It can’t always be sunshine and rainbows in the land of silver and black.
Despite the fact that many NFL insiders believe the Oakland Raiders are one of the most improved teams in the NFL, Connor Orr at Sports Illustrated decided to stray from the pack and give a different take. In his list of teams he thinks got worse this offseason, the Raiders are on top. Read his rationale below:
Like we discussed when I wrote about the Dolphins in last week’s roundtable, I think there’s a difference between improvement and becoming healthier. On paper, the Raiders may be the most improved team in football (hello, Antonio Brown), but is this a healthier organization than it was a year ago? Mercurial free agent acquisitions—especially the likes of Richie Incognito—may not be a permanent fixture in Oakland’s locker room, but send a message to the young core of offensive linemen building around him. The whole point of signing Jon Gruden to a 10-year deal was that this was deemed to be a long-term rebuild, and that it would take so much time that he’d need the security to tear the roster down. What, then, do we call this entree of microwave popcorn Oakland is serving in 2019? Why not develop young players and then add when the team is on the cusp of competing like other clubs who have gone through a similar process?
There is certainly merit to Orr’s assessment of the optics of the whole situation. General Manager Mike Mayock made an effort to select high-character players during his first draft. To preach that message and then to sign one of the NFL’s most volatile players in Richie Incognito seems like a big contradiction. Time will tell if Incognito will even make the team, but the PR damage has been done.
Too Many Big Personalities in Oakland
The signing of Richie Incognito isn’t the first time the Raiders brought on a player with baggage this offseason. New linebacker Vontaze Burfict is coming off a stint with the Bengals where he was widely viewed as a dirty player. We also can’t forget about wide receiver Antonio Brown’s very public divorce with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the drama that followed.
Even with enough baggage to clog up an airport, all three of these players have something in common: all-pro level talent. If Incognito, Burfict and Brown can keep their heads straight, the Raiders are going to be scary. If nothing else, this will be must-watch TV on Sundays.
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The Bad Boys of the NFL are Back
Love it or hate it, the Raiders are once again the bad boys of the NFL. The days of Lyle Alzedo and Jack Tatum were thought to be long gone, but Jon Gruden seems hell-bent on bringing back that image. This mixture of high-character players like Derek Carr mixed with killers like Vontaze Burfict should create an interesting dynamic. Mike Mayock said it himself, “you can’t have all boy scouts.”
Some of these moves are questionable, but there’s no reason to think the Raiders can possibly be worse than last season. They’re coming off a 4-12 season and there’s no denying that the talent gap between this year’s and last year’s rosters is significant. Sure, they’ll be a few headaches along the way, but expect this new edge and talent influx to at least get the Raider to five wins.