It wasn’t too long ago that the NFL’s best free agents wanted nothing to do with the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders, once an elite franchise, had fallen into a black hole. They couldn’t win, they had a revolving door for head coaches and their facilities couldn’t compete with other NFL teams.
In 2015, the Raiders were eager to land top free agents such as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and wide receiver Reggie Cobb, but neither player wanted anything to do with playing in Oakland.
As longtime Bay Area columnist Tim Kawakami wrote last March, after Suh and Cobb declined the team’s offers, “The Raiders haven’t been a destination franchise for many years, and if you needed any reminder, the last few days are hard proof that sure aren’t a destination franchise now.”
But Reggie Nelson, the team’s latest free-agent signing, says that’s all changed now. The Raiders, after improving to 7-9 in 2015, are an attractive franchise that appears headed in the right direction. General manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio have changed the culture of the franchise and young stars such as Khalil Mack, Derek Carr and Amari Cooper have infused the team and its fans with optimism.
The signing of Nelson, a Pro Bowl safety with Cincinnati in 2015, is one of four high-profile free-agent acquisitions this offseason. He joins linebacker Bruce Irvin, guard Kelechi Osemele and cornerback Sean Smith.
Plus, the Raiders still have multiple picks in this year’s draft, where McKenzie has been masterful the past two years.
“I’m just excited I can be a part, a piece, to that puzzle,” Nelson told Bay Area reporters recently. “I’m pretty sure they’re not done adding pieces and getting this team going in the right direction like they’ve been doing.
“Those guys, Sean Smith and Irvin? That’s just crazy. I mean, this defense has been great and just the pieces they’ve put together this year, and that’s not even (including) the draft. I just can’t wait to get going and keep adding pieces to the team.”