It is amazing all the stuff you can learn about a team just by watching what they do in the first few days of free agency. During the early rebuilding years under Reggie McKenzie they were bargain basement shopping while just going through the motions. They knew that they had too much to do to be a force and their free agency activity, or lack thereof, was a sign of where they were in the process.
Fast forward to these last two years and the philosophy switch is absurd. Last year they kept swinging for quality free agents even though they struck out on some but they still managed to snag Rodney Hudson, Michael Crabtree, Dan Williams and Malcolm Smith. This year they have already gotten another quality starting lineman in Kelechi Osemele, a starting linebacker in Bruce Irvin and a starting cornerback in Sean Smith.
All of those players mentioned are young enough to be building blocks for the core foundation of this team moving forward. These players coupled with the outstanding draft classes the past two years has the Raiders not just rebuilding, but competing. They are not even a sleeper team right now, they are one expected to do well next year.
Our own Levi Damien just posted an article about the rise of the Raiders, but it deserves to be pointed out again. This team is not just getting better, they are getting better in a hurry. The Raiders very well could have, and maybe even should have, been a playoff team already last year. This year anything less than a winning season has to be considered a disappointment.
When you look back at these dark ages there have been several times that Raider Nation believed in this team only to be dropped back down in devastating fashion. Nobody knows the future, this could very well end up being one of those times all over again. However, every fiber of my being has me believing that the Raiders have finally turned that corner.
The reasons to believe that they have turned the corner though are so clear that they are being touted by the national media now too. Not only do they have a solid team full of potential, they have a solid team based off of production in general.
Their Quarterback is no longer a possible franchise QB, he is officially one. Derek Carr keeps getting better and the world has noticed it, culminating in his first of what should be many pro bowl invitations last year. He is a leader on and off the field, as charismatic as he is skilled and we have every reason to trust that he will be a top QB in the NFL for the next decade.
They have a very good tandem at receiver with Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper but they also have Seth Roberts who at times looked capable of Emmanuel Sanders type efficiency out of the slot. Roberts has a long way to go to validate that high of praise but the possibility is there and he has a QB in Derek Carr that can make it happen too.
They also have an offensive line that is already solid but with the addition of one more franchise level linemen could be completely set for years to come. They could still re-sign Donald Penn who has kept Derek Carr's blindside clean the last couple of years but they could also lure someone like Russell Okung over to the dark side. Penn would be a suitable stopgap player, but Okung is a building block player for years to come.
Then comes the defense that was already hitting stride next year and now has several key new players added. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin is a scary tandem, but they are even scarier with a secondary that can give them enough time to reach the QB. If they manage to keep Aldon Smith as well when his suspension ends then their pass rush enters epic, all-time best territory. It's not even just possible but outright expected for their defense to be dominant.
Free agency still has a huge part to play going forward for 2016. We are this excited about the team after just a few days of being able to bring new players in, but there is still more work to be done. There are plenty of fish in the sea, even if the Raiders weren't able to reel all of their targets in. They may not have been able to sign Eric Weddle at safety, but that doesn't mean this team is set to go as is.
It will be interesting to see how the rest of free agency plays out and then you add the draft on top of it. Even if the Raiders don't sign another quality free agent they already have done enough for them to be considered a playoff worthy team, just imagine what another great draft and a couple more key signings could accomplish on top of that.
What that means is that the Raiders have officially entered the next step in their long term rebuild. It is no longer good enough to just be competitive, now it is time to win. The Autumn Winds are rising my friends, so let's all sit back and enjoy the ride while we see where those winds take us.