We’re publishing a special string of articles at the Raider Ramble to help many of the new fans in Las Vegas familiarize themselves with Raiders history.
This entry to the collection is a look back at 2016 and what turned out to be one of the greatest flukes in team’s history. Prior to returning to the playoffs that year, the Raiders were the NFL’s doormat. Following that postseason berth, things turned sour for the Silver and Black. For now, let’s go back in time for a bit.
“We Used To Be a Good Team”
The sports writer’s name escapes me right now, but here’s the backstory. Some years ago, Al Davis fired Norv Turner. As a result said writer suggested the Raiders change their slogan from “Commitment to Excellence” to “We Used to Be a Good Team.” As much as fans loved to idolize the maverick that was Al Davis, we should remember it was his own stubbornness and ego that hindered the Silver and Black for years. Sadly, it was egocentrism in its lowest form.
The records speak for themselves. You can also look at the drafts the Raiders had during these years. Drafting players that never lived up to their potential such as Robert Gallery, Derrick Gibson, Phillip Buchanon, Michael Huff, and let us not forget, JaMarcus Russell, all translated to wasted draft capital.
The Turning Point?
In 2012, following the passing of Al Davis, his son Mark relinquished control of football operations to Reggie McKenzie. That marked the first time someone with the last name of Davis wouldn’t be running the Raiders in generations. There were hiccups under the McKenzie administration early on such as the hiring of Dennis Allen as his first head coach. Also, McKenzie was burdened with building a roster without high draft picks. Mostly all resulting from team mismanagement in previous years.
The turning point for the Raiders came when local product Jack Del Rio, who had previously coached the Jacksonville Jaguars, became their the head coach. Then, at the 2014 NFL Draft, McKenzie hit a grand slam when he selected Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, and Gabe Jackson. By all accounts, this should’ve been the core that would lead the Raiders for the next decade-plus.
The Wheels Fell Off
By 2016, the Raiders were back in the playoffs thanks to better roster management and upgraded coaching. Carr was surrounded by a wealth of talent in the form of Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and Latavius Murray. The defense wasn’t elite, however, it did enough to not cost the teams any wins. Unfortunately, after Carr went down with an injury in December of that year, the bottom fell from under the Raiders. They were easily defeated by the Houston Texans in the playoffs.
Then in 2017, as the NFL found itself amidst political protests, the Raiders lost on Monday Night Football and the team lost its way after that. There was plenty of blame to go around, some blamed protesting by kneeling during the National Anthem. That would be short-sighted, because the reasons were much deeper than that. Del Rio turned out to be not that good of a coach. More importantly, he refused to move on from defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. even after it was apparent the defense was not up to standard. Handling the offense to Todd Downing who had never held the position before, also sealed Del Rio’s fate.
What Might’ve Been
McKenzie also played a role in this collapse. While he managed the salary cap well, his drafting was atrocious. Other than the 2014 home-run draft, McKenzie insisted on drafting experiments, reaches, and players that ended up having little to no impact on the team. Jihad Ward, Obi Melifonwu, and Connor Cook come to mind. Making the playoffs in 2016 was nice, but it proved to be unsustainable for a myriad of reasons, so much so, that Jon Gruden upon his return scrapped almost every moving part from that collapse, save for Carr and a couple of other key contributors. In another 20 years, this will be remembered as a flash in the pan that many will ponder what could’ve been done to build on the success that was 2016.
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*Top Photo: Ben Margot/Associated Press