It’s day 4,269 of quarantine, and it got me thinking that the only thing longer than this has been the mediocrity of my once great,
Oakland Las Vegas Raiders.
This is a team of legend. When they created an online tournament for the best team of all time, the 1976 Oakland Raiders won. Few teams have as many World Championships or Pro Football Hall of Famers as my Raiders, but there are people with drivers licenses that haven’t seen the Raiders win a playoff game.
So what went wrong? What happened? How did the Raiders go from AFC Champions to one winning campaign over the following 17 seasons? I attempt to unravel the Raider collapse, proposing multiple theories and suggesting ways the Silver and Black may be Silver and Back sooner than you might expect.
Why the Raiders Have Sucked for so Long
The JaMarcus of It All
Look, one of the biggest reasons the Raiders have struggled? Has been poor drafting. Since that magical 2002 season, the Raiders have drafted 148 players. Of those 148 players, 77 have fewer than 20 career starts (not including players selected over the last two drafts). And you might think that just applies to sixth or seventh round picks that fought to make the roster, but that’s not true. You’ve got 10 third round picks (Brandon Parker, Clive Walford, Eddie Vanderdoes, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Arden Key, Andrew Walter, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Quentin Moses, and Shilique Calhoun), as well as four second round picks (P.J. Hall, Jihad Ward, Teyo Johnson, and Obi Melifonwu).
The Raiders haven’t had a ton of luck drafting Pro Bowl talent. They’ve only drafted six since 2002, and only one of them remains on the team. Of Zach Miller, Latavius Murray, Amari Cooper, Derek Carr, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Khalil Mack, only the quarterback remains with the team, and only Mack and Cooper are still starters in the league. For redundancy’s sake, and because the Pro Bowl is a joke, the only First-Team All-Pros the Raiders have drafted have been Asomugha and Mack.
But it’s not just the late round misses, and it’s not just the lack of elite talent. The Raiders have straight up missed when it mattered. They’ve had 20 first round picks since 2002 (don’t panic, six have been over the last three drafts and are still under contract), and only twp have gotten a second contract.
Let’s be real, the Raiders are known for drafting some questionable players in the first round. People are still torn about the last three drafts, where the Raiders selected Kolton Miller (an offensive lineman that’s made positive strides), Clelin Ferrell (a defensive end with a late first round grade that was selected fourth overall), Jonathan Abram (a box safety), Josh Jacobs (a running back in the first round), Henry Ruggs III (Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb were both on the board), and Damon Arnette (a corner who may or may not have had a faulty lazer-timed 40).
Some of these criticisms were justified, some have aged poorly, but those guys all look like studs compared to some of the other players the Raiders have taken since 2002.
- Tyler Brayton, the defensive end, who registered six sacks over 79 games for the Raiders. His career wouldn’t be notable, except for the horrible trivia fact was his draft pick was part of the Jon Gruden trade, and the Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers had the last pick in the first round.
- Robert Gallery was the second overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft (the pick before the Arizona Cardinals selected Larry Fitzgerald), but the hulking tackle was mediocre, giving up 10.5 sacks in a season, before he was forced move to guard in his fourth season.
- With a blistering 4.29 40, the Raiders took corner Fabian Washington with the 23rd pick in the 2005 draft (the pick before the Green Bay Packers selected Aaron Rodgers), but he never really worked out for the Raiders, being traded to the Ravens in 2008.
- It hurts to say that Michael Huff was a bust for the Oakland Raiders, because he did have some good moments, most notably the game-sealing pick against the Houston Texans after Al Davis passed away. But when you select a safety with the seventh overall pick, you expect better.
- It doesn’t hurt as much to say that the first overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft sucked. LSU’s JaMarcus Russell is the worst first overall pick in NFL history. Considering the likes of Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, and Patrick Willis were on the board, this one hurts the most. Don’t worry, we righted the wrong of passing on Reggie Nelson by signing him at the end of his career and letting him limp around the secondary for about 10 years.
- In 2008, the Raiders were at it again, signing the explosive Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden. McFadden was an incredibly fast playmaker at tailback, but he could never stay healthy. Raiders fans everywhere still cringe when they hear “lisfranc.”
- The next year, the Raiders passed on future-Raider Michael Crabtree to select Darrius Heyward-Bey, a burner from Maryland who had no idea how to play wide receiver. Eventually the Raiders did sign Crabtree, and DHB was a decent special-teamer for the Steelers.
- 2010 saw the Raiders select “can’t miss” inside linebacker, Rolando McClain. He couldn’t seem to cover anyone, and ended up with more arrests than seasons as a starter in the National Football League.
- For the next two years, the Raiders broke their streak of busts in the first round. Regrettably, this was because they didn’t have first round picks. They were sent to the New England Patriots for Richard Seymour and the Cincinnati Bengals for an aging, out-of-shape, apathetic Carson Palmer. Fortunately, Reggie McKenzie saw a return to form by taking injury-prone corner D.J. Hayden with the 12th pick. Hayden had a great story, but couldn’t stay healthy, and his biggest game with the Raiders saw him get absolutely toasted by Riley Cooper and Nick Foles.
The next four first round picks weren’t busts! Khalil Mack is one of the best players in the National Football League, Amari Cooper is a bonafide stud at wide receiver, and while Karl Joseph and Gareon Conley aren’t world-beaters, they’re capable starters. Regrettably, none of them are still on the team. Mack was traded to the Chicago Bears, Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys, Conley to the Houston Texans, and Joseph signed with the Cleveland Browns in free agency.
The Raiders haven’t gotten a ton of production from the NFL draft. There are three ways to add players to a roster, with the draft being the most conventionally effective. The Raiders haven’t drafted well, so that just leaves trades and free agents.
Robbing Peter to Pay P-Al
As bad as the draft as been, free agency might be worse. The Raiders have had a couple of decent signings, but most of them have been absolutely brutal.
Just like with the draft, players the Raiders have signed have also struggled to achieve individual success. Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele, Donald Penn, Reggie Nelson, Trent Brown, Jared Cook, Jon Condo, Derrick Burgess, Marcel Reece, and ironically, Charles Woodson are the only free agent signings the Raiders have sent to the Pro Bowl. However, Osemele was the only one to be named First-Team All-Pro.
Hold on tight, Raider Nation, because you’re not going to want to travel down this particular branch of memory road. Here are just a few of the more embarassing free agent signings since 2002.
- Kerry Collins, QB, 3-year, $16.8 million (2004).
- Warren Sapp, DT, 7-year, $36.6 million (2004).
- LaMont Jordan, RB, 5-year, $27.5 million (2005).
- Aaron Brooks, QB, 2-year, $9 million (2006).
- Kwame Harris, OL, 3-year, $16 million (2008).
- Javon Walker, WR, 6-year, $55 million (2008).
- Gibril Wilson, S, 6-year, $39 million (2008).
- Ron Bartell, CB, 1-year, $3 million (2012).
- Mike Brisiel, OL, 5-year, $20 million (2012).
- Austin Howard, OL, 5-year, $30 million (2014).
- Sean Smith, CB, 4-year, $38 million (2016).S
- Bruce Irvin, Edge, 4-year, $37 million (2016).
And these are just the greatest hits since 2002. Big money for washed up players, aging quarterbacks, and scheme misfits. The team wasn’t drafting well, and they weren’t signing premium free agents. Worse than that, the Raiders weren’t just giving out bad contracts to other team’s castoffs.
- Tommy Kelly, DT, 7-year, $50.5 million (2008).
- Kamerion Wimbley, Edge, 5-year, $48 million. (2011).
- Stanford Routt, CB, 3-year, $31.5 million (2011).
So the Raiders are overpaying for no production, and then, depending on the regime, overpay to keep good-not-great players, or trading away expensive elite players. They’re not acquiring talent, and then when they randomly do, they don’t hold onto it. I wish I could say this was the end, but sadly, there are some trades that play a big part in Oakland’s dysfunction as well.
A Nation Be-Trade
Addressing the elephant in the room, I don’t think the Khalil Mack trade was a bad one. Considering the Bears struggled in 2019, and ended up with exactly as many sacks as the Raiders did, and didn’t have to pay for it! However, there have been some absolutely dreadful trades.
- Napoleon Harris, a 2005 first and seventh round picks for WR Randy Moss. (BONUS TRADE- Randy Moss for a 2007 fourth round pick).
- A 2008 second and a 2009 fifth round pick for CB DeAngelo Hall.
- A 2010 first for DT Richard Seymour.
- A 2012 first and a 2013 second round pick for QB Carson Palmer.
- A 2018 third round pick for WR Martavis Bryant.
- A 2019 third and a fifth round pick for WR Antonio Brown.
A quick disclaimer here, I liked Richard Seymour a lot, but trading a first round pick for a 30 year old run stopper is a mistake. Would you spend a first round pick on a defensive tackle that isn’t necessarily a disruptive pass rusher? Probably not. So why trade for to one at the end of his career?
Hey, wanna know another reason why the Raiders haven’t been very good? Ask any fan of quarterback, Derek Carr, and they’ll tell you. This team has had a complete and total lack of consistency in the coaching department.
Between Eddie Erdelatz in 1960 and Jon Gruden’s hiring in 1998, the Raiders had only employed 12 head coaches. Between 2002, when Gruden was traded, and 2018, when he made his return, the Raiders had nine other men at the helm. Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable, Hue Jackson, Dennis Allen, Tony Sparano, and Jack Del Rio all tried and failed to save the Raiders.
Credit to Jack Del Rio, he did deliver the team to the playoffs, but even he couldn’t provide stability to his coaching staff. After the dynamic 2016 season (we’ll get there), he let offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave leave, promoting universally despised quarterback coach Todd Downing to the position.
Been 2003 and 2018, the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, and New Orleans Saints combined for three coaching changes. The Raiders knocked that out times three over the same span.
Stability is important. Baltimore has endured struggles with John Harbaugh, but they stuck with him, and now they’re one of the AFC’s best teams. Even Marvin Lewis‘ Cincinnati Bengals, who failed to win a single playoff game, consistently found themselves back in the conversation because of stability in the coaching department.
Al Davis was a genius, and his impact on the game of football is too important to be overlooked. But his impatience with coaches in the early 2000’s was a massive part of why the team went from Super Bowl contenders to arguably the worst football team of the last 20 years.
THE LEAGUE IS OUT TO GET THEM
I know that if I don’t put this in here, I’ll get shredded by angry Raider fans, so yes, the Raiders have had some bad luck with the league. The bad luck goes all the way back to the Immaculate Deception, but sticking with this time frame, it really starts with the Tuck Rule.
Tom Brady‘s arm is very clearly tucking, so when Charles Woodson comes in and rips the ball out, it should be a fumble. The Raiders should win, go on, and maybe even win a Super Bowl. Maybe Al never trades Chucky, and none of this happens.
Probably the biggest conspiracy offense? Penalties. A study showed that the Raiders are significantly more likely to be penalized on “subjective” calls than any other team in the NFL. Maybe it’s something to do with the dark jerseys, maybe the league has it out for the Raiders, who knows, but bad coaching or not, they’re nearly always one of the league’s most penalized teams.
Without getting into every “Derek slid but they stopped the clock” moment, the Raiders have had some really bad luck with travel. Firstly, they’ve had to give up multiple home games to play in Mexico City or London. Not only does this hurt the team because they lose a home game, but they add an extra round trip in an airplane. This is made even worse because, as a west coast team means they’re nearly always number one in miles traveled.
Here’s the problem with that. Since 2003, six teams from the west coast have reached the Super Bowl. The Seattle Seahawks have done it three times, the San Francisco 49ers have done it twice, and even the Los Angeles Rams made it just two years ago. They don’t seem to mind the time change, do they? Hell, the Raiders dominated for half a century and they did so playing home games on the west coast.
Hey, speaking of the west…
The West Is the Best
Another reason the Raiders have struggled? They play in the AFC West, arguably the NFL’s best division. When you play in one of the league’s most competitive divisions, there is a glass ceiling. Ask the best Miami Dolphin, Buffalo Bills, and New York Jets teams how it felt to play with Tom Brady’s New England Patriots for almost twenty years.
After 2002, the other three teams in the west won the division title. In 2003, Priest Holmes broke the record for rushing touchdowns in a season (27), and the Chiefs went 13-3. The next year, some guy named Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson took the Chargers to a 12-4 record. Finally, in 2005, the Broncos followed an elite rushing offense and a devastating defense to win 13 games and take the crown. Over that span, the Raiders went 13-35, and never sniffed a winning record.
Believe it or not, that was when it was easy. After that, the division took off.
The Bolt Era
Starting in 2006, the team monopolized the AFC west’s playoff berth for four years. Fortunately for Raider Nation, they peaked in 2006 when LT won MVP by breaking the touchdown record (the same one Priest Holmes broke three years earlier) and the squad botched a 14-2 campaign in the playoffs.
2010 was mostly uneventful, other than the Raiders thriving to their best record since 2002 (8-8) and the Chiefs fluked to 10 wins. The following year, the Broncos caught fire with, I’m sorry to remind Raider Nation, Tebowmania, as they raged back from 2-5 to win the division.
That off-season, the Broncos cemented themselves as the elite of the AFC West by signing legendary quarterback, Peyton Manning. Manning shredded the division, winning MVP by setting the records for most passing touchdowns (55) and yards (5,477) in a season, winning at least 12 games in the next four years, and even winning a Super Bowl in 2015. They actually played in two, but judging by what the Seahawks did to them in 2013, they probably don’t mind me ignoring that.
This is the year that has haunted Raider Nation. This is the year where the Raiders made the playoffs, Derek Carr was a MVP candidate, and Khalil Mack was Defensive Player of the Year. This year will forever be bittersweet for Raider Nation, because for a moment, it looked like the pain was finally over. Sadly, it wasn’t.
There are dozens of theories about why the Raiders fell apart after 2016, and this article is already too long without getting into it, but I will say this. That team isn’t a good as you remember. In fact, it could be argued they were luckier than good. Don’t believe me? Read this article about it. There are a lot of things that went overlooked because we were riding the high of a winning season.
The Chiefs Kingdom
Sadly, this was also when the Chiefs took over the AFC West. They’ve won the division every year since, and with Patrick Mahomes under center, it doesn’t look like their reign of terror will stop any time soon. Parts of Raider Nation don’t want to hear this, but he’s probably the league’s best quarterback, and we can only hope the Chiefs struggle to build a team around him after he receives a monster contract.
Since 2003, the rest of the AFC West has produced seven wild card teams to pair with their division champions in the AFC’s post-season. The Denver Broncos won the AFC Championship twice, and slipped past Cam Newton‘s Carolina Panthers to win Super Bowl 50. The Kansas City Chiefs won both the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl just this season.
Since 2003, this division has seen three league MVPs, three Offensive Player of the Year award winners, four Defensive Rookie of the Year award winners, the breaking of the rushing touchdown record (twice), and the best passing season in NFL history. The rest of the division combines for 39 different First-Team All-Pros to the measly four provided by the Raiders, none of whom are still with the team.
Since 2003, here are the standings for the AFC West.
- Denver Broncos: 154-118, 7-7 in Post-Season, Six Division Titles, Two Conference Championships, One Super Bowl.
- San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers: 148-124, 5-7 in Post-Season, Five Division Titles.
- Kansas City Chiefs: 145-127, 5-8 in Post-Season, Six Division Titles, One Conference Championship, One Super Bowl.
- Oakland Raiders: 92-180, 0-1 in Post-Season.
The Bottom Line?
You ask why the Raiders suck, but it looks pretty obvious to me. Sure, there’s been some bad luck, but this is a squad that has cycled through head coaches like tennis shoes, consistently failed to draft elite talent, only to let them leave through trades and free agency anyway, and spent money on the wrong players. How do you expect a poorly coached team with little talent to compete in a division that routinely features All-Pro and Hall of Fame talent?
Well… by fixing those problems.
The Silver and Black Lining
The meat of this article is what the Raiders have done wrong. I referenced coaching turnover, bad drafting, bad free agents, and stupid trades. Take a look at the newly christened Las Vegas Raiders.
Have they had crazy coaching turnover? No. They’ve had the same head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator for two seasons now.
Have they had bad drafting? Actually, no. Kolton Miller was a highly criticized pick, but he played pretty well last year. Josh Jacobs should’ve been rookie of the year, Hunter Renfrow was one of the best rookie receivers last year, Maxx Crosby had as many sacks as Khalil Mack, Foster Moreau looks like one of the better young tight ends in football, and Trayvon Mullen has a bright future at corner.
What about those pesky bad free agents? Sure, they’ve missed on a couple. Tahir Whitehead never became the solution the team desperately needed at linebacker. But did his contract bury the team? Not at all. They were able to move on from their mistakes with little-to-no dead money. Meanwhile they’ve brought in quality free agents like Trent Brown, a great tackle, Darren Waller, a top ten tight end, and Richie Incognito has given the offensive line the nasty energy it needed to create rushing lanes.
Lastly, Antonio Brown wasn’t Jon Gruden or Mike Mayock‘s fault. That guy was a special kind of nightmare, and even the New England Patriots, the best-run football machine of the last twenty years, couldn’t make it work. Every trade is risky, and the Raiders haven’t sent anyway a first round pick for a washed up quarterback or receiver in a long, long time.
So are the Raiders Super Bowl favorites in 2020? Probably not. Are they a playoff team? That remains to be seen, but I’m not going to get my hopes up. However, is this team finally on the right track? Absolutely. They might not be your Dad’s Raiders, but they’re not your older brother’s Raiders either. This is a team that’s finally making the right moves to get better.
You may return to your regularly scheduled quarterback debates.