The Raiders’ season came to an abrupt end Saturday, but Oakland expects to be back in the playoffs next year. And the next … and the next.
This year’s 12-4 regular-season performance was likely just the first of what many in the franchise believe is a resurgence.
Head coach Jack Del Rio and general manager Reggie McKenzie are on the same page when it comes to long-term growth. With a young franchise quarterback in Derek Carr, a dominating defender in Khalil Mack – an All-Pro for the second straight season – a dominating offensive line and some young impact players such as receiver Amari Cooper, safety Karl Joseph, linebacker Bruce Irvin and defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr., the team has multiple players coming together in their prime.
“Nobody wants to take one swing and hope that you have a magical year one time,” Del Rio told the media after the playoff loss to the Texans Saturday. “I think you want to build your roster strong, build your team strong and build the culture strong … and compete at a championship level year after year. That’s what the goal is.”
McKenzie said when he came on board as general manager that he was going to take a steady approach to building the team, using the draft and managing the salary cap to create flexibility and stay away from franchise-damaging contracts, and he’s done that. Since joining Oakland in 2012, the Raiders endured a rough patch and then charted steady improvement. The team's records since he arrived: 4-12, 4-12, 3-13, 7-9 and 12-4.
“The key is that your drafted players become your core,” McKenzie said recently. “As far as (what’s next), you need to know you can sign them and keep them and continue that process. That’s where we are right now and we feel good about where we are. We think we’ve built this thing to last. …
“The premier players will get paid and we’ll try to keep everything intact as much as we can.”
Even with some big-free agent deals given to guard Kelechi Osemele, cornerback Sean Smith, linebacker Bruce Irvin and safety Reggie Nelson this past offseason, the Raiders are in good position going into this offseason, a projected $51.5 million under what is predicted to be the 2017 NFL salary cap.
That puts McKenzie in position – again – to have a productive next few months in acquiring new talent and locking up existing talent for the future.