Like a Rolling Stone

By Big Tex  |   Wednesday, December 16, 2009  |  Comments( 2 )

Oakland Raiders
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"Once upon a time, you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime, in your prime, didn't you? People call say beware doll, your bound to fall. You thought they were all kiddin you."

The first lines of Bob Dylan's hit, "Like a Rolling Stone", a song whose chorus contains the line "with no direction home". So what in the world does Dylan have to do with football? Maybe quite a bit if you're the Oakland Raiders. As the season winds down, it's time for every team to evaluate their overall performance. With three games left, Oakland needs to win all three to avoid an NFL record seventh straight double-digit losing season. The prospect of winning three in a row for a team unable to put together back to back wins seems daunting. The time is fast approaching for the Raider brain trust (ie;Al Davis, and Al Davis alone) to plot the course for the Raiders to move forward. That course will have multiple factors affecting it.

PLAYERS: The time has come to ask "Just exactly how many of these guys would start on a championship team?" The problems at QB have been cussed and discussed. The Raiders guaranteed JaMarcus Russell about $32 million dollars when he signed. Some of that money may still be due. Additionally, Russell is on the books next year for about a $9.5 million cap figure. I'm sure that Al Davis does not want to invest over $30 million in a player, cut him, and then possibly have him become a viable player for someone else. I'm just as sure that Al Davis doesn't want to spend almost $10 million next year for what he saw out of Russell this year. In order for Russell to reduce his cap number next year, the Raiders' would need to sweeten the pot for him. That ain't happening. The day of reckoning is coming. JaMarcus has one more year (if he's lucky) to turn it around.
The player problems in Oakland are not limited to QB, it's just that the fiancial implications of a #1 draft pick QB are the most involved. We all know that Al Davis can be fiercely loyal to his players. How many on this team have rewarded that loyalty? How many Pro Bowl caliber performers are there on the Raiders roster? Maybe two. How many are on offense? Zero. The Offensive line needs a massive infusion of talent. The most effective RB will be on the wrong side of 30 when next season begins. The supposed power RB seeems to have taken up permanent residence in the HC's doghouse. As to the high dollar first round RB, it seems as if he might be better suited at WR. McFadden's size and speed might be better utilized at WR and McFadden has not shown the ability to avoid injury or move the pile from the RB position. WR is clearly a position of need as well for the Raiders. The seventh overall selection in last year's draft has disappointed with 9 catches for 124 yards. The criticism on DHB leading up to last year's draft was that many scouts viewed him as a "one-trick pony", a speed reciever who had limited route-running ability and questionable hands. Those critics have not been silenced. The rest of the WRs are a collection of projects and suspects. The TE at least shows the potential to be a consistent receiving threat.
The defense has it's own problems as evidenced by it's ranking of 31st in the league. The two best defensive linemen are Richard Seymour and Greg Ellis. Seymour will turn 31 next October and Ellis will be 35 when next season starts. Clearly some youthful depth is needed quickly. Needed just as quickly is help at the DT position to stop the run. The money thrown at Terdell Sands to fill that role was obviously wasted. The LB corps has been mediocre with no consistent playmakers. The secondary isn't awful (Nnambi is the team's best player), but with the problems in the defensive front seven, the DBs are frequently required to cover too long.

COACHING: The Head Coach is the guy on the hot seat. Like baseball managers, they are often hired to be fired. It's always easier to replace one than it is fifty three. Tom Cable took over a difficult situation. That situation has been made more difficult by the legal distractions he's faced. Whatever coaching decision is made by the Raiders, the final call on scheme, players, and coaching staff hires will not come from the Head Coach. That reality will remove from consideration several of the highly qualified candidates who are available. Additionally, with the number of apparent and potential HC job openings on the horizon, it would benefit the Raiders to act quickly to start compiling their wish list and line up some interviews or at least gauge interest. I believe that the decision on Head Coach will come down to Cable or Russell. I believe one or the other will be made the scapegoat for the season and while I think the team plays hard for Cable, I'm not sure if that will be enough for him to keep his job .

BUSINESS: Pro football is a business and alot of these decisions to make are ultimately business decisions. There has been much moaning among Raider faithful for the return of Jon Gruden to the Raiders' sideline. The dispute between Al Davis and Jon Gruden was three-fold. Gruden wanted control of the coaching staff hires. He wanted control of the player moves. He wanted more money. Al isn't going to give on any of those issues. Al Davis has not shown a willingness to spend the kind of money to bring in a strong coach and a hot-shot GM. There is a very real possibility that Al Davis can't spend that kind of money. While I doubt that Mr. Davis will be forced to depend on public transportation anytime soon, the Raiders are an embarrassing last in the league in attendence. The Cowboys lead the league in attendence and have exceeded the Raiders by 300,000 fans at home. At a league average price of about $75 a ticket, that's an additional $22.5 million in revenue. When you factor in the average price of a Cowboys' ticket at $160, it works out to an extra $48 million. You can do a hell of a lot with an extra $48 million.

Once upon a time, the Oakland Raiders were among the elite teams in the pro football. The success of the Raiders in the 60's helped the AFL compete with the NFL and ultimately led to the merger. While the situation in Oakland certainly isn't hopeless, some clear and accurate decisions are going to need to be made. The Raiders franchise finds itself in a pretty deep hole and the first thing you need to do when you're in a hole is stop digging. The Raiders need to put down the shovels and start building a ladder. The Raiders need to find their "direction home".
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