped taking calls"
We added what many considered the best, most versatile pass rusher in the draft (Yes more so than Clowney in some cases). This pick opens up our defense in ways we've been imagining for some time. Suddenly opposing OC's will have to account not only for Mack but worry about which one of our other pass rushers (and there are many now ) will be coming from. This also gave us an upgrade in the LBer core which was solid already. Now we can realistically run a 3/4 and not worry about a weak link in the front 7. This is the season we finally get see what Tarver can really do - I think a lot of folks and the NFL will be surprised. Back to the draft.
By the time we were finished patting ourselves on the back, it was time for round two. And here's where the great schism happens today. The win now crowd (or those who feel RM had to win now) wanted us to fill another hole at a position of need. DT or WR most say - But I ask you, what do we really need more in the long term? No matter how you feel about Carr as a QB prospect here are the facts:
1. We desperately need a QB of the future. Pryor is gone, MM has some potential but apparently not the confidence of the FO or Staff (Too much news and moves this off season to suggest otherwise at this time) and now we have a legit QB with potential who can come in, learn while improving and hopefully take the reigns when Schaub really is done. Just once in my lifetime, I want to see the Raiders draft a QB, develop him and turn him loose so he can wreak havoc on the league Rogers style. Carr could be that guy. Which leads me to...
2. Carr was the perfect choice in terms of draft value. Like Mack before him, few if any had Carr falling to us @ #36 and then he did. He was the highest rater player on our board at the time, loved by Gruden, Montana, Gannon & Maylock and he filled the biggest need on our team long term. It really was a no brainer.
3. Carr will add to the MM's fire. MM thrives on competition as evidenced by his progression from walk on to college starter to camp arm to NFL starter. I still believe RM wants FIERCE competition always and Carr will not be handed anything. If MM really just needs seasoning, then he'll beat Carr - anyway you slice it it's always better to have someone waiting in the wings to keep you honest and working hard.
4. We can now focus on WR next off season and/or RB (If the old guys fail and Murray tanks). This draft was a perfect example - WR's are a lot easier to find than quality QB's. I know many loved Lee (I loved Mathews) or Latimer, Allen - etc. but are we really going to be complaining if we end up with the best WR in the draft in 2015?? I sure won't.
5. Carr fits the new Raider mold (which is kind like the old one) - The Raiders have always sought out players with something to prove. There's a lot of reasons people don't like Carr - they're the same things he's going to have to prove to everyone to make them believe and from everything I've read he wants to, badly. His brother's shadow loomed large and there's whispers of a genetic defect in terms of dealing with pressure - he's heard it all and he's ready to get to work putting those things to rest. Yes, he's a young QB who needs to learn the NFL and try an improve his mechanics and instincts as much as a can. Well he has the time to do that. From what I've seen and read - he's up to the challenge. He's coming in, like so many others this season, with a massive chip on his shoulder. That's a good thing IMO.
One last thing - while it might have been wise to trade up for Bridgewater I can help but think that it would have cost us this next guy and that would have been a mistake.
Round 3 and steal of the draft IMO. Big Gabe Jackson. The fact we got him in itself is totally awesome. Couple that with the fact that we were able to trade down to #81 and pick up another 4th AND still get him and it's all gravy. This kid is a plug and play beast and easily one of the best G prospects in this draft. He's going to make our entire OL better (depth too) and again - add to that competition that makes good teams great. I see him rolling over both Barnes and Boothe and sliding into the LG spot. Penn, Jackson, Wiz, Howard & Watson folks - THAT is a serious improvement from last season and it's not even a debate. Especially if you consider the guys who become rotational now. We finally have beef and plenty of it. That is huge - especially for our RB's and Schaub. With the defenses we're going to face this season this group must deliver - with Jackson we have a much better chance.
Round 4 finally filled the other 2 gaping holes that HAD to be filled DT & CB/S. I've heard all the negative talk about Ellis but people make mistakes, McGee was that guy last season and he's done a great job at putting his head down and working. NO he's not a superstar yet but he's not Nix or Bergstrom either and he's contributed. With Tuck, Sims and McGee ahead of him, Ellis won't be expected to start immediately and he'll learn from seasoned vets and a guy who's been there along the way. Yeah he went to LT but he kicked ass with the big boys at both the Senior Bowl and East/West Shrine Game. That's what impresses me. Yeah Donald, Hageman, Jernigan, Sutton & Nix and some others might have been better but again - for the value he's a great pick up, he fills a need and if he keeps his nose clean he could be another steal. McGill was just what the Dr. ordered IMO. We needed another CB to pair with Hayden and we found him in the rangy, long and lean kid from UT who can play both CB & Safety. Since we added the SF CB tandem- he won't be pressed into a starter's role and can learn from those 2 as as Woodson. I'm excited as all get out to see Hayden and McGill working the magic in the years to come. And again - another great value pick.
We were forced to wait through round 5 & 6 despite RM's best efforts to move back up but I think he did very well in Round 7 by grabbing more need/value guys by collecting a punt returner in Carrie, another pass rusher in Harris and perhaps Woodson's heir apparent in Dowling.
So what's the takeaway?
Well for starters RM does, in fact, have a plan and can draft like a real NFL GM. Many doubted that but the plate is staring them down now something fierce.
We are currently better on paper and even if only half the vets and picks pan out that will still be true on the field.
We're finally starting to look like a team with the beginnings of cultivating a viable winning culture and long term future. I personally think that facing the NFC West is exactly what we need at this time. It will be a great measuring stick to see just how much further we need to go and what holes still need filling.
And finally, the 1 billion dollar question?: Is DA the guy?
This season will finally put that debate to rest, there's no more excuses now and if he chokes - he's gone. But let me offer another wrinkle - Even if he does alright and survives this season he still just may be filling the Mark Jackson role until the FO and MD can find their Steve Kerr when the team is ready to make its run. Honestly though, I hope he was just in need of a talent infusion on the roster.
Until next time - Go Raiders!!!
Now let the position battles begin...