Although the Oakland Raiders head office has officially said they are unaware that any discussions have taken place by the team in possibly acquiring Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb, numerous sports reports say otherwise. Such talk would seem very plausible and make good sense, especially from a team that is in desperate need of a spark to change their decade-long downward trajectory. Here’s why:
First, the Raiders occasionally make a big splash in free agency, and have often banked on outsiders and castoffs to win big in the season and postseason. Why not now? Ex-Vikings backup Rich Gannon came into Oakland with leadership, discipline and a fiery competitiveness that catapulted the team into the top of the AFC with a prolific and well-oiled West Coast passing attack. We all know what Jim Plunkett did when he arrived: two Super Bowls and a great chemistry that led to numerous wins and a scrappy style of play that was emblematic of the tough and gritty silver and black war game.
Reports from Philadelphia indicate McNabb wouldn’t be traded for anything less than a draft pick in the “top 42.” The Raiders have two picks in that stretch, and are obviously not shy of trading off future potential stars for actual proven talent in the NFL. The old adage “One in the hand is worth two in the bush” seems to apply to such Raiders moves. Take their move last year for Defensive stalwart Richard Seymour, who will cost the Raiders their number 1 pick next year. Just Win Now, Baby.
Second, the Raiders have a less than remarkable and crowded QB stable consisting of three journeymen who didn’t make it the first time around due to inconsistent and sub-par play, and a young overweight horse who was put right back in the barn after making an ass of himself on the field.
* Bruce Gradkowski has a low overall QB rating (65.9) and to this day has one more interception (16) than touchdown (15) in his bumpy career. While he looked good at the helm during a short stint last season, it’s questionable whether he can be as productive over the long stretch.
* Charlie Frye has a slightly better rating at 69.7 but can make a coach’s heart stop dead cold with his erratic throwing arm – a very scary 17/29 TD to interception ratio. Last year, he produced some spectacular and extended drives downfield, only to see them end with ill-advised throws to guys on the wrong team.
* Then there’s J.P. Losman, hired late last season to back-up a depleted QB crew for the silver and black, seeking to resurrect his career after a disappointing start in Buffalo with only one shining and promising year in 2006 when he threw for more than 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns.. Despite that decent year, Losman has failed to produce consistent wins and numbers except for a starting role on the Las Vegas Locomotives in the upstart UFL – a far cry from NFL competition.
* And Jamarcus Russell, well….Let’s just say he was lucky he made it out of the Coliseum alive last year after some of his horrid playmaking gaffes that completely derailed entire games and single-handedly guaranteed another lackluster year for the team and its fans. Despite the news reports that Jamarcus is supposedly much slimmer than he was last year, he still is reportedly pretty heavy, and hasn’t been put to the test against another team again. Slim or not, the big guy doesn’t look like he knows how to play in the NFL. Period.
Third, Al is getting old, and has never been one to be patient and watch a team mature from a grassroots approach. Rebuilding is a dirty word to Mr. Davis. Especially when you consider his failing health and his seeming inability to grasp the nuances of the modern game, it all points again to a “let’s win it all now” mentality. Most of the time, he’d gladly fork out a high draft pick – and perhaps sweeten the deal with another veteran player – just to shake it up a bit.
One news source indicates there might be some validity to the high-placed rumors of shipping the vaunted shutdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha in some trade package for McNabb. The Raiders are known to make it to the top of the sports page with such backroom bartering and deal-making. Will they pull the trigger and go for it? They should as they have nothing to lose after a pathetic first decade of the century.
But even if the Raiders pull off such a free agent blockbuster trade, the team would still be nowhere close to being a playoff-caliber group, even with a proven top-10 QB behind center. First, they have to figure out how to protect their starter, by drafting some proven talent for the front line. (The last time they made a foray into the draft for an offensive lineman was in the third round of 2007. Previous grabs for giant linemen in free agency and the draft over the last several years have produced a bunch of overgrown duds.) Next they have to return to a more methodical West Coast offense to keep the ball moving downfield, and institute shorter QB drop-backs – not only to complete more short-route passes, but also to protect the QB from being crippled when the line caves in. They even need a star run-stopper to complement Seymour and the young linebackers on the defensive side of the ball to plug up the holes, shut down the running games and get the opposing offenses off-rhythm.
The bottom line is that Al has to let the coaches do the coaching and the play-calling – something he has failed to do time and again — and needs to bring in a GM to help with player moves and acquisitions. Without that true “Commitment to Excellence,” any spectacular free agent signing could be nothing more than another drain on the Raider checkbook and on the sagging credibility of a once proud and formidable NFL team.