The period following the Raiders’ final practice of 2013 felt like the last day of school. Teammates joked with each other, got footballs signed, joking around and reminded each other to keep in touch.
Even with a game yet to play, the daily grind was over. It was a melancholic time for some, one that every player tried to cherish.
“You have to enjoy these moments, because over these last months we’ve become brothers,” defensive tackle Vance Walker said then. “You see these people more than your family and you really get to know them. You also know that this is a business and some of us won’t ever play together again.”
That’s especially true of the 2013 Raiders defense. That unit was constructed without continuity in mind, built largely with one-year, value deals. General manager Reggie McKenzie did so to get right with the salary cap and bridge the gap to this all-important offseason.
That’s why the defense featured 10 new starters over 2012 and seven first-stringers with expiring contracts.
“That’s not how you build a football team,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said during his final press conference. “Those are hard situations to overcome, but I thought our players and coaches did well under those circumstances. That’s a situation that we want to make sure that we avoid. I think having continuity, I think having commitment both on our side and from a players perspective is important.”
McKenzie undoubtedly agrees. That’s why he recommended Allen be retained. The Raiders also re-signed defensive coordinator Jason Tarver on Tuesday, establishing continuity within the coaching ranks.
[NEWS: Tarver re-signs with Raiders]
The next step involves personnel, and this is where things get complicated. The Raiders must value these outgoing veterans and agree on figures with players in search of a bigger payday. Many signed value contracts hoping to impress enough to command higher dollars.
Everyone save safety Tyvon Branch and the linebacker corps is free to walk out the door. End Lamarr Houston’s rookie deal is up. Free safety Charles Woodson wants to return, without guarantee he’ll return. Tackles Walker and Pat Sims and cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins left Raiders headquarters towards an uncertain future.
"There’s a large group of them that we’d like to be able to get back,” Allen said. “Obviously, that’s something we have to attack in the offseason.”
Some of those guys want to return. Others were hired as and remain mercenaries. At some point, the Raiders might have to show some guys the money.
The team has some say in this. They’d prefer to retain players of character to bought into the Allen/Tarver way, and have the cap space to keep guys around.
This brings up another tough question: How many do you keep from a defense that competitive early and fell off the wagon late? This was a unit that gave up the second-highest point total in franchise history. Sure, depth was razor thin, but the starters weren’t always perfect. The starting defensive line, for one, struggled to establish a consistent pass rush. Outside Houston, that unit provided little push. The Raiders were decent against the run, especially early on, but everyone struggled late. The ups and downs make waters murky when building a stout defense for the future that Allen and Tarver can mold to their liking.
Allen has stated the team needs to add a few playmakers on both sides of the ball through draft or free agency. The Raiders now have the means to get the players they want.
“The hand that the Oakland Raiders were dealt when we stepped into this building (two years ago) was one where we couldn’t make a lot of moves,” Tarver said Dec. 26, in his last press conference of the season. “The moves that were made by this organization had to be made. As you look at the progress and process, you knew through this little window that there were going to be some dramatic ups and downs. … If you don’t have a process and you don’t stick with something, you maybe get one little year blip, and then we’ll go right back down. So we’re right here, with the ability to go wherever we want to.”