2014 Oakland Raiders Season Preview and Predictions
By Chase Ruttig
August 15, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck (91) during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Lions 27-26. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Luckily for the Raiders, their poor 2013 roster meant that their key departures were always going to be outweighed by new arrivals after committing large portions of their salary cap to dead money building up to cap space in 2014 NFL Free Agency, but many did not predict that both Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston would leave the team with the Raiders having that aforementioned cap space. Two promising players on the offensive and defensive line, it seemed like a no brainer that if the price was right that general manager Reggie McKenzie would at the very least retain one of the two.
However for whatever reason, that did not happen as the two sides could never come to an agreement. Veldheer leaving to the Arizona Cardinals and Lamarr Houston to the Chicago Bears, both players going for a chance at the playoffs as well as an expectedly decent free agency haul in terms of contracts. Their departures were also criticized by the media, who did not understand why the two best players on the Raiders roster were not retained by McKenzie even if the negotiations never seemed to get past the initial stage on both sides.
Even with the depth improvement in both personnel groups that Veldheer and Houston were the top contributors for the team will miss the production of both players on some level, but the consensus going into the season is that the team has replaced both players well enough that both the offensive line and defensive line will be better without them. However, it is hard to not imagine how two of the best Raiders players in the past few seasons would have contributed to an improved team.
Other significant offseason departures included: Rashad Jennings (Giants), Tracy Porter (Washington), Mike Jenkins (Tampa Bay)
When it comes to key arrivals for the 2014 Oakland Raiders it is hard to know when to stop as McKenzie delivered on what everyone around the league expected by spending his cap space on overhauling the team’s roster from top to bottom, going with proven talent in the process.
Super Bowl success was the theme in free agency as the likes of Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and James Jones all were added to bolster a winning atmosphere along with a chance to prove that their careers are far from over after the teams they helped to championship glory moved on from them after their contracts expired.
Other proven veterans were brought in on the offensive line as well as Austin Howard, Kevin Boothe and Donald Penn reinforced the trenches in Oakland. On defense the Raiders added former 49ers cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rodgers for a straight swap with Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins at the cornerback position while also adding Antonio Smith on the defensive trenches to add further help in depth for a Raiders team that sorely lacked it over the past two seasons after spending much of the franchise’s history as close to the salary cap as possible.
Matt Schaub was brought in via trade with the Houston Texans to give the Raiders a veteran presence at quarterback in a move that was supplemented by the drafting of second round quarterback Derek Carr out of Fresno State (more on that below) and was a necessary move from McKenzie who made the best of bleak options in the veteran passer market this offseason.
Again, these moves come with the question mark of age for the majority of the signings as something that was criticized when the moves were made this spring. The Raiders will be the oldest team this season due to that, but with that age will come experience as well as a knowledge on how to win from winning atmospheres. Coupled with short term and low risk deals there is reason to believe that McKenzie’s free agency moves can make the Raiders competitive right away thanks to experienced talent that still have enough in the tank to do exactly what McKenzie has in mind: Contribute and lead before ending their careers on low risk deals for the Raiders.
The 2014 NFL Draft marked the best Oakland Raiders draft in over a decade as after Reggie McKenzie came under fire for the DJ Hayden selection in 2013, the general manager delivered with quality early selections as well as some potential late round picks that could be providing early dividends as soon as this season in a draft that was praised.
Linebacker Khalil Mack falling to the Raiders with the fifth pick was an early sign that the Raiders draft was going to be a success as the team landed the second rated defensive prospect in the draft out of the University of Buffalo with the fifth selection as the Jaguars reaching for quarterback Blake Bortles allowed them to bring in the talented small school talent.
To add to the Raiders fortunes the team had luck again in the second round as Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr fell to them in the early stages of Round 2 to give the team a double punch of potential franchise building blocks in two highly rated talents after Carr managed to fall out of the first round and into the Raiders laps.
Carr has wowed all preseason during three appearances, including in his final preseason game against the Seahawks to the point that there is a good chance he will be the starter for Oakland Week One when the team faces the Jets in the midst of Matt Schaub’s struggles. Lacking a consistent quarterbacking presence since Rich Gannon, the pressure is on for Derek Carr to become the franchise quarterback the team has been searching for years for. Already trying to move out of the shadow of his brother, a former #1 overall bust with the Texans, Carr’s rookie season may end up being a bigger storyline than Mack’s should head coach Dennis Allen make the choice to go with the rookie over Schaub from the first game.
Beyond Mack and Carr are the shrewd selections of Gabe Jackson, a four year starter at Miss. State who was the best run blocking lineman in the nation for much of his career along with potential value picks at cornerback in Keith McGill and TJ Carrie who can both command early snaps in DJ Hayden’s absence with the cornerback on the PUP list early. Pass rusher Justin “Jelly” Ellis was slowed by a concussion in preseason, but only after making a huge sack to force a fumble on Teddy Bridgewater in a draft class that is looking like it can provide contributors right away and in the long run.
As with any draft class, only time will tell if McKenzie got enough talent to help build the Raiders towards contending again in the AFC, but for now it is hard not to be optimistic about a draft that finally featured little head scratching moves and more selections that earned praise compared to the recent draft history of the franchise. For the sake of the long suffering Raider Nation hopefully the draft class comes to fruition to make up for years of draft day disappointment.