While two NFL teams remain focused on the final game of this season, for 30 others the wheels already are spinning toward 2013.
Teams are filling out coaching staffs, looking at potential free agents, grading draft prospects and deciding how to use their money to the best possible benefit.
The same is true of fans. Raiders fans – with the season dead by November – have had plenty of time to look forward and figure out ways to make their team better.
Recently, for instance, an Oakland fan scanned the free-agent market, saw that the Miami Dolphins haven’t yet locked up offensive left tackle Jake Long and posted on the Raiders website forum that signing Long would make perfect sense.
“Wow, I’m surprised Miami didn’t lock him up, but apparently he is heading into the free-agent market this offseason,” the fan wrote. “Now if RM (general manager Reggie McKenzie) could swing a deal to get Long and move JV (Jared Veldheer) to right tackle he would go a long way to solidifying this line.”
And this was weeks before the Raiders hired former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano as offensive line coach/assistant head coach this week. Sparano was the Miami head coach for Long’s best seasons, when the Dolphins ran a power-blocking scheme, before switching to a zone-blocking scheme (sound familiar?) after Sparano was let go.
Long, the former No. 1 overall choice of the 2008 NFL draft out of Michigan, is a 6-foot-7, 319-pounder who is a four-time Pro Bowler.
He suffered a triceps injury late in the season and had to be put on injured reserve, and is due to become an unrestricted free agent in March, according to ProFootballTalk.com. If Miami chooses to put the franchise tag on him, it would cost the team about $15.3 million for 2013, but there have been indications in Miami that the Dolphins may let Long walk. Last year, the Dolphins drafted left tackle Jonathan Martin in the second round, and it’s been speculated Martin could slip into Long’s spot.
“Jake Long didn’t have a great year, but he’ll get huge money if he hits the market,” the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah told the Sporting News. “Several teams have a hole at that position.”
And, for a Raiders team that is rebuilding, wouldn’t a rock at left tackle be a good place to start? By moving Veldheer to right tackle, the offensive line suddenly would be remade. And, with young standout Stefan Wisniewski at either center or guard, Oakland would have a terrific foundation up front.
Yet Oakland would have to spend big to get Long, and there’s no guarantee it would – or that it could outbid any number of other teams around the league for Long’s services if Miami decides to part with him.
In addition, Long is one of several potential free-agent offensive tackles on the market, including Jermon Bushrod of the Saints, Ryan Clady of the Broncos, Andre Smith of the Bengals, Brandon Albert of the Chiefs and Bryant McKinnie of the Ravens.
But the Raiders have a number of problems – specifically on defense, where the roster is thin – and McKenzie’s focus could be on building up the defense this offseason.
A stronger defense and a more effective offense under a new coordinator could go a long way to making Oakland better in 2013.
In an interview with the NFL Network this week, in fact, head coach Dennis Allen – now at the Senior Bowl – indicated that defense is the team’s priority.
“We’ve got a lot of areas that we have to improve on,” Allen said. “Specifically, we have to really work to improve some things defensively to give us an opportunity to play defense the way that we want to be able to play defense. There are some pieces in place. Obviously, this year we’re not quite as hamstrung with the draft picks and salary cap, so we’re going to have a little more flexibility to make a few more moves and do a few more things to help us from a personnel standpoint with our team.”