The Oakland Raiders are one of the most storied franchises in the history of the NFL. They have a franchise win-loss record of 430-363-11 with an all-time winning percentage of 54 percent. The Raiders have a playoff record of 25-18 with three Super Bowl victories. The franchise has seen its fair share of superstars with 21 Hall of Fame players donning the Silver and Black during their careers. The mystic and reputation of the Raiders transcended the NFL into popular culture.
The Raiders found their glory in the 1970’s and early 1980’s with all three Super Bowl victories coming in that time period. They had flashes of success in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The team became a middle of the road team during the mid to late 90’s. The Raiders’ fortunes began to turn under new Head Coach Jon Gruden in the late 90’s.
Gruden’s Raiders put back-to-back 8-8 seasons in his first two seasons as head coach in 1998 and 1999. The Raiders made a massive jump the next season as they improved to 12-4 on the season, which was good enough to tie for the second best record in the league. They made the playoffs for the first time in seven years. They advanced to the conference championship before falling to the eventual Super Bowl winning Baltimore Ravens.
The following season, the team regressed a little posting a record of 10-6, but they made the playoffs for the second straight season. They faced off against the New England Patriots in the Divisional round of the playoffs and came up short following a controversial call in what is forever known as “the Tuck Rule.” Gruden left the team for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the offseason, and Raiders promoted Offensive Coordinator Bill Callahan to head coach.
Callahan inherited a very strong roster put in place by Gruden. The offense, led by Rich Gannon, Tim Brown, and Jerry Rice, finished first in total yards and second in points scored. The team finished the regular season with an 11-5 record, earning the top seed in the AFC. They rolled their way to Super Bowl by defeating the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans by 20 and 17 points, respectively.
However, they would face off against Gruden and his Buccaneers squad. Tampa Bay would rule the day as they easily handled Oakland 48-21. This loss would kick off the collapse of the Raiders’ franchise into its current state.
The Raiders have suffered through 10 straight losing seasons following that loss in the 2002 Super Bowl. They are considered the poster child of the “Super Bowl losers curse.” They have amassed 49 wins over the last 10 seasons. To put that in perspective, the Raiders had 49 wins in the five seasons under Gruden and Callahan. In those ten seasons, the Raiders have had seven different head coaches, with Tom Cable being the longest tenured coach with 44 games.
Under the regime of Al Davis the Raiders put off going through a rebuild as Davis wanted to “win now.” This led to poor personnel decisions as they tried to build their through free agency and trades. They wanted veteran players that would provide an immediate impact. Davis would often sacrifice draft picks in order to make these trades. These moves have left the Raiders roster devoid of young talent. Another dilemma created by their free wheeling ways was creating a salary cap crunch they have suffered with over the pass several seasons.
The death of Davis created an opening for a new decision maker in the player personnel department. The Raiders decided to start over fresh under new owner Mark Davis. They brought in a new general manager in Reggie McKenzie and a brand new coaching staff under first year head coach Dennis Allen. Last season, they attempted one more shot at the playoffs with a roster that finished 8-8 the previous, but went 4-12 and it was finally time to start the long awaited rebuild.
McKenzie took steps during the off season to begin rebuilding the Raiders franchise. His first order of business was to remove the team from the salary cap hell they found themselves in. He allowed many of the team’s high priced free agents to leave, such as Richard Seymour and Desmond Bryant. He also released several of the team’s former first round picks in Michael Huff, Darius Heyward-Bey, and Rolando McClain.
He was also able to trade off Carson Palmer’s massive contract to the Arizona Cardinals. McKenzie has given the Raiders $69 million dollars in cap space for the 2014 season. It was the first step to many left for this franchise to reclaim its health and return to its former glory.
The Raiders should look no further than across the San Francisco Bay for the template on how to rebuild a struggling franchise. The San Francisco 49ers began a downward spiral after the 2002 season season as well. The Niners have had seven sub-.500 percent winning percentage since that 2002 season. They began their rebuilding procuess in 2005 under head coach Mike Nolan and general manager Scot McCloughan.
The Niners’ formula for their rebuild was to build the team through their draft picks and then supplement those core players with players from free agency to fill in key missing positions. Mark Davis mentioned this in an interview with Steve Corkan of the Bay Area News Group:
I hate to use the example of the team across the bay, but they’re in a position now where they have such a good core that they’re able to just pick up a guy here or a guy there.
The Niners placed their emphasis on building their team through the draft. They had to increase their scouting efforts in order to maximize their ability to add players that will be successful. The Niners have a tendency to fill positions in their player personnel department from within. They promote their successful scouts to fill higher positions once those people leave for other organizations to create a sense of continuity in their scouting doctrine.
The Raiders need to emulate their cross bay rivals emphasis on scouting. It would increase their ability to build through the draft and creating a core of young talent. McKenzie started to take the necessary steps in starting the rebuild by purging the team of bad contracts. Creating a young core will help with the health of the franchise as they build for the future.