Sports | August 18, 2020 10:10 am

New City, Same Old Raiders?

The Raiders have had a winning record just once since losing the Super Bowl in the 2002 season

Las Vegas Raiders
Head coach Jon Gruden of the Las Vegas Raiders. (Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty)
MediaNews Group via Getty Images

Over the next six weeks, we’ll be preparing for the kickoff of the 2020 NFL season on September 10 by attempting to answer the most important question facing all 32 of the league’s franchises in order of their 2019 finish, from worst to first. Today’s team: the Raiders.

No. 19: Las Vegas Raiders
2019 Record: 7-9

Points For: 313 – Points Against: 419
Projected 2020 Over/Under Win Total: 7.5

Since Bill Callahan was fired in 2003 a season after guiding the Oakland Raiders to a Super Bowl berth, the organization has gone through eight coaches in 16 seasons: Art Shell, Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable, Hue Jackson, Dennis Allen, Tony Sparano, Jack Del Rio and Jon Gruden. Collectively, those coaches never were able to finish higher than second place in the AFC West and only one, Del Rio, was able to finish with a winning record (12-4) and take the Raiders to the playoffs.

Del Rio’s quarterback that season, three-time Pro Bowler Derek Carr, tops a list of players in that position for the Raiders over the past 16 seasons that includes such luminaries as Kerry Collins, Marques Tuiasosopo, Andrew Walter, Aaron Brooks, Josh McCown, the ghost of Daunte Culpepper, JaMarcus Russell, Bruce Gradkowski, Charlie Frye, Jason Campbell, Carson Palmer, Kyle Boller, Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin, Matt Flynn and EJ Manuel.

Point being, the revolving door at coach and quarterback may be to blame for the team’s abhorrent overall record over most of the last two decades.

Though he may face competition for the job from former Titan Marcus Mariota, Carr is back this season as the Raiders’ No. 1 quarterback and should begin the year as the starter for third-year coach Jon Gruden, who went 38-26 in his first run with the team, qualifying for the playoffs twice and winning a game both times (before being traded away to Tampa Bay, where he won a Super Bowl — over the Raiders, in a memorable twist of irony).

This season, Carr and Gruden will be the same. The difference in 2020 is the Raiders will be playing in their new home city of Las Vegas, and it’s possible the change will do the middling franchise some good.

The Raiders arrive in Vegas with five top-100 draft picks from 2020, including a pair of first-round selections in wide receiver Henry Ruggs III and cornerback Damon Arnette, on the roster. How quickly Gruden will be able to integrate those players, given the limited offseason, remains to be seen, but the expectation based on their respective draft positions is that they should be contributors from day one.

They join a Raiders squad that lacked a real identity last season and never really seemed to recover from releasing malcontent wideout Antonio Brown before he even played a game for the team, who traded a pair of draft picks (a 2019 third-rounder and 2019 fifth-rounder) for him in 2019.

Regardless, the team won three out of five to start last season heading into their bye in Week 6. Returning in Week 7 for a date with the Packers, the Raiders got waxed 42-24 in Green Bay, and then went on to lose six of their last 10 games, including a 40-9 beatdown by the Kansas City Chiefs and a 34-3 drubbing by the New York Jets. All of that added up to a ho-hum 7-9 record accompanied by an abysmal minus-106 point differential.

Gruden is in the third year of a 10-year, $100-million contract, so his job is not in jeopardy no matter how the Raiders do in their first season in Vegas. The same cannot be said for Carr, who, as noted above, could face competition at some point this season due to the presence of Mariota, a favorite of general manager Mike Mayock before the 2015 draft.

Though Mariota’s record as a starter over the past three seasons in Tennessee (18-16) is much better than Carr’s (17-30), his play has been much worse: he’s thrown exactly half as many touchdowns (31) as Carr (62). But Carr has appeared to have one foot out the door for a few years now, and that hasn’t changed in 2020, even though he posted a career-best 108 passer rating last season without much talent around him outside of pass-catching tight end Darren Waller and rookie running back Josh Jacobs.

If Carr struggles to start the season (and he might, with four of his first five games coming against the Patriots, Saints, Bills and Chiefs), the calls for Mariota to step in will follow. Hell, some people may even want to see what third-stringer Nathan Peterman can do (if he makes it through camp).

“It’s been impressive,” Gruden said when asked about Mariota’s knowledge last month. “Being in the room, chat sessions with Derek Carr every day has really helped him. Derek is very advanced and very quick mentally, and Marcus is as well. So, he’s learning pretty fast and he’s applied it pretty fast with our rookies on the field during walkthroughs.”

How the quarterback situation will shake out is just part of a larger uncertainty about how the Raiders will fit in their new home and if the change of scenery will give the team the jolt it so desperately needs to get back in playoff contention.

As former team owner Al Davis used to say, “Just win, baby.” No matter who is playing quarterback, if the Raiders can’t do that in Vegas, they may wish they had stayed in Oakland.