In an NFL locker room, it's not too hard to find the veteran leaders on the team. They are the ones who, even in loss, stay behind long after most the rest of the team has departed to speak with the media. They are the voice of the team. And the two strongest voices this Raiders team has had over the past two seasons have now retired.
Sunday, we watched Charles Woodson officially step off the field as an NFL player for the final time. He was in the Pro Bowl and Aloha Stadium became where his long run had its final curtain call.
As if he was waiting for Woodson to have his moment first, the very next day Justin Tuck officially announced his retirement as well. He had been on injured reserve since after week 5 when he injured his shoulder. His retirement announcement didn't come with all the fanfare of his Hall of Fame bound teammate, but it was significant just the same.
Upon his announcement he was retiring, both Reggie McKenzie and Jack Del Rio raved about his contributions to this young Raiders team as a leader the past two seasons.
"His leadership in the locker room and mentorship of young players like Khalil Mack is immeasurable." said McKenzie. While Del Rio called Tuck "a leader and a true professional on and off the field."
Tuck and Woodson brought a combined 29 years of NFL experience and three Super Bowl rings. That's a lot of veteran leadership to lose in one offseason which must be filled by the players still on the squad.
The only remaining player on the roster with a Super Bowl ring is Malcolm Smith, who was named Super Bowl MVP when the Seahawks took home the title two years ago.
Starters with more than four years of NFL experience currently under contract for next season are Rodney Hudson, Dan Williams, Michael Crabtree, Austin Howard, Marcel Reece, and Nate Allen.
With the exception of Marcel Reece, all of the veterans listed above were added as free agents. Both Tuck and Woodson were also added to the team as free agents - Woodson in 2013 and Tuck in 2014. The Raiders could again look to free agency to add veteran leadership to the team.
Over the past few seasons the Raiders have been building through the draft, which is why there are so many young players. Many of those young players are establishing themselves both with the Raiders and in the league.
Chief among them is Derek Carr, who was asked to be a leader from day one as a rookie starter. His leadership in just his second season in the NFL was key to the Raiders improved play and their resulting 7-9 record. As the quarterback, that's one of his most important jobs.
After him, there aren't many outspoken voices for the team. Khalil Mack does his part, but is still growing into his role as a leader. He is simply soft spoken and has deferred to the likes of Tuck over his first two seasons in the league. Making history as an All Pro at two positions this past season should help with that.
Carr and Mack are key pieces on a rebuilt Raiders team. During the rebuilding process, veteran leaders were vital as mentors. At this point, much of the team's foundation is in place, putting less pressure on those leaders who will step up next season.
That job going forward was made easier by the work Tuck and Woodson put in both on the field and in the locker room. That role is earned. Their former teammates must figure out who will take the baton and carry on.