By the time the 2016 season ended, it looked like the Raiders were building a possible contender for a long time to come. The team won 12 games and could’ve gone on a Super Bowl run had quarterback Derek Carr not broken his fibula. Despite the disappointing end to the 2016 campaign, the future was bright for the Raiders as the team’s three best players in Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack were all 25 or younger.
Former head coach Jack Del Rio made the decision to move on from offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave after the season despite the offense being ninth in points scored per game. Del Rio promoted quarterbacks coach Todd Downing to offensive coordinator and the wheels quickly fell off. The Raiders went 6-10 in 2017 and the offense was 22nd in points scored per game. The coaching staff was fired after the season despite only being a year removed from a playoff run. Del Rio, now the defensive coordinator for the Washington Football Team, is set to play against the Raiders for the first time since getting being fired.
Since the 2016 season, many have wondered if the Raiders could’ve avoided disaster had Del Rio kept Musgrave on staff. Writing about Carr and Del Rio’s relationship, The Athletic’s Vic Tafur revealed what possibly could’ve played a role regarding why the offensive coordinator was let go.
“And both will probably always wonder what would have happened if Del Rio had just brought back successful offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave in 2017. (Many in the organization later said Del Rio may have been upset about how much money Musgrave was making.)” Tafur wrote.
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A Disastrous Decision
Musgrave isn’t some brilliant offensive mind, which is evident by the fact that he hasn’t been in the NFL since 2018. However, certain situations are better fits for coaches and the Raiders were clearly a good fit for Musgrave. Carr threw 60 touchdowns in two years under the coach, which is more than any other two-year stretch he’s had.
If Del Rio truly let Musgrave go because he was making too much money, it would be one of the worst decisions by a coach in recent NFL history. It’s entirely possible that owner Mark Davis would’ve fired Del Rio regardless of what happened in 2017 considering Jon Gruden had become available. However, a deep playoff run would’ve made it almost impossible for the owner to justify the move. Gruden didn’t lead the team to a single winning season before resigning earlier this season. Had Del Rio just kept Musgrave around, the Raiders could’ve avoided four straight seasons without a playoff berth.
Downing Having More Success With Titans
There’s no doubt Downing was a disaster as the Raiders’ offensive coordinator. The offense could only muster 18.8 points a game despite having elite talent. He only lasted one year but is now getting another shot with the Tennessee Titans. So far, he’s been doing a much better job.
Downing took over for Arthur Smith this offseason, who was hired to be the Atlanta Falcons head coach. The Titans are scoring 25.3 points a game, which is 12th in the NFL. Those numbers are made more impressive by the fact that superstars Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones have been banged up for much of the season. Perhaps Del Rio was onto something with Downing but he clearly wasn’t ready for the added responsibility back in 2017.