Key departures: OT Jared Veldheer, DE Lamarr Houston, RB Rashad Jennings, CB Philip Adams, WR Jacoby Ford, CB Tracy Porter,
Key arrivals: QB Matt Schaub, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, DE Justin Tuck, OT Austin Howard, LB Lamarr Woodley, DE Antonio Smith, G Kevin Boothe, WR James Jones, DE C.J. Wilson, T Donald Penn, CB Tarell Brown, CB Carlos Rogers
1. Will Matt Schaub bounce back from a tough season?
Schaub’s 2013 campaign is one he’d like to forget. The former Texans signal caller was benched midseason and his infamous four-game streak of throwing a pick-six highlighted his miserable final year in Houston.
He’ll get a fresh start under center with the Raiders, who look to him to provide leadership and a veteran presence in Oakland. He’ll also have the responsibility of mentoring second-round draft pick Derek Carr, who’s touted as the Raiders’ future. If Schaub can’t deliver, a move to start Carr would be imminent.
The Raiders re-signed Darren McFadden and acquired free agent Maurice Jones-Drew in the offseason.
When healthy, both players have proven to be capable backs.
But Jones-Drew (29) is on his last legs and McFadden has been plagued by injuries his whole career, so splitting carries looks like the most logical option.
3. Are head coach Dennis Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie on the hot seat?
Both Allen and McKenzie took over a team in 2012 that was in salary cap hell and have combined for eight wins in the last two years. They missed with the Matt Flynn signing last year and their 2013 first-round pick cornerback D.J. Hayden was questionable.
They were busy this offseason, acquiring a slew of veterans and drafting notable players like outside linebacker Khalil Mack and quarterback Carr. Will it translate to wins? That’s yet to be determined but owner Mark Davis’ patience must be running thin.
Rookie outside linebacker Khalil Mack
The No. 5 overall pick is expected to make an immediate impact on one of the worst defenses from 2013. Grouped with proven veterans like Justin Tuck, Lamarr Woodley and Antonio Smith on the defensive line, Mack will have the ability to get to the qarterback, something the Raiders struggled to do last season.
His ability to rush the passer along with his pass-coverage skills make him a versatile player that resembles the likes of Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller.
Miller enjoyed his breakout year under then Broncos defensive coordinator Allen. Allen and the Raiders will look to Mack for the same kind of output for the Silver and Black.
The Raiders finally have a group of young players they can turn to and call the cornerstones of their rebuilding phase. Mixed in with veterans at virtually every position to help guide the younger players, the future looks bright for Oakland.
The quarterback carousel seems to have finally been put to an end with the drafting of Carr. He will get his chance, whether it’s midseason or two years from now and the Raiders can feel like they finally have some stability under center.
REASON FOR PANIC
The Raiders enter the season with the toughest schedule, not to mention playing in arguably the toughest division in the NFL. In additon, they’ll be facing another top division in the NFC West that features the defending champion Seattle Seahawks.
If the Raiders have any chance of impoving their win total from last year, they’ll have to capitalize on the first half of the season. Four of the first seven teams they face are non-playoff teams.
ALEX MARVEZ’S 2014 PREDICTION
General manager Reggie McKenzie’s unorthodox plan of making his roster older this offseason seems intended to provide immediate juice to a team coming off consecutive 4-12 records while also buying time for younger talent to develop following what have proven largely unproductive draft classes in 2012 and 2013. The Raiders need the bulk of their veteran acquisitions, especially quarterback Matt Schaub (Houston), to prove there is still something left in the tank. If that happens, an 8-8 record would be the best-case scenario. Anything less and there are no guarantees McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen will return for a fourth season. Prediction: 5-11.