Sure, the Raiders are coming off a disastrous 3-13 season that was plagued by injuries and led to an overhaul of the coaching staff.
But several of the new Raiders, eight in total by noon Thursday, want to discard the term “rebuild.” Like inside linebacker Curtis Lofton:
“I think the No. 1 thing that attracted me to the Raiders is just the passion, the energy, just the positive feeling that we’re going to get this thing turned around. Why not win now?”
The Raiders have won only 11 games over the past three seasons and have had top five selections during recent drafts, which have allotted Oakland some quality talent.
Sio Moore and D.J. Hayden were brought to town in 2013, along with Mychal Rivera and Brice Butler. The four remain with things to prove, but appear ready to take the next step.
Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, Gabe Jackson, T.J. Carrie, Justin Ellis and Keith McGill were taken during the 2014 draft and all started at least one game during the season.
Carr looks like the Raiders’ unequivocal answer at quarterback, and Mack was one of the most dominant players in the whole league. Jackson served Carr’s blind interior well at guard, and Carrie may have been the best day three selection of the entire draft. Ellis and McGill played well under limited time.
Some top free agents have shown a uneasiness about suiting up for Oakland. Even center Stefen Wisniewski, who was coming off a bad year, wanted to be the highest paid center in the league to play for the Raiders.
Linebacker Malcolm Smith came over from Seattle two years removed from winning the Super Bowl MVP. Why the paradigm? Smith said:
“It’s something that you think about, making that move. It’s something you have to consider, but I feel like this is a great opportunity for me to impart some of the things that I’ve learned on the team and hopefully encourage some guys around me, and we can get the most out of each other and turn this thing around.”
When Smith was drafted by the Seahawks in 2011, the team was far from the talk of being an NFL power. In fact, the team had won the NFC West, but with a losing record of 7-9 during the previous season.
If anyone knows how quickly things can change in the NFL, he’s definitely it.
Defensive tackle Dan Williams, who came from Arizona and was drafted in 2010, is another player who understands how a team can rise.
His 2012 team finished with a 5-11 record. In 2013, with a solid offseason and a new head coach, the Cards rebounded to 10-6, not good enough to win the division, but good enough for contention.
“The biggest thing is it kind of reminded me how when (Arizona Head Coach) Bruce Arians first got there in Arizona two years ago, excited, they believe in the players that they have here and the players they are going to add. They believe we can turn this thing around and we can do it in a hurry.”
“Once I got to sit down and talk to Ken Norton, Jr. and (defensive line) coach Franklin, that was pretty much the biggest factor in my decision. I think it will be a really good fit for myself and also I think I can definitely help out the Raiders, help turn things around.”
Contention is really all that matters in the NFL, as history has shown. Justin Tuck, who came to Oakland in 2014, arrived with two Super Bowl rings. The first came on a 10-6 record, and without winning their division. The second, on a 9-7 team.
Tuck has served as a recruiting cog, mentor to younger players, and a big-time locker room addition for the team. His locker, two down from Mack’s, is one that can become a pseudo-church for players to take in knowledge. Now there’s more to lend in Oakland.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.