An event which occurred right around this time of year 24 months ago marked the beginning of something for which the Raiders and general manager Reggie McKenzie have been heavily criticized.
The release of Matt Schaub Monday marked the end of it all. The Raiders, after trying Carson Palmer, Terrelle Pryor, Matt Flynn, Matt McGloin, and the forgotten Tyler Wilson, have their franchise quarterback.
Derek Carr is a man Raiders fans should be thankful for. As is McKenzie, who was vilified by many for aggressively seeking out a strong arm to again lead Oakland towards winning.
When McKenzie took over, he had Palmer to work with. Hue Jackson, head coach in 2011, pushed through a trade for Palmer just days after Al Davis passed away. The two had worked together in Cincinnati, and Oakland was on the cusp of the playoffs before Jason Campbell was lost for the season.
Palmer was only available, though, because he was holding out. Palmer wasn’t being the team leader he signed up to be, instead looking to line his pockets. Kinda sounds familiar when talking about the Raiders, doesn’t it?
Palmer was traded to Arizona for virtually nothing in comparison to the first and second round picks that Jackson sent to the Bengals. Oakland tried out Pryor and McGloin, though neither had much success.
To be fair, Pryor had just as much success as Carr, when looking at wins and losses — three apiece as a starter. But Carr didn’t have the defensive support Pryor did. The Raiders defense was a sieve in 2014, one giant black hole for runners to burst through.
Raiders fans can be slow to forgive McKenzie in his quest for a franchise quarterback, though the term ‘forgive’ isn’t exactly right. No need to forgive, because there are examples of what the Raiders’ future might look like had it not been for McKenzie’s aggressive approach.
The Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers being two key examples. Houston, minus J.J. Watt, as well.
The Raiders need not fret about trading up for Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston come April’s draft. They have their man in Carr.
The Raiders have a lot of room to grow. Undoubtedly, a lot of that is on offense. But not at the most important position. No, they needn’t consider T.J. Yates, Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage or Brian Hoyer.
Not Johnny Football or Josh McCown or Thad Lewis.
They’re now above that, thanks to McKenzie. It was a bumpy two years with so much uncertainty under center. It’s entirely possible that the ride doesn’t truly smooth for some time.
After all, this is football.
McKenzie showed enough foresight to move onto a new man until one came along. And while some believe Carr fell into the Raiders’ lap, McKenzie understood the draft board, and the needs and wants of the other 31 teams enough to make the logical guess that Carr would be there at 36th overall in 2014.
Schaub was a swing and a whiff that could be felt on Mount Davis. That much is true. But in the barren market of veteran quarterbacks, it’s hard to find one better. Just like the game on the field, the game at the top is to maximize your team’s chance of success. McKenzie did just that.
Consider where Seattle would be if Russell Wilson was drafted by another team. Tavaris Jackson under center, still a terrific defense and run game, but a perennial super bowl contender?
I think not.
That’s a shell of what the Raiders would look like if not for the constant barrelling down on solidifying Oakland’s quarterback slot. It’s not easy, and if you don’t believe that, look at the history of team’s drafting in the Top 10 this year.
Not mentioned earlier, the New York Jets have been relatively complacent with the likes of Mark Sanchez, and more recently, Geno Smith. Or the Bears, with Jay Cutler, disliked by many on his own team despite his immense talent.
Of the teams drafting in the Top 10, all but Oakland, Jacksonville and Atlanta have serious questions at quarterback.
The Raiders used to. Thank McKenzie for the past tense.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.