The Raiders entered the 2016 season with a young roster, filled with draftees and former college free agents from the past few seasons.
On opening day, the Raiders’ 53-man roster had an average age of 26 years, two days, tied for 13th in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys.
That’s one of the reasons the future looks bright for both teams.
Recently, NFL.com columnist Gil Brandt – the former longtime executive of the Cowboys during their glory years in the 1960s, ‘70s and '80s – included the Raiders and Cowboys among his six teams with the biggest Super Bowl windows. Their combination of talent, youth and leadership gives them a chance to be in the running for a Super Bowl title for several more years, he said.
The main criteria, according to Brandt, are for teams to have a top quarterback, a strong pass rush and a "top-10 defense."
In order, Brandt picked the Atlanta Falcons (in this week’s Super Bowl) as the No. 1 team with a large window, followed by the Cowboys, Raiders, Seahawks, Dolphins and Packers.
Brandt believes the Raiders’ window for an NFL title is open for at least four seasons, after the team finally made the playoffs in 2016 for the first time since 2002.
"Between Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper and a strong offensive line, the pieces are in place," wrote Brandt.
Brandt noted that if not for Carr’s broken ankle suffered in the 15th regular-season game, the Raiders might have advanced to this year’s Super Bowl.
"There should be the cap space to upgrade the roster – the defense improved as the season wore on, but it could use some tinkering – and adding John Pagano as a defensive assistant can only help," wrote Brandt. "Four years from now, Carr will be seen as a top-five QB, Mack will be recognized as the top pass-rushing end in the NFL and Cooper will continue piling up the Pro Bowl nods."
Others see the same thing. Longtime Bay Area columnist Tim Kawakami says the Raiders "should only get better" in 2017 and beyond. He noted that five of their league-high seven Pro Bowlers this past season were under 28: guard Kelechi Osemele and center Rodney Hudson, 27; Mack and Carr, 25; and Cooper, 22.
In fact, Kawakami said the Raiders probably were a year ahead of schedule in 2016. This next season, they could be much stronger.
The only question both Kawakami and Brandt have is, what city will the Raiders represent when they get to the Super Bowl? Oakland or Las Vegas?