The Oakland Raiders are built to last.
After ending a 13-year playoff drought in 2016, the Raiders signed franchise quarterback Derek Carr to the richest contract in NFL history last week and reportedly handed guard Gabe Jackson a hefty extension Thursday. With those moves, the Raiders have set themselves up perfectly to capitalize on having one of the league’s youngest and most talented rosters.
At 26 and 25 years old, respectively, Carr and Jackson are just entering their primes. The quarterback is coming off a career year in which he stayed in the thick of the MVP conversation deep into the season, and the right guard didn’t allow a sack in 17 games last year.
Perhaps the roster’s most notable characteristic is the fact all but one key contributor is locked in beyond the 2018 season. That outlier happens to be reigning Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, who’s entering the final year of his rookie deal after three special seasons.
However, the Raiders aren’t expected to let him out of their grasp and have exercised a fifth-year option. Oakland’s next contractual task is taking care of its defensive superstar, but the team has put itself in a position where it can afford to wait until 2018 to reward him with an expensive new deal of his own.
Reggie McKenzie deserves many of the plaudits for landing star players with top draft picks and navigating the team’s payroll. The general manager was named the NFL’s Executive of the Year, and with good reason. He’s constructed a roster composed of a unique mix of young talent (the Raiders’ projected offensive and defensive starters average 26.9 years in age) with necessary complementary pieces.
Youth alone doesn’t equal success, though – and luckily for Oakland, the team is also deep, boasting supreme talent at every notable position. Marshawn Lynch accompanies Carr in the backfield and the receiving corps is headlined by Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. The offensive line Jackson belongs to happens to be one of the best in the NFL. Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, and Donald Penn enjoyed Pro Bowl years, and the latter allowed just one sack all season.
The defense, led by Mack, has been infused with even more young talent after the Raiders selected corner Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu with their first two picks of this year’s draft.
The only projected defenders 30 years of age or older are linebacker Bruce Irvin and free safety Reggie Nelson – key contributors and necessary veterans tasked with guiding a club short on playoff experience.
Oakland’s core is intact, the necessary pieces are in place to challenge for the AFC crown, and McKenzie has ensured the Raiders won’t have the distraction of contract talks with their essential players as they vie for a Super Bowl.
The Tennessee Titans have the youth and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the talent, but the Raiders have the league’s best combination of both. Never mind the bright lights of their future home in Las Vegas – the Raiders have ensured that they have the brightest future in the NFL.
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