Needless to say, the 2012 season won’t end the way GM Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen envisioned. As the season draws to a close, there is no shortage of decisions to be made about the direction the Raiders are going. Certainly the Raiders will be heading into a slightly more accommodating salary cap situation, if only because several large contracts are expiring (most notably Richard Seymour’s). The Raiders will also have a 1st round draft pick for the first time since they drafted Rolando McClain in 2010. While the talent level of the roster needs to be addressed, the Raiders may face even tougher decisions on their coaching staff. With two regular season games left, McKenzie and Allen will have to evaluate their staff and roster and finalize plans for the offseason as they try to steer the franchise in the right direction.
Who will be the offensive coordinator in 2013?
Greg Knapp’s future with the Raiders is very much in doubt. To be fair, while he is a popular punching bag with the Raider fan base, the struggles of the offense have been far from all his fault. Knapp’s play designs are not inherently bad. And while the playcalling has been spotty at times, the failures on offense have been largely because of poor execution - bad blocking, dropped balls, errant passes. Still, the simple truth is that Knapp was not the Raiders’ first choice. He was hired after the Raiders interviewed a couple other candidates, and even that was long after pretty much every other team in the league had their coaching staff already set.
There remains a distinct possibility that Knapp will return in 2013. Maybe for the sake of continuity, or because it’s not as simple as most fans think to “upgrade” at a coaching position. Coaches who are successful in one environment don’t necessarily see automatic success in another environment. Likewise, coaches who struggle in one of their previous stops may find more success with different players to work with and a new coaching staff around them.
If the Raiders really do believe in the west coast offense, as McKenzie and Allen have said, but don’t believe Knapp is the answer, there could be several different candidates for the offensive coordinator job. Pat Shurmur, likely done as head coach in Cleveland, helped groom Sam Bradford, and led the offense of an overachieving Rams team in 2010. Still, his offense faltered in Cleveland, and it could be argued his west coast scheme is even more vanilla than Knapp’s. Marty Mornhinweg is likely to follow Andy Reid if Reid gets another head coaching gig, but if he doesn’t it could be very interesting to see the young offensive talent on the Raiders work within Mornhinweg’s scheme.
Other names the Raiders could consider include Norv Turner, Ken Whisenhunt, Rob Chudzinkski, and possibly even Jason Garrett. The thing to keep in mind is that if the Raiders bring in an offensive coordinator who doesn’t utilize west coast concepts or zone blocking, another season of progress might be lost as the Raiders would be essentially starting over on offense.
What will the roster look like?
Many of the newest additions to the Raiders came in on one-year deals, so naturally there is going to be plenty of turn-over for the second straight season. In addition, the contracts of players like Richard Seymour, Shane Lechler, Matt Shaughnessy, Desmond Bryant and others will be expiring.
Seymour and Lechler talk as if they know their time in Oakland is over. It remains to be seen how the Raiders feel about Shaughnessy and Bryant, but their snap count is telling. Shaughnessy has been getting phased out in recent weeks, seeing only 18 snaps against the Chiefs. Bryant, on the other hand, has seen steady increases in his playing time (granted, with Seymour injured) and has looked good in his new role. Brandon Myers has been a revelation at the tight end position, but how much will the Raiders be willing to spend on a tight end with sub-par blocking skills and a history of concussions?
Of the more recent additions to the team, Phillip Wheeler and Joselio Hanson have a good chance of returning as does Mike Goodson, who continues to shine even with limited playing time. Phillip Adams may also return, as he looks to be a solid rotational option in an otherwise-depleted secondary.
Several tenured players who may still be under contract in 2013 could be shipped off for draft picks or released in cost-cutting moves. Rolando McClain is the most notable of these, as his continued disciplinary issues will almost certainly find him looking for new employment in the offseason. Tommy Kelly, who seemingly was kept out of necessity last offseason, could also be as good as gone. Dave Tollefson failed to make any impact whatsoever this season and was quickly phased out of the defense. Taiwan Jones is a star on special teams, but that may not be enough for him to keep a roster spot.
Other more prominent names are less likely to be shipped off, but it still remains possible especially for players like Darren McFadden and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Neither are likely to net much in a trade (for very different reasons), but neither have the look of long-term contributors, either, and both come with a hefty price tag. With the emergence of rookie receivers Juron Criner and Rod Streater, the Raiders may explore trade options for Jacoby Ford, who seemed to fall out of favor with the coaching staff early on before getting injured. He’s inexpensive and could help re-energize a struggling return game, however, so that may only happen if the right offer comes along. Touted free agent signing Mike Brisiel has been awful this season at RG, but will likely get at least another season as the offensive line attempts to gel. Carson Palmer is probably not going anywhere with the amount of guaranteed money his contract includes, but it’s still possible that the Raiders start over at the QB position.
What defensive players will be available to the Raiders in the draft and free agency, and what effect will that have on how Jason Tarver’s defensive scheme evolves?
The Raiders struggles in 2012 have been most noticeable on the defensive side of the ball, where there is a distinct lack of talent. The primary concern for the Raiders this offseason needs to be giving Jason Tarver (not to mention defensive-minded head coach Dennis Allen) more talent to work with. Even one legitimate playmaker can make a young coordinator’s job much easier, but the Raiders currently have no single player who makes an impact on a consistent basis. Luckily for the Raiders, this particular draft is stocked with talented pass-rushers. Unfortunately they also have gaping holes at middle linebacker, cornerback, defensive tackle and safety.
Draft prospects like Flordia State DE Bjoern Werner, BYU DE/OLB Ziggy Ansah, Texas A&M DE Damontre Moore, and Oregon OLB Dion Jordan would have an instant impact, either at defensive end or as hybrid rushers. But the Raiders also need an interior lineman who is stronger at the point of attack. Jacksonville’s Terrance Knighton and Tampa Bay’s Roy Miller are effective 4-3 nose tackles, but if the Raiders plan on integrating more 3-4 looks 49ers veteran NT Isaac Sopoaga or Alabama’s Jesse Williams could interest them. Many have connected the Raiders to Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, but they might also look at inside linebackers like Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, Stanford’s Shayne Skov, and Penn State’s Gerald Hodges in the draft. In addition Current Packer Brad Jones, a young linebacker who has quietly played very well for Reggie McKenzie’s former team this season, is a free agent in the offseason. While free agency is stacked at cornerback in 2013, the Raiders don’t seem poised to go out and immediately eat whatever cap space they’ve managed to clear with flashy signings. It’s more probable that they’re revisit signing impending free agent Tracy Porter, or even other mid-level players like Shaun Smith or Cary Williams. If they intend on drafting a corner, players like Rutgers’ Logan Ryan or Utah State’s Will Davis may be available to the Raiders.
It’s going to be an offseason of seemingly endless questions for the Raiders. They have two more games to get a good look at their coaching staff and roster. Two more games to analyze their strengths and weaknesses, to see who deserves another season in Silver and Black. With the suddenly red-hot Carolina Panthers next on the schedule, and a season finale against a Charger team who the Raiders lost to in embarrassing fashion to begin the season, the coaches and players will have the opportunity to end the season on high note. If an energetic, motivated Raider team shows up for these final two games, then maybe some of the decisions the front office has to make will be a little more difficult. If the Raiders lay down and solidify a top three draft choice? It will be pretty apparent that Reggie McKenzie has plenty of changes to make.