The Oakland Raiders Should Hold Off On Jack Del Rio’s Extension

Dec 18, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio reacts during a NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 19-16. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio reacts during a NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 19-16. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oakland Raiders and Jack Del Rio have begun talks on an extension, but here is why the organization should pump the brakes.

After 13 consecutive years of not recording a single winning season — with many of those years being filled with countless examples of embarrassing moments and general incompetence — the Oakland Raiders finally returned to competitive relevance in 2016.

Following a 7-9 season in 2015, the expectation by most was for the Raiders to finish this year with 9, maybe 10 wins. With the potential to sneak into a playoff spot if some things were to fall their way.

But the young Raiders blew past those expectations under the leadership of Bay Area native and longtime Raiders fan Jack Del Rio. The Silver and Black finished the 2016 season with a record of 12-4, even surprising much of the usually over-optimistic Raider Nation.

The lengthy playoff drought was finally over, the Raiders had an MVP candidate in Derek Carr, a dominant offensive line, an elite pass rusher, and several other notable pieces. It felt like it a dream season, and that something special was finally brewing in Oakland.

And then Week 16 happened.

With their eyes on the no. 1 seed in the AFC — or at the very least, the no. 2 seed and a first-round bye — Oakland’s season all but ended when Derek Carr suffered a broken fibula. But devastating injury to the franchise quarterback aside, this was a damn good year for the Raiders.

Having just finished year two of his four-year deal, Del Rio and the Raiders have already begun talks on an extension. Given the success of the team in 2016, Mark Davis and Reggie McKenzie should absolutely reward Del Rio with a contract extension, right?

Not so fast, my friend.

Now, this is in no way an indictment of Del Rio or some sort of unjustified criticism of his performance thus far. I am not a “Del Rio truther” who is dead set on him failing or anything along those lines. Rather, I just believe that talks of an extension seemed rush, and that the best course of action is to wait another year.

For starters, as already mentioned, Del Rio is only halfway through his four-year deal. If he were entering the final year of his contract, then this wouldn’t even be a discussion — his extension probably would have been signed already, actually.

Coaches entering the final year of their deal without an extension face uncertainty about their future and typically have questions about their job security. But that’s not the case with Del Rio. With still one more season to go until he’s considered a lame duck coach, this is something that won’t be hanging over his head going into the 2017 season.

And since Del Rio is only two years into his tenure as head coach of the Raiders, there isn’t enough of a sample size to make this decision.

While the improvement from 7-9 to 12-4 is obviously significant, the Raiders are proof of how quickly things can change in the NFL — for better or for worse. For better because they improved by five wins year over year, and for worse because in the matter of one play, the season came to a screeching halt.

Heading into year three at the helm, this is going to be the best season to evaluate Del Rio’s performance.

Following the 12-4 season, Oakland is set to play a tougher schedule in 2017. Only two teams they will face finished with less than 7 wins in 2016. So while the schedule might not seem top-heavy at first glance, they’ll play quality teams week in and week out, with very few “easy wins” on the schedule. Games against the Patriots and Cowboys also loom large.

There is also the question about how sustainable the win total from 2016 is. Seven times, Oakland entered halftime trailing. Nine times, they entered the fourth quarter facing a deficit. With seven comeback victories orchestrated by Derek Carr, it can’t reasonably be expected for that to happen again.

Further, 12 games were decided by one possession or less, including the 21-13 loss to the Chiefs. So with 75 percent of the games being this close, if the Raiders were to find themselves in similarly close games in 2017, a couple of games going the other way could be the difference between 9-7 and 11-5, or whatever record.

The defense could also once again be an issue. The offense was able to bail them out time and time again, but like with the comeback victories, the offense can’t be relied upon every single week. At some point, the defense has to step up. Especially if this team wants to legitimatize their Super Bowl aspirations.

In 2016, it took until Week 8 for Oakland’s defense to allow less than 344 yards. They allowed 382 or more yards eight times and under 300 yards just three times, against the 14th, 18th, and 27th ranked offenses. To make matters worse, the defense was also the 4th most penalized group in the league, with 1,051 yards on 115 penalties.

With the questionable decision by Jack Del Rio to retain Ken Norton Jr. as defensive coordinator, this puts the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of Jack. Essentially, if the defense doesn’t improve, he’ll reap what he sows.

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Again, just to be crystal clear, Del Rio has done a fantastic job in his first two seasons and he deserves plenty of recognition for that. But for all of the reasons above, the best decision in this situation is to let him finish the third year of his contract, and then reevaluate his performance in the following offseason.

If the Raiders can again finish in the ballpark of 12-4 with at least a playoff win or two — hopefully more — then Del Rio will be in line for a much deserved major payday. But if by chance Oakland finishes 10-6 and gets bounced in the first round, then what? It becomes a much tougher decision. Still perhaps extension worthy, but there will at least be a larger sample size to make that decision.