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Tony Sparano Could Earn Raiders Full-Time HC Job Winning Half of Remaining Games

The Oakland Raiders are moving in a new coaching direction. After firing Dennis Allen, the Raiders have named Tony Sparano as interim head coach; however, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, owner Mark Davis has his eyes on former Raiders and Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden.

Will Tony Sparano earn the full-time head coaching job? Can Mark Davis convince Jon Gruden to leave his comfortable analyst seat?

Watch the San Francisco Chronicle’s Vic Tafur and Bleacher Report’s Stephen Nelson break down Davis’ options for head coach.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com


The Definitive Guide to Fixing the Oakland Raiders

The Oakland Raiders are a terrible football team right now. They are an ugly 0-4, and the dreadful start cost head coach Dennis Allen his job. The team has the worst facilities in the NFL, and the roster needs a lot of work.

The Raiders need help, but no one is going to hand them a new stadium, talented players or smart coaches. One move—like bringing back Jon Grudenisn’t going to reverse the team’s fortunes.

To get back on track, the Raiders need an intelligent, multi-staged plan. Without one, the Raiders are going to continue to churn through head coaches as opposing offenses have their defense this season.

Before they can create a plan, the Raiders need to evaluate their situation. What seems to be the problem with this franchise?

Oakland’s talent and coaching are an issue, but perhaps an even bigger problem is the perception of the team. The Raiders are like a bumbling drunk uncle that you advise your kids stay away from at family gatherings.

Owner Mark Davis looks like a cross between Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne from Dumb and Dumber. His handpicked general manager Reggie McKenzie sounds like he went to the George W. Bush School of Public Speaking.  It’s grossly unfair to both men, but it doesn’t change the fact that perception can be a real hindrance to a team’s progress.

The team is trying to attract a top head coach and talent in free agency, and it needs public support for a new stadium.  The fact that the Raiders are losing and they look like a circus in the process is only making them more of a joke—even if that’s not the reality.

Davis isn’t going to turn into Tom Cruise even with a new hairdo, and McKenzie doesn’t have the time to become John F. Kennedy.  If Davis were to fire McKenzie at the end of the season, it solves one perception issue but reinforces the other.

The only thing that is going to change perceptions is winning, but how does a team go about winning games when they can’t attract talented coaches or players?

 

Stick with McKenzie

In the aftermath of the team’s decision to fire Allen, fans and media alike have redirected their wrath at McKenzie. Some of the criticism he deserves, but McKenzie isn’t hiding from it or making excuses.

“A lot of it rides on me. I brought Dennis in to win championships here and to win, period,” McKenzie said of the 0-4 start via Raiders.com. “That did not materialize. The way this season began through these first four games, we had to make a change. That falls on me.”

The NFL is a results-based business, and it’s very easy to fall into the trap of only judging the results. Some of McKenzie’s moves have been poor so far, but his process has been much better. It’s also far too early to evaluate McKenzie’s performance when only one of the players he drafted in the first three rounds is in their third season.  

No matter how much money Davis is willing to throw at the problem, the Raiders can’t attract a superstar head coach that can also take over football operations unless Gruden feels like the time is right to come back.  If that doesn’t materialize, Davis needs to decide quickly if he can find a better general manager than McKenzie.

Although not a reason to keep a bad general manager, Davis has to consider if any top-level football executive wants to work for him if he decides to fire McKenzie after three seasons. In reality, the Raiders would only be able to attract candidates who wouldn’t be able to get the job anywhere else in the league.

Constant turnover has been part of the problem and not the solution. 

There is no doubt McKenzie has made mistakes, but three years is not enough time to judge a general manager—especially not one that was facing a historic rebuild like the Raiders. That’s not an excuse for McKenzie; it’s just too early to evaluate his job performance. Nearly half of his top draft picks have only four games of experience. 

It’s also important not to judge McKenzie for simply having bad luck. There are plenty of things outside a general manager’s control. One of those things is coaching, so it will be interesting to see how the Raiders respond to interim head coach Tony Sparano over the final 12 games.

Oakland’s 2013 first-round pick D.J. Hayden hasn’t been able to stay healthy, but that’s not something McKenzie could have predicted. Hayden’s freak injury in college hasn’t cost him a single regular-season game, so his injuries are the result of bad luck more than McKenzie taking unnecessary risks.

In hindsight, the Raiders could have drafted a stud defensive tackle instead of Hayden. Many will point to Star Lotulelei, who had a medical red flag due to a condition with very low risk of reoccurrence just like Hayden. Easy to say in hindsight the Raiders should have done something else, but the decision to draft Hayden was a sound one even if not the result. 

Conventional wisdom suggests draft picks need a full three years to develop—Hayden still has time to contribute.  That’s especially true at cornerback, where the transition from college to the pros can be difficult.  Hayden is technically just four games into his second season and really hasn’t had a chance to prove himself.

McKenzie’s other picks in the first three rounds since getting hired include linebacker Khalil Mack, quarterback Derek Carr, left guard Gabe Jackson, linebacker Sio Moore, offensive tackle Menelik Watson and offensive guard Tony Bergstrom. It’s probably safe to say Bergstrom is a bust, but beyond that, the jury is still out on the other players, with the Watson pick looking like the worst so far.

Most of McKenzie’s top draft picks have shown some promise, but no general manager is going to be perfect. Building through the draft is likely the only way the Raiders are going to find the star players they need.

The best free agents are also going to avoid Oakland, but even if they were interested, the Raiders would have to overpay for them. The Raiders may have to overpay a couple impact players just to jump star a rebuild that has been slow to get off the ground. Teams don’t lose players they really want to keep, so overpaying for young talent in free agency is usually a shortsighted plan.

Most of the critics of McKenzie point to his handling of the quarterback situation and his work in free agency. These decisions are much easier to evaluate on a year-to-year basis than draft picks. Trading quarterback Carson Palmer was clearly a mistake, but only because he would have bought the regime more time. Palmer wasn’t part of the long-term plan in Oakland just as he isn’t part of the long-term plan in Arizona.

Like it or not, McKenzie was hired to win championships and not just six games. Sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.

The Raiders languished for a year with Terrelle Pryor, Matt Flynn and Matt McGloin at quarterback before drafting Carr last May. The trade for Matt Schaub may have been a bad idea, but it’s not like there were many good options available. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because he doesn’t need to play. The money spent on his contract is also moot since the Raiders probably weren’t going to spend it on anyone else.

Some will point at left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston leaving in free agency as two poor decisions by McKenzie, but he actually looks smart for letting them go. The two players he signed to replace them have been better and cheaper. Donald Penn has been solid at left tackle, and Justin Tuck has at least been as good as Houston.

“Well first of all, yes I do believe what we put together this offseason was a roster that could win,” McKenzie said via Raiders.com. “I’m not going to get into all the particulars of why it didn’t work for Dennis, but the bottom line is it didn’t work, for whatever reason. Not only the 0-4 start, but our play, it did not represent what we were capable of and that’s the bottom line.”

Maybe McKenzie thought the Raiders could compete with the current talent level. There are 12 games left to find that out, but he knew not every free agent he signed was going to be a hit. If he did, McKenzie would have signed them to contracts that tied them to the franchise beyond this season.

McKenzie has cleaned up the cap situation to the point where the Raiders will have roughly $56 million in cap space in 2015 according to overthecap.com. The Raiders can create more cap space by releasing many of the veteran free agents they signed this offseason who aren’t performing—and Schaub.  

Part of cleaning up the cap meant chopping the roster down to nothing. The Raiders were overpaying the likes of Stanford Routt, Kamerion Wimbley, Tommy Kelly, Richard Seymour and Palmer in 2011, so McKenzie really had no choice.

Davis should think hard before firing an executive who came highly recommended by many smart football people when he was hired. McKenzie has notable hits and misses, but his missing is part of the job and it’s too early to evaluate all of his draft picks.

 

Find a Renegade Head Coach

With a plethora of cap space and another full deck of top draft choices, the Raiders can get to work shoring up certain areas of the roster. That should help whoever becomes the head coach of the Raiders, but there are more problems than the team can solve in one offseason.

In the absence of being able to get a top-level candidate to take the job, the Raiders need to look for a coach who isn’t afraid to be different.  The Raiders need a coach who is willing to use every advantage that comes his way.

Teams that lack talent need all the help they can get, and being overly conservative isn’t going to help them win games. For example, the Raiders punted on 4th-and-1 from their own 45 against the Dolphins last Sunday with a 7-3 lead. According to The New York Times 4th Down Bot, the Raiders should have gone for it because the average odds of success on 4th-and-1 in that situation are about 65 percent.

The New York Times has created a methodology about when to go for it on fourth down, and it’s a lot more than NFL coaches currently do. It’s time to find a coach that has the guts to use data to his advantage and stop leaving points on the field.

A decision to go for it can backfire, but teams have a lot more data to support their decisions now. The game is changing and fans are more willing to accept something new if there is hard data to back it up.  The only reason coaches continue to be conservative on fourth down is that they’re afraid.

NFL head coaches have a short shelf life as it is, so it’s bizarre that they wouldn’t want to maximize their odds of success. The Raiders need a coach who isn’t afraid to be different and do the things necessary to win games. 

Whomever the Raiders find to coach probably isn’t going to be a big name or a football genius. It’s not as if the Raiders have had much success with hotshot coordinators since Gruden anyway.

The Raiders do need someone to bring back the swagger  they haven’t had since Gruden and Hue Jackson. A little bit of bravado never hurt anyone.

That may or may not be McKenzie’s style, but that’s exactly why it’s necessary. Sparano has some of the right qualities, but absent a huge turnaround, the Raiders need a complete coaching overhaul.

 

Fix the Roster

After figuring out what to do with the front office and at head coach, the Raiders need to go about fixing their roster. Offensively, the Raiders lack top players at the skill positions.

Finding a running back in the draft or in free agency who can contribute right away isn’t usually difficult. C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews and DeMarco Murray will all be free agents in 2015. At least one of the three will probably hit free agency, but Georgia running back Todd Gurley could also be a consideration.

The more difficult position to address will be wide receiver. Oakland desperately needs a No. 1 wide receiver to pair with their collection of No. 2 and No. 3 types, and rookies often take time to develop. Drafting a wide receiver early wouldn’t be a bad idea, but a free agent or two will also be necessary. 

The biggest problem in free agency will be lack of options. Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas are the only two legit No. 1 wide receivers with expiring contract, and they will both get new deals or the franchise tag before they have a chance to hit the market.  The draft is probably Oakland’s best option to find he type of player they need at the position.

The Raiders could tinker with the offensive line, especially right tackle, but they otherwise seem to have a nice core. A year of experience, a running game and a No. 1 receiver should give Carr the best chance to have NFL success.

Defensively, the Raiders need a lot of work, but they can build around Mack. Among the biggest needs is a presence up the middle and another pass-rusher.

Enter defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who will be looking for a mega-deal this offseason after his contract voids, and the Raiders will likely have the most cap space in the league. Suh would give the Raiders exactly what they need and help restore the team’s bad-boy image.

Another impact player the Raiders could target is outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, who is playing on the franchise tag this season in Washington and would be a great player to pair with Mack. The Raiders have more than enough salary-cap space to sign two or three impact players to try to build something special on defense.

It will be a little more difficult to find quality help in the secondary. Targeting safeties and cornerbacks in the draft as well as another year of signing savvy veterans is likely going to be the smartest course of action. Hayden’s 2014 season will obviously help the Raiders determine how much and how soon they need to address the position in 2015.

Unlike last offseason when the Raiders only signed older veterans, the Raiders should focus on adding a few key players who are still in their primes. They may have to overpay a couple players to get them to come to Oakland, but a couple calculated risks is tolerable.

Add a few key pieces, have another solid draft and find a head coach with guts, and the Raiders could be on the path to respectability once again. Considering the resources the Raiders will have in 2015, it may not be as hard as it seems.  

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Tony Sparano Named Raiders Interim Head Coach: Latest Comments and Reaction

The Oakland Raiders named Tony Sparano as their interim head coach while they search for a full-time replacement following the dismissal of Dennis Allen. Sparano previously served as head coach of the Miami Dolphins.    

Jim Trotter of ESPN passed along word of the decision, and the team later announced the move:

The Raiders also confirmed the choice on their official site and provided comments from general manager Reggie McKenzie.

“Tony Sparano has a strong presence in this organization,” he said. “His experience and leadership qualities will serve the team well in helping reach the goal of everyone here, which is to win football games.”

The Raiders and Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle provide Sparano’s comments on the challenge ahead:

Ian Rapoport of NFL.com passes along more from McKenzie, who spoke about his role in the Raiders’ struggles:

Andrew Siciliano and Marc Sessler of NFL Network have more from McKenzie:

Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports the Raiders have not determined who the next coach of the Raiders will be:

Mark Davis briefly spoke about the prospect of eventually hiring Jon Gruden as the Raiders next coach according to Marc Sessler of NFL.con:

Davis told reporters Tuesday that he wouldn’t rule out contacting Jon Gruden.

“I don’t know,” Davis said. “He may reach out to me, I may reach out to him — I may reach out to anybody. I’m not going to talk about future coaches.”

(…)

(Michael) Silver told NFL Total Access on Tuesday that an “emotional connection” still exists between Gruden and the Raiders, with sources telling him “that there have been overtures, even before this, to Jon Gruden — that Mark Davis is prepared to spend a lot of money, because that’s what it would take to pry Jon out of the booth and back to Oakland.”

Sparano took over the Dolphins ahead of the 2008 season. He led the team to a playoff appearance in his first season at the helm. He failed to crack the .500 mark in the next two seasons, however, and was let go after a 4-9 start to the 2011 campaign.

The 52-year-old offensive guru will attempt to provide stability to a team that has gotten off to a rocky start. The Raiders are 0-4 after getting blown out by Miami in London, sending them into a bye week on a low note and necessitating the coaching change.

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network notes Sparano is the only coach on the staff with a contract that runs beyond this season:

It’s certainly a chance for the longtime coach to prove himself in a lead role again. The Raiders have looked out of sync on both sides of the ball and looked completely overmatched against the Dolphins.

Turning things all the way around in a tough division with a struggling roster isn’t a realistic goal. The job for Sparano is trying to get the group to at least show some progress, potentially putting himself in position to get another full-time gig either with Oakland or someone else.

 

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Tony Sparano Named Raiders Interim Head Coach: Latest Comments and Reaction

The Oakland Raiders named Tony Sparano as their interim head coach while they search for a full-time replacement following the dismissal of Dennis Allen. Sparano previously served as head coach of the Miami Dolphins.    

Jim Trotter of ESPN passed along word of the decision, and the team later announced the move:

The Raiders also confirmed the choice on their official site and provided comments from general manager Reggie McKenzie.

“Tony Sparano has a strong presence in this organization,” he said. “His experience and leadership qualities will serve the team well in helping reach the goal of everyone here, which is to win football games.”

Sparano took over the Dolphins ahead of the 2008 season. He led the team to a playoff appearance in his first season at the helm. He failed to crack the .500 mark in the next two seasons, however, and was let go after a 4-9 start to the 2011 campaign.

The 52-year-old offensive guru will attempt to provide stability to a team that has gotten off to a rocky start. The Raiders are 0-4 after getting blown out by Miami in London, sending them into a bye week on a low note and necessitating the coaching change.

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network notes Sparano is the only coach on the staff with a contract that runs beyond this season:

It’s certainly a chance for the longtime coach to prove himself in a lead role again. The Raiders have looked out of sync on both sides of the ball and looked completely overmatched against the Dolphins.

Turning things all the way around in a tough division with a struggling roster isn’t a realistic goal. The job for Sparano is trying to get the group to at least show some progress, potentially putting himself in position to get another full-time gig either with Oakland or someone else.

 

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Raiders name Sparano interim coach

The Raiders will name Tony Sparano the interim coach at a 2 p.m. news conference today, after firing Dennis Allen Monday night. “Tony Sparano has a strong presence in this organization,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said in a statement. “His experience and leadership qualities will serve the team well in helping reach the goal of everyone here, which is to win football games.” Sparano, the team’s offensive line coach and assistant head coach, was the only assistant that owner Mark Davis gave a two-year contract to last offseason. Sparano was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins from 2008-11 and went 29-32 before he was fired late in the [...]

Insider Buzz: Jon Gruden Raiders No. 1 Option as Head Coach

Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen was fired by the team after four weeks into the 2014 NFL season and an 8-28 overall record.

Sitting at a winless 0-4, the Raiders are in search of a new leader. Per the team via Twitter, Tony Sparano has been appointed as their interim head coach while they decide who will be next in line to officially take over.

Who are the current candidates? Is Jon Gruden an option for Oakland? 

Watch as Stephen Nelson examines the Raiders’ head-coaching vacancy with Bleacher Report NFL Insider Jason Cole in the video above.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

What Oakland Raiders Must Improve Most Coming out of Week 5 Bye

The Oakland Raiders have been bad this season. Real bad. There’s no other way to put it. Fortunately, The Raiders are heading into their bye week, which means they have two weeks to figure out some way to turn things around.

Oakland has a lot of work and soul-searching to do during the week off. Every member of the team, both players and coaches, knows that something drastic has to be done, and it needs to be done now. But with pretty much everything going wrong through the first four weeks, the most difficult part of the bye week is going to be figuring out where to start.

There are too many issues to address, but there are certainly some that are more prominent than others. While Oakland can’t resolve all of its problems between now and its Week 6 matchup at home against the San Diego Chargers, there are a handful that, if fixed, will have the most substantial impact on the team’s overall performance.

Of course, the biggest issue now is figuring out who’s going to run the show in Oakland. Head coach Dennis Allen was fired on Monday, and the Raiders will have to select a replacement by Tuesday. Nothing else can happen until an interim head coach is named.

Here’s a breakdown of the five areas the Raiders need to address before their next game. If the team is able to make significant improvements, this is where it needs to start.

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Raiders fire Dennis Allen (updated)

From Day 1 in this three-year rebuild, Raiders owner Mark Davis made clear that general manager Reggie McKenzie was “my guy” and that coach Dennis Allen was “Reggie’s guy.” Davis got more and more frustrated with Allen over two 4-12 seasons but McKenzie convinced Davis to give Allen another chance this year with a more talented cast of players. That chance ended Monday night, as Davis told McKenzie to fire his guy. The Raiders fired Allen, a day after an embarrassing 38-14 loss to Miami in London Sunday left the team with an 0-4 record after the easy part of their schedule and heading into the bye week. He didn’t [...]

Best-Case, Worst-Case Injury Scenarios for Derek Carr’s High-Ankle, MCL Sprains

Nothing went right for the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, and quarterback Derek Carr’s ankle and knee injuries added insult to injury—or injury to insult, as the case may be.

Midway through his team’s 38-14 loss, Carr went down awkwardly. Those watching saw him hobble off the field in obvious pain, favoring his left leg. CSN Bay Area’s Fallon Smith later tweeted that the quarterback himself said he suffered a high-ankle sprain and a medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain.

What’s next for the struggling Raiders? To help answer that question, let’s look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for their young quarterback and his injury combination, starting first with an overview of the sprains themselves.

 

High-Ankle Sprain Overview

High-ankle sprains involve the ligaments that connect the bones of the lower leg—the tibia and fibula—to each other. They prevent the bones from rotating around each other.

A common high-ankle sprain mechanism of injury involves the foot sharply turning outward relative to the leg. Indeed, replay during the game showed Carr fall over his planted left foot with his knee moving to the inside, forcing his toes out.

Severe high-ankle sprains can cause the tibia and fibula to separate and require surgery to fix them in place while the ligaments heal. Some cases also come with an ankle fracture.

 

MCL Sprain Overview

The MCL connects the tibia to the femur—the thigh bone. It primarily prevents the knee from buckling inward, but when forced inward motion of the knee over-stretches the ligament, it can tear—a sprain. Grade-1 sprains are minor over-stretches, while Grade-2 and Grade-3 injuries are partial and complete ligament tears, respectively.

When Carr went down, not only did his toes sharply turn outward, he fell with most of his weight pushing his knee inward, thereby causing the MCL sprain. In football, simultaneous high-ankle and MCL injuries are not uncommon.

Isolated MCL injuries in the knee usually do not require surgery. Rather, relative rest, icing and physical therapy adequately treat most.

 

Carr’s Best-Case Scenario: Low-grade Sprains, Stable Tibia and Fibula

Smith reported after the game that X-rays on Carr’s ankle came back negative. In other words, the quarterback did not suffer a fracture.

The Raiders medical staff may have also performed “stress” X-rays. For a stress X-ray, Carr would turn his toes outward as if to recreate the high-ankle sprain mechanism. If the image showed separation of his tibia and fibula due to this movement, a more serious injury becomes more likely.

Whether or not a report of negative ankle X-rays in the NFL media implies only the absence of a fracture or both the absence of a fracture as well as a stable tibia and fibula is not clear.

According to Vic Tafur of The San Francisco Chronicle, Carr himself is optimistic he will return to action following the Raiders’ Week 5 bye:

Carr’s timeframe will probably turn out to be a bit optimistic, but if the rookie’s sprains are of the low-grade variety, it’s not out of the realm of possibility—assuming an MRI shows no surprise injuries in his ankle or knee, that is.

 

Carr’s Worst-Case Scenario: Medium-Grade Sprains or Recurrent High-Ankle Injuries

Negative X-rays and the lack of ominous media reports suggest Carr’s high-ankle injury is not of the same caliber as, say, San Diego Chargers running back Danny Woodhead’s from last week.

Nevertheless, high-ankle sprains generally require a longer recovery time than their low-ankle counterparts. As such, a multi-week absence for Carr is not hard to envision despite his optimism. Furthermore, the slow healing time allows for plenty of opportunity for setbacks, and many high-ankle sprains need a full four to six weeks of rest and rehab.

A Grade-2 MCL sprain could also sideline the Raiders signal-caller for up to a month. A Grade-3 MCL injury—a complete tear—seems unlikely based on the injury mechanism, but surprise MRI findings are, regrettably, not uncommon. A complete MCL tear could take Carr out for up to three months.

Further tests will paint a clearer picture.

 

Dr. Dave Siebert is a second-year resident physician at the University of Washington and a member of both the Professional Football Writers of America and the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. He plans to pursue fellowship training in Primary Care (non-operative) Sports Medicine.

Read more Oakland Raiders news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Dolphins vs. Oakland Raiders: Full Report Card Grades for Oakland

That was hard to watch.

After an inspiring performance in Week 3, the Oakland Raiders seemed primed for their first win of the season against a struggling Miami Dolphins team. But in Week 4, that wasn’t the case as Oakland was embarrassed in a 38-14 loss.

The Raiders actually began the game on an very impressive 10-play, 74-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Derek Carr to backup tight end Brian Leonhardt. The drive ended 5:22 into the game. That was as far as Oakland’s positive day would go.

On both sides of the ball, the game was an endless sequence of errors. On offense, the Raiders had six first downs in the first quarter. They didn’t get their eighth first down until the third quarter. Following the impressive opening drive, the Oakland offense once again turned into a series of drives that ended in three-and-outs and punts.

The defense was just as bad. The defensive line was pushed around all game, the linebackers always seemed to be behind the play and the secondary was completely picked apart by Ryan Tannehill, a quarterback who had been playing so poorly that his own head coach wouldn’t commit to him just days before the game.

The only silver lining to any of this is that the Raiders are heading into their bye week, giving them two weeks to prepare for their next game. With how embarrassingly bad they played against Miami, they’re going to have their work cut out for them over the next two weeks.

Here are the grades for each position group’s performance in London. 

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