General manager Reggie McKenzie has said several times the Raiders are set up to be competitive for a long time.
“This thing is built to last,” he said last month.
He wasn’t lying. The Raiders have significant talent under contract, with the ability to pay those nearing extensions without handicapping the rest of the roster.
Head coach Jack Del Rio has firm command of the club, and has become an attraction for potential free agents.
The Raiders went 12-4 in 2016, a five win improvement over the year before. A steady ascent, however, can’t be guaranteed. Freak things happen in the NFL, as anyone at Oakland Coliseum on Christmas Eve can attest, that derail a season.
While adversity will come, there’s no doubt a competitive window is open that shouldn’t be shuttered any time soon.
“That’s part of our responsibility, to build it the right way and build it so that it can last,” Del Rio said. “Nobody wants to take one swing and hope that you have a magical year one time. I think you want to build your roster strong, build your team strong and build the culture strong so that what you’re able to put in and put together is a roster that can go out and compete at a championship level year after year. That’s what the goal is.
“That’s where we are in terms of the football team is raising the expectations, creating the culture of ‘can do,’ a lot of sacrifice, a lot of adhering to the process that we talk about all the time of how we recover, prepare, compete and continue to build the roster strong and then go out and compete the way we’ve learned to.”
Rome wasn’t built in a day. The Raiders were far more talented this season over the last, but still had glaring holes that can be fixed with proper use of draft picks and free agent spending.
Players believe this franchise is on the rise, with room to improve as a young core grows together.
“I think (the future’s) really bright,” Raiders running back Latavius Murray said. “This year we were able to do some good things. We made it to the postseason and obviously when you do that, you give yourselves a chance to play for a championship. We were one of 12 teams to be able to do that. I think we just need to continue to do the things that we did since Jack has been here. He’s done a great job and everyone has just been buying in. I think just continue to trust and embrace the process that he has. That will be just fine.”
The Raiders have 13 unrestricted free agents on their way to the open market. Some will return. Others won’t, and a few under contract could find themselves looking for another employer as the team continues to strengthen the roster into one that could compete for a Super Bowl.
“Whatever pieces Reggie (McKenzie) and them come up with it’s going to be a tremendous help to this team,” safety Reggie Nelson said. “It could help get us over the next step, get us to that next step and over that hump that we’ve been wanting to get over.”
The Raiders will have high expectations next season, in search of their first AFC West title since 2002 and a long playoff run. Del Rio and McKenzie will lead and organizational evaluation in an attempt to be better than before.
“You evaluate who you are, what you are,” Del Rio said. “Look at the things you can do better and areas where you feel like you can strengthen. You don’t always get your wish list. You try to strengthen the best you can. You don’t always get your wish list, but to me it’s a never ending process about building yourself as strong as possible and preparing for the next opportunity.”