ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP)The process has become old hat in Oakland the day after the regular season ends with Raiders players packing up their lockers, having exit meetings and then leaving for the offseason.
The difference this season is by the time next season starts, the team will be playing in Las Vegas instead of Oakland with hopes of becoming a consistent winner after mostly struggles during the 25 seasons back in Oakland.
”I’m not going to lie, it’s exciting,” quarterback Derek Carr said. ”I think it’s time for some fresh air.”
The Raiders will still spend the offseason program at the headquarters in Alameda before going back to training camp in nearby Napa and then finally moving to Las Vegas next August.
Now the question is whether Carr will be part of that after leading the Raiders to just one winning record in his first six seasons.
Carr showed progress this year with career highs in yards per attempt (7.9) and passer rating (100.8), but has been unable to lift the rest of the team outside of that one playoff season in 2016.
”We’ll see when that time comes,” Carr said. ”They’re probably sick of us talking about it, just like I am. I had some good meetings with my coaches and I’m looking forward to Las Vegas.”
Coach Jon Gruden was less definitive, even though he praised Carr for improving in his second season in the system. But that wasn’t enough to prevent the Raiders (7-9) from losing five of their final six games this year to fall short of the postseason for the 16th time in the past 17 years.
That only led to more questions about Carr’s status.
”I’m not going to get into all the next-year scenarios,” Gruden said. ”I’m just going to say that 7-9 is a step forward and we took a step forward. Statistically, I think we took a step forward. We’ve got to get a lot of guys healthy and we’ve got a lot of things to look at and evaluate before we start making any assumptions.”
The Raiders moved back to Oakland in 1995, but the 25-year second tenure was mostly a failure outside of a three-year run from 2000-02 that featured two trips to the AFC title game and one Super Bowl loss. The team’s 160-240 record in that span is third worst in the league and the four playoff berths are second fewest to the one for Cleveland.
The biggest bright spot this season for the Raiders was the play of the rookie class led by first-round running back Josh Jacobs and fourth-round defensive end Maxx Crosby. Jacobs led all rookies with 1,150 yards rushing despite missing three games and being limited in others by a shoulder injury.
Crosby’s 10 sacks were second among all rookies to Josh Allen’s 10 1/2 for Jacksonville.
Oakland’s rookie class led the NFL in touchdowns (17), yards from scrimmage (2,289), sacks (14.5), and yards rushing (1,167).
The other major positive this season was the emergence of tight end Darren Waller, who was signed off Baltimore’s practice squad late last season after battling substance abuse problems early in his career. Waller became the No. 1 target in Oakland’s offense, finishing with 90 catches for 1,145 yards and earned a long-term contract as part of the team’s future.
While Waller thrived, the wide receivers struggled a bit after the experiment to acquire Antonio Brown ended with his release two days before the season opener. Tyrell Williams finished with 42 catches for 651 yards, but was slowed after the opening month by a foot injury that lingered all year. Rookie Hunter Renfrow had 49 catches for 609 yards, but the rest of the group was mostly a revolving door that Gruden said needs to be addressed this offseason.
HOW TO GET IT RIGHT
The Raiders have a busy offseason ahead with five draft picks in the first three rounds and significant money to spend under the salary cap on free agents. There’s also the move to Las Vegas, which will add another obstacle to deal with this offseason.
There could be some significant changes between now and then as the Raiders need to find a No. 1 receiver, and make upgrades on all three levels of the defense. Getting 2019 first-round safety Johnathan Abram back from a season-ending shoulder injury should help in the secondary where rookie Trayvon Mullen showed flashes late in the season. There still are needs for more quality cornerbacks, but the biggest holes might be at linebacker and with the need for at least one more pass rusher after No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell struggled to generate consistent pressure.
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