<
>

A blueprint for Raiders' future success

Coming off yet another loss, let's take a quick overview of how the Oakland Raiders should be viewing their offseason. Obviously, much work is needed to make this team a contender, but they might not be as far away from respectability as many would think.

I am very confident in two things. First, Oakland is going to pick very high in the 2015 NFL draft. Second, the Raiders already have their franchise quarterback in Derek Carr. In terms of team building, these are excellent stepping-stones toward said respectability. Without getting into hiring/firing of coaches and front office executives or new schemes, let's draw up a quick blueprint for Oakland's offseason.

Of the Raiders' free agents-to-be, Pat Sims and Stefen Wisniewski should be the top priorities. We know Oakland isn't always the most enticing spot for free agents and neither of these players are franchise-tag worthy, but locking both up doesn't seem too lofty of a goal. Later in the free agency process and at the right price, the Raiders should consider Charles Woodson, mostly for his leadership, Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers, but all at lesser price tags than they currently command.

Without getting too deep into Oakland's cap situation, it is fair to say they could trim a little fat by releasing a few players (Matt Schaub!) and should be a buyer when free agency rolls around. The position that should be targeted most in free agency is wide receiver. I am high on the Raiders' wide receivers for the most part, especially Andre Holmes, but none of them excel in gaining separation. Spending a decent amount of money on a clear upgrade at this position and thus, knocking Holmes, James Jones & Co. down the pecking order by one spot as well as giving Carr a go-to guy could pay off for the short- and long-term and help in Carr's development.

True deep speed is an asset that should be stressed in such a signing. That isn't just to appease the great Al Davis and Raider lore, but this team needs a field stretcher to help Carr drive the ball downfield. A top tight end also would be suitable, but at least one reliable veteran pass-catcher that can create mismatches is a must. This isn't to suggest they should sign Dez Bryant and Julius Thomas, but you get the idea. How about Torrey Smith? Or aim for someone such as Jeremy Maclin or Randall Cobb. Charles Clay wouldn't look bad in a Raiders uniform, either. And again, I don't think that is asking too much in free agency.

In the draft, Oakland will own a premium pick, maybe the No. 1 pick. Of course, there will be teams that covet said pick. Now that could be a terrific situation for Oakland. Maybe they can't get a Robert Griffin III-type haul in return for their draft pick. Of course, in early November, it is way too early to speculate on draft prospects specifically. But needless to say, teams will covet the top quarterbacks in this draft.

With a slew of picks over presumably the next two or three drafts, Oakland should draft the best defensive player available. I love Khalil Mack and there are other pieces in place on that side of the ball, but infusing this defense with high draft pick after high draft pick as well as mid- and late-round talented "projects" at all levels of the defense, but especially up front and on the backend, could pay off by as early as 2016. The Raiders might just be ready to take over the AFC West as a talented defense begins to really mature. That isn't to say they should ignore a high-quality offensive tackle or receiver, but the game plan overall would be defense -- with one exception. Again, it is way too early to speculate on draft prospects and their respective stock on draft day, but history shows a premium running back prospect will be available with an early second-round pick. This should be a strong running back draft with a potential foundation-type runner available.

Times seem bleak for the winless Raiders. But they have some crucial assets in place and very well could have the best rookie class in the NFL. The blueprint I describe above isn't overly ambitious or far-fetched. There might be light at the end of The Black Hole.