A New Deal
Principal owner and managing general partner Mark Davis did his job in the offseason when he played the free-agent market to the tune of more than $140 million. Davis guaranteed more than $62 million to 11 free agents signed this year to help the team just about everywhere. The Raiders also helped themselves in the draft with wide receiver Amari Cooper, defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., and tight end Clive Walford.
Culturally, the Raiders are also in for a change. The front office looked to inject some life in a rudderless and losing franchise, and did just that by hiring Jack Del Rio as head coach.
Del Rio’s 2015 Raiders will have purpose and energy. He is creating a spirit within the team that he hopes will pour out of everything it does. He is instilling a sense of focus and discipline, necessary ingredients for a team trying to get into the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.
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Emergence of young stars
The story begins with second-year quarterback Derek Carr, who gained good reviews off a solid rookie season in which he threw for 3,270 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Carr’s numbers should improve with a year’s experience, a better offensive line and more talent at wide receiver in Cooper and free-agent pickup Michael Crabtree. Carr looks and sounds very confident. He is emerging as a team leader.
Running back Latavius Murray lends balance to the offense. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound, third-year player out of Central Florida looked terrific toward the end of 2014 and early this preseason. He has great vision and plenty of speed to hit the hole fast. He’s strong enough to run through arm tackles and smart enough to avoid the crushing blow while still moving forward. His first 1,000-yard season shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Questions at corners
T.J. Carrie, 25, D.J. Hayden, 25, and Keith McGill, 26, have only four years of NFL experience combined, and as a trio have a total of just two interceptions.
They’ll continue to learn on the job, and at times it will be painful to watch, with some of the best quarterbacks in the league looking to burn Carrie, Hayden and McGill for big yardage. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton gets first crack in the opener, followed by Baltimore’s Joe Flacco in Week 2. Division rivals Peyton Manning of the Broncos and Philip Rivers of the Chargers play them twice each, with the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger getting their shots, as well as the Lions’ Matthew Stafford, Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater and Heisman Trophy-winning rookie Marcus Mariota of the Titans.
Fortunately for the Raiders, Del Rio has a good history working with cornerbacks.
To giveth and taketh away
Last year, the Raiders had an NFL-worst turnover margin of minus-15, which helped explain their 3-13 record. Turnovers were huge in five of their losses, including a loss to New England when the Raiders reached the Patriots’ 12-yard line before Carr threw an interception in the final minute against the eventual Super Bowl champs. In a six-point loss to Seattle, the other Super Bowl team, the Seahawks scored 10 points off turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown.
If the Raiders can achieve a positive turnover margin, they’ll probably be a winner. The good news for the Raiders is that it was a rookie quarterback who was responsible for 18 of the giveaways. Expect Carr to cut down on his 12 interceptions and six lost fumbles in his second year.
The future is … where?
The Raiders’ discussion with the Chargers about moving their franchises to Los Angeles and sharing a stadium continues to make headlines. Both would like to see it continue to stir – improving their bargaining positions – while they negotiate new stadium deals in Oakland and San Diego.
Mark Davis’ $8 million investment in upgraded facilities at the Raiders’ compound in Alameda might suggest he would rather stay north than move south. One thing that isn’t going anywhere, though, is the relocation story. It’ll hover over Oakland until there are shovels in the ground somewhere. But it won’t distract the players, few of whom have deep-root Bay Area connections.