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Amidst heavy criticism, Raiders show improvement

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While the Raiders remain the butt of many jokes in NFL circles, it's tough to argue with the idea that Oakland has improved dramatically this off-season.

"They're getting older"

"A lot of guys are getting over-paid"

"They just haven't improved"

This is the analysis being trotted out by "experts" across the web as networks and websites begin breaking down how teams have fared so far in free agency. The only problem? I just don't see the truth in it.

Have the Raiders gotten older? Sure, a little bit, but when you're resigned to filling your team with guys who won't hurt your salary cap, or course you're going to attract younger players. But to assume that older means worse is crazy — especially in Oakland.

Is the organization over-paying? I'd argue they aren't, but even if you felt so remember this: the Raiders need to hit a salary floor in the next few seasons just to meet league standards On top of that, they began the year with the most money to spend, they still aren't the most attractive destination for those wanting to win now, and they've done a good job structuring the deals to make sure they can be escaped from at any time.

Are there experts out there who really think Oakland is worse off now than they were a year ago? I just don't get it.

Yes, the losses of Lamarr Houston, Jared Veldheer and Rashad Jennings hurt, but to imply the guys they brought in aren't cumulatively better is crazy. Yes, Veldheer is better than any of the guys Reggie McKenzie signed in his place, but Oakland has improved dramatically in just about every other spot on the line.

Aside from running back, I think you could make the case that Oakland is better (or at least equally as good) in every position on the field — which is what makes all of the criticism so dumbfounding.

James Jones makes the wide receivers a lot better. Matt Schaub makes the quarterback position a lot better. Penn, Boothe and Howard make the offensive line a lot better. Tuck, Woodley and Smith make the defensive line a lot better.

As far as positions that have remained neutral: Tarrell Brown is better than Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter, but losing two and gaining one probably equals a push. Re-signing Charles Woodson and Usama Young means the safeties will be the same, while tight end and linebacker didn't lose or gain anyone.

So to look at all of this and come to the conclusion that Oakland will be worse is mind-boggling. Now, I'm obviously not advocating for a playoff guarantee, but I don't see any reason that this team couldn't double their win total from last year.

Was it an ideal off-season? Maybe not. But with realistic expectations going in, it's tough to be disappointed with what McKenzie has done.