In the end, Raiders got what unlucky, unhealthy teams get

In the end, Raiders got what unlucky, unhealthy teams get

Well, that went about the way you figured it would, given the circumstances, which is why the complaints you are filing about Connor Cook this and Michael Crabtree that and Khalil Mack the other thing and Marquette King and Menelik Watson and . . .

. . . oh, you get the point. The shards of the Oakland Raiders could not approach a heavily imbalanced Houston team on its own ground, and to seek out specific blameworthies to explain the 27-14 loss to the Texans is to miss the greater points, which are these:

* Winning a first playoff game on the road is hard.

* Winning it with a backup quarterback is harder.

* Winning it with a depleted offensive line is harder still.

* And winning it against the best defense in the National Football League is harder than all those things.

Now put all those sentences together, and stop when you hear the words “I rest my case.”

This wasn’t about Cook or coaching or play calls or dropped balls or momentarily dodgy officiating – although all those shortcomings were noticeable Saturday in Houston (and the officiating was dodgy both ways). The Raiders came into Houston with a serious dose of buzzard luck, and got what unlucky and unhealthy teams get.

A right hard throttling.

These Raiders were a good light year from the team that won the day for most of the first 15 weeks. Indeed, it is as if the Texans and Kansas City Chiefs were sent a league memo saying, “Please tell us what you’d like to happen to these guys between now and the Super Bowl,” and they picked and chose the most obvious calamities.

This is not to say the healthy Raiders would have won Saturday; hell, we don’t even know if they would have played Saturday, or what they might have done between now and the conference championship. If that is your position, by all means take it with pride, but you are still specu-guessing about an alternate time line in an alternate universe. All there really is, in the final analysis, is what is before you.

But the “we were unlucky” argument works tons better than the “the league hates us” argument because it is beyond dispute that the Raiders were indeed unlucky. Even people who long ago wearied of conspiracy theories can understand the unlucky argument.

And “unlucky” covers a lot of potential “they shoulda done this instead of that”-level analysis.

The Raiders needed a better game than Cook could provide given his current level of development. They needed the early mistake and the 10-0 lead that Brock Osweiler got. They needed Donald Penn and Rodney Hudson and the inside pass rush they either didn’t get at all or didn’t get enough of.

And they needed Houston not to bring its most ferocious defense, which is better than Oakland’s and in any event would have stretched the boundaries of luck beyond their logical extreme.

They got none of those, and the result is the fallback position the Raiders will take starting tomorrow, namely:

“This was a good experience for us. We got our feet wet, we know the improvements we need to make, we’ll have our quarterback back, and we’ll be as good as anyone, health permitting.”

It isn’t a daft position to take, either. The Del Rio Raiders needed a year to un-learn losing, a second year to learn winning, and now they can devote their third year to sealing some of their lingering defensive gaps.

Oh, and finding Cook’s true skill level, or someone else’s in his place, because the one thing that even the best planning and organization cannot control is quarterback health. Carr’s broken leg is the risk all quarterbacks run, and with so few quality quarterbacks in the pipeline, nobody can afford this kind of dropoff.

Except, of course, maybe the Patriots.

But we digress.

The Raiders were handled by a better and healthier team Saturday, pure and simple. It is, however, an indisputably educational experience for a team on the come, starting with this:

Sign “lucky” and “healthy” to multi-year deals.

Gruden, McKenzie set to sell Suh on the Silver and Black


Gruden, McKenzie set to sell Suh on the Silver and Black

Ndamukong Suh’s coming to Alameda. Jon Gruden, Paul Guenther and Reggie McKenzie will have a chance to make a pitch, explaining exactly why the superstar defensive tackle belongs in the Silver and Black.

McKenzie (and owner Mark Davis) would’ve relished this opportunity last time Suh was a free agent. The Raiders had plenty of cap space in 2015 but oh, so many needs coming off a 3-13 campaign, and weren’t prepared for his market value to go nuclear. McKenzie steered clear of the mushroom cloud, and Suh’s deal set a new market for defensive players.

He made $60 million over three years in Miami, but didn’t see his contract’s second half after lackluster team results and hints of inconsistent effort. The Dolphins are reportedly angling for a culture change, and didn’t think Suh would help the transition.

That put him back on the open market, with more guaranteed dollars dancing in his head. Suh’s on a free-agent tour rare in the modern NFL, where dollars are committed quick once free agency opens. Suh’s slow playing this one, thus far hopping from New Orleans to Tennessee to L.A. to see the Rams on a private jet. His charter will land in Oakland Wednesday, according to a Tuesday report from ESPN, to see what the Raiders have to offer.

There’s little doubt what Suh can bring. He might be the best interior defensive lineman east of L.A.’s Aaron Donald -- yes, there are a few other top talents -- and would be a perfect fit for Guenther’s scheme. That system needs a Geno Atkins type. He made the Guenther’s Bengals go in recent seasons, and Suh’s certainly as good or better when going strong.

The real question’s what the Raiders can offer that others can’t. The Titans and Rams have more salary-cap space, as it stands right now. The Raiders are the only non-playoff team in his bunch, with the other three seemingly on the rise.

The Raiders could champion playing with Khalil Mack. The Rams have Donald, the Titans have Jurell Casey and the Saints have Cam Jordan. Suh has made reference to the final three in interviews with Yahoo! Sports.

Gruden, however, is certainly a selling point. Several signed free agents cited the A-list head coach as an attraction to joining the Raiders. A healthy, impactful Derek Carr and Suh’s addition to the defense could make the Raiders a real contender right away, something that will obviously get brought up in Wednesday’s visit.

Suh’s an Oregon kid, and the Raiders are the closest team to home. That might help.

He could make a pros and cons list about market, state tax issues, chances of winning, coach and locker room culture, but the almighty dollar can’t be ignored.

Can the Raiders put together an attractive financial package, one that would make them truly appealing? That’s the (multi-)million dollar question?

The Raiders don’t have tons of salary-cap space. In fact they're up against the threshold, though cutting veterans without guaranteed money easily creates space. The Raiders could keep Suh’s 2018 cap number lower through a signing bonus and fat roster bonuses in future years.

Make no mistake: the cap is not an impenetrable road block. The Raiders might have to get away from contract structuring practices that McKenzie’s people used to reach excellent salary-cap standing. That’s especially true considering the monster deal given to Carr last year and the mega-extension Mack will get soon.

We say all that with one caveat. Suh’s exact team-selection criteria aren’t clear. There’s no telling if this Alameda trip could help create a robust market, or if he’s taking the Raiders seriously. Making the trip means something, however, and will at least give Gruden and Co. a chance to woo Suh, lock him down and radically change expectations for the 2018 season.

Raiders remain on a receiver hunt as their top target signs elsewhere


Raiders remain on a receiver hunt as their top target signs elsewhere

The Raiders missed out on signing Ryan Grant. The former Washington receiver visited the team’s Alameda training complex, but left without a contract and ultimately chose to sign a one-year, $5 million deal with Indianapolis.

They lost that one, but are undeterred in their quest to upgrade the receiver corps.

They already signed Jordy Nelson and let Michael Crabtree walk, hoping for steady production and quality locker room leadership in the exchange.

Cordarrelle Patterson was traded to New England on Sunday, creating a spot in the position group.

The Raiders tried to fill it with Grant. No go, no matter.

They hosted veteran Eric Decker on Tuesday, according to multiple reports. They also declared interest in Allen Hurns, a player the Jaguars released Tuesday morning.

Hurns listed the Raiders among interested teams – he said there were 10 in total – in an interview with KFNZ radio in Charlotte, N.C.

Hurns has a 1,000-yard season to his credit – his biggest year came with now-Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson as Jacksonville's O.C. -- and two relative down years since. Injuries have also played a part in that.

Decker had a stellar four-year run with Denver and the New York Jets, but was less effective during two seasons in Tennessee. The 31-year old has experience in the slot, and could be a productive No. 3 option in Jon Gruden’s offense.

Gruden doesn't mind working with veteran receivers, something clear from his past and willingness to add Nelson as a major contributor. 

Even if the Raiders don't land a veteran receiver, they could also look for a receiver in the NFL draft.

Amari Cooper will remain the No. 1 option. Seth Roberts has $4.45 million guaranteed in 2018. Johnny Holton, Isaac Whitney and Keon Hatcher are also on the roster.