Most of the NFL world has been rather puzzled by what the Raiders have been doing this off-season. They come into the 2014 off-season staring down the barrel of another rebuild project and yet the moves the team has made have left most outsiders stumped. So, I'm going to try and explain what the Raiders have been doing and why.
To do this, I will lay it out much like a question and answer session. The questions are those I have heard outsiders ask or those situations for which they have simply no answer.
1. Don't the Raiders understand what rebuilding means? It means to tear it all down and start over.
Well, not exactly. And if you want to get literal about it, most rebuilds are more of remodels. Teams rarely ever completely rebuild a team in one off-season. Usually it's just not possible and considering the predicament the Raiders were in financially in the past couple years, along with having traded away (or used in the supplemental draft) their top three draft choices in the 2012 draft, even a remodel was not really a possibility. The Raiders weren't renovating anything yet. They attempted to make the place look presentable until the funds were available. Which in the end they weren't able to do.
Now, the remodeling has begun. But they need to keep the place livable during construction, so they brought in some temporary load bearing supports in the form of some aging veterans who still have something left to prove. They should keep the Raiders with a roof over their heads until reinforcements arrive. That may not be how some teams do a rebuild but the Raiders have already gone two four-win seasons. If they were to put that product on the field again, the fans would go about tearing it down for them.
2. It looks as if the Raiders mishandled Terrelle Pryor. Why not continue to develop him?
Three years is the standard for an NFL player to show the skills necessary to play in this league. The new regime inherited him and after one season, he hadn't shown signs that would give them any reason to put the team's future in his hands. With the failed Matt Flynn experiment, they had little choice but to give him a shot. He showed flashes early last season and then regressed badly.
As far as mishandling him, that's debatable. It's also a double edged sword. He had one year left on his contract and had little in the way of trade value. You can say that was because the way the Raiders used him late last season including giving him the start in the finale, but his performance in those opportunities were on him. If he had played well late last season, the Raiders would not be criticized for mishandling him but rather for not building the team around him. Regardless, he would have been the fourth quarterback on this team following the Matt Schaub signing and the drafting of Derek Carr. They needed to move on. The fact they got anything at all in trade is a small miracle.
3. What about keeping their young core players and building from there?
A very valid point. The Raiders had hoped their young core would consist of Stefen Wisniewski, Jared Veldheer, Menelik Watson, Marcel Reece, Rod Streater, Lamarr Houston, Sio Moore, Nick Roach, D.J. Hayden, Tyvon Branch, and Marquette King. Of these players, only Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston were free agents - and they lost both of them.
The loss of Houston was inevitable. He expressed his frustration following the season finale and said he didn't feel like he fit in with this team. He wanted to go to a winning team and was given a good offer from the Chicago Bears.
Veldheer was the big loss here, and there is no defense for the organization's mishandling of his contract talks. Both sides wanted to work out a deal but the Raiders overplayed their hand. Veldheer's team got frustrated with the way negotiations (or the lack thereof) were happening and he left to sign with the Cardinals. The plan was there, it was just simply poorly executed.
4. Why not make a play to keep Jacoby Ford, Vance Walker, and Rashad Jennings?
Jacoby Ford had fallen completely out of favor with the coaches. After a very promising rookie season both as a receiver and return specialist (before the new regime arrived, mind you), he has been injured much of his career and completely lost the rest of the time. By the end of last season, he was a healthy scratch from the lineup on game day and I don't see him offering much to his new team either.
Vance Walker was signed to a one-year deal last off-season to see if the career backup could break out and prove to be a worthy starter. He didn't really do that. He was not bad. He was somewhere between decent and pedestrian and an upgrade was needed.
Jennings' earned more effort from the Raiders to retain him. The team apparently disagreed and let him walk. Letting him go may prove to be a mistake. The Raiders will be hard pressed to match or exceed the 4.5 yards per carry he gave them last season.
5. What's with the 30+ club the Raiders signed this off-season? Rebuilding teams are supposed to be getting younger.
The Raiders failed to sign young talent to long term deals, there's no debating that. Offensive lineman Austin Howard is the lone exception. However, remember the remodeling analogy? Well, let's say you want to open up the kitchen by knocking out a wall. You can't just have at it with a sledge hammer or you are bound to take out a load bearing wall, causing the house to cave in. You have to add some temporary supports until you can install the permanent support beam. Guys like Justin Tuck, Lamarr Woodley, Antonio Smith, Kevin Boothe, Charles Woodson, Maurice Jones-Drew, James Jones, Matt Schaub, and Donald Penn are the posts in the Raiders' temporary support system. The team is really hoping they can hold off an absolute collapse until they can use the draft to install a permanent support. That's the plan. Whether the temporary supports are sturdy enough to carry the load over an entire season is another story.