NFL

Pain of 2014 Season May Lead to Offseason Opportunities for Raiders

As Raiders struggle for first victory, one analyst looks ahead and sees opportunity for growth and improvement

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It’s only nine games into the 2014 season, yet for the Raiders the offseason and 2015 can’t get here soon enough.

As the only winless team in the NFL – and with all hope lost of accomplishing much in the victory column over the remaining seven games – the Raiders face some huge issues the moment this season ends on Dec. 28 against the Broncos in Denver.

The Raiders, of course, will still go after their first victory of the season this Sunday in San Diego against a Chargers team that has lost three straight and almost fell to Oakland earlier this season.

But as former NFL and college football scout Matt Williamson wrote for ESPN.com this week, the big drama for the Raiders comes this offseason.

At that point, that’s when owner Mark Davis will decide the fate of general manager Reggie McKenzie and the team will likely set a new course with a new head coach – if Tony Sparano doesn’t get another chance.

It’s also when the team will take a look at its roster, eject those who are too expensive, too old or overvalued and continue to bring in free agents and draftees to build on a solid 2014 draft class that includes linebacker Khalil Mack, quarterback Derek Carr, guard Gabe Jackson and kick returner/cornerback T.J. Carrie.

“Times seem bleak for the winless Raiders,” wrote Williamson. “But they have some crucial assets in place and very well could have the best rookie class in the NFL.”

Williamson, in fact, believes that the Raiders’ future could be bright within just a couple of seasons by building on the young players now in silver and black.

After addressing the GM and coaching situation, for instance, the Raiders – who could have the No. 1 pick in the draft – will be in great position to bring in young playmakers on offense and defense as they did this year.

A good young running back, a pass-rushing defensive lineman and a deep-threat wide receiver, for instance, could make huge impacts on this roster in 2015. And with Carr in the fold, Williamson points out that the Raiders no longer have to search for a quarterback, but can build around the one they now have – a big change from past seasons.

Williamson also lays out a possible blueprint for success in which the Raiders could trade their No. 1 pick for a haul of picks to use over the 2015 and 2016 drafts to bring in both quality and quantity.

Though times are terrible now for Raiders fans, Williamson points out that a team’s fortunes can quickly change in the NFL. By stocking up on defensive players in free agency and the draft, he believes Oakland can take a quick route toward the top of the AFC West.

“I love Khalil Mack and there are other pieces in place on that side of the ball, but infusing this defense with high draft pick after high draft pick as well as mid- and late-round talented ‘projects’ at all levels of the defense, but especially up front and on the end end, could pay off by as early as 2016,” he writes. “The Raiders might just be ready to take over the AFC West as a talented defense begins to really mature.”

Of course, this will require patience, not only by Davis and the entire organization, but by Raiders fans who are desperate to see progress after more than a decade of pain.

And, in the meantime, they’ll have to suffer through seven more games of what has proven to be one of the most disappointing seasons of all.

It’s now 15 straight losses for Oakland over two seasons. The short-term goal is to avoid becoming the second 0-16 team ever.

“We hate it,” veteran safety Charles Woodson told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “We hate that that’s even in the minds of our fans. Does it weigh on us? No, I don’t think it weighs on us. Just losing games is what weighs on us.”

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