Tuesday, February 26, 2008

As Alameda Turns

Regardless of whether or not you believe that the Kiffin rumors to be true or false ...

Regardless of whether or not you think good public relations is an important element to a successful business ...

Regardless of whether or not you feel the vacuum of information effects media relations ...

Regardless of whether or not good marketing is vital for increased revenue streams ...

Regardless of whether or not the current uncertainty impacts player relations and the ability to sign top notch FAs and coaches in the future ...

Regardless of whether or not you are disturbed with the dysfunction or think everything is "A OK" ...

Diehard Raider fans deserve better. An anonymous visitor to my site on the previous post had the following comment:

"Al hired Kiffin because of his knowledge of the college prospects but now takes away his input. Someone lied to all of us. the only thing that will straighten Al out is when everyone quits supporting the team. Losing Kiffin will not only hurt getting free-agents but the progress of JaMarcus Russell too. I've been a loyal Raider fan since 1968 and I've had enough."

It doesn't matter if you agree with 100% of this comment. It is a sad fact that this loyal fan of 40 years perception equals his new reality. He is on the verge of drawing a distinct line in the sand primarily due to the dysfunctional aspects of the way the Raiders conduct their business.

Some might insist that this guy is a "Doom & Gloomer" who is off his rocker. My take is that this loyal fan was merely expressing his true feelings. To each his own, right?

Everyone is obviously entitled to their opinions. In my opinion, the current situation is unhealthy, unproductive, and non fan friendly.

Putting your head in the sand and professing that it is business as usual is not using sane judgment especially with the backdrop of a 19 and 61 record the last 5 years.

Each member of the Raider organization has a role to fill. These roles directly impact the 2 most important aspects of the Raiders organization: winning and profitability. Some roles are bigger than others but collectively in the fiercely competitive NFL, EVERYONE needs to be pulling their weight. What the hell is the man in charge of marketing doing? Is the man in charge of public relations on leave? Why is our HC twisting in the wind, Al?

I would argue that the 3 most important men in our organization are Al Davis, Lane Kiffin, and JaMarcus Russell. A triangle of leaders and authority, on and off the field.

Al Davis: Has the final say on personnel, hiring of the HC, and signs the checks. The draft selections & free agency signing the past 5+ years has been spotty at best. He is accountable for the coaching carousel and uninspired choices for HC (Callahan, Turner, Shell). The way that he has handled Kiffin has demonstrated a lack of leadership and decisiveness. The Raiders are in the bottom tier of the league for revenue. Not a pretty picture, huh? All the more reason for Davis to take ownership (no pun intended) of the current situation.

Lane Kiffin: Has gained the support of the Raider Nation and the fans because of his leadership style, gumption, and willingness to stand up to A.D. The Raiders made considerable strides on offense in 2007 and showed a competitive and unified spirit throughout the season. Unfortunately our Alpha Leader has been partially neutered by the rumors of his status. His authority, whether real or perceived, has been diminished. Kiffin's ability to command respect and provide input on key personnel issues would seem to be diminished. His "partnership" with Davis is tenuous at best.

JaMarcus Russell: Our newly minted $60M franchise QB who we will rely on for our future success might be building a new relationship with a new HC. He might be learning a new playbook. A young man starting his career looking down the gun barrel of an organization slip sliding in dysfunction. Continuity and stability at HC greatly shapes a young QB's career. If Kiffin returns for 2008, can Russell block out the soap opera environment of "As Alameda Turns"? Never a dull day in Raiderland.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Definitive Statement, Please.

At the end of the 2007 season, there were many rumors about Al Davis playing a childish game of chicken with Head Coach Lane Kiffin. The rumor implied that Davis had drafted a resignation letter for Kiffin to sign. Kiffin allegedly refused to sign the resignation letter and was in effect saying to Al "Fire me". Of course if this rumor is/was true, the cat and mouse game continues.

Why does it continue? Why is the media continuing to run this story? The chief reasons, in my mind, are that either the Raider organization enjoys wallowing in dysfunction or the organization simply doesn't understand the importance of making a definitive and declarative statement about Kiffin's status. Just as the rumors started to die down during the Senior Bowl, they began to fly again during the combine. This is what well respected Oakland Tribune beat writer Jerry McDonald said:

"After speaking with a number of people both in and out of the organization over the past few days here, Kiffin is no lock to be the Raiders coach when the season begins.

Those who side with Kiffin believe he has been stripped of his authority and that Davis is attempting to get him toresign. Either Davis' words about Kiffin's acumen with regard to personnel a year ago was just a lot of press conference bull, or Davis changed his mind. As things stand now Kiffin isn't expected to have much input into choosing the 53 men he is supposed to coach. It is a temporary punishment or something more permanent? Only Davis knows for sure."

As the uncertainty and doubt again takes hold, here are a few questions to ponder ...

1. Does the Raiders organization truly value their loyal customers?
The wave of negative press over the past 2 months and "lame duck" status of Kiffin is giving pause to some of the most loyal, core fans from renewing their season tickets.

2. How important to the Raider organization is the function of media relations?
Part of a good marketing campaign would be to use an effective communications strategy that informs the customer base and when necessary, refutes negative stories (ie. rumors). The constant barrage of bad press leads to the perception that the Raiders are a very poorly run business. We all know that the product on the field (19-61) the last 5 years has not met the expectations of the customer. The customer is also savvy enough to realize that stability at Head Coach is critical to improve the product on the field yet our HC is dangling in the wind.

3. Is it asking too much for Al Davis and Lane Kiffin to hold a joint brief press conference to set the record straight?
If in fact Lane Kiffin is the HC for 2008, a definitive and declarative statement would do wonders to ease the minds of fans and active players. It would give potential free agents one less reason to scratch the Raiders off their list of viable destinations. The silence from the organization on Kiffin's status is feeding fresh meat to the media hyenas.

4. Can the relationship between Kiffin and Davis be salvaged?
Has Kiffin's authority been stripped to the point where he will no longer command the respect of the 53 men he leads? Does Kiffin no longer have any input in terms of the selection of draftees and the signing of free agents?

Normally during the offseason I'm full of optimism as I immerse myself in the draft and free agency. The rumors involving Kiffin have felt like a splinter in my brain. It feels like a ship being loaded up with all the passengers with the Captain sitting idly on the dock. As mentioned in point #3, a direct affirmation of Kiffin's status would be the equivalent of the Raiders organization giving the Raider Nation a friendly pat on the head and letting them know that "Everything is going to be all right. We are moving forward in 2008 with our leader Lane Kiffin at the helm." Davis has 2 distinct choices. Either give Kiffin his full, undivided support and endorsement for 2008 or cut bait immediately. Dragging this uncertainty and dysfunction around further will impede the team's success in 2008 and beyond.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Odds N Sods

Justin Fargas, who didn't test the free agent waters, was signed by the Raiders yesterday to a fair market contract of 3 years, $12M with $6M guranteed. Fargas is an ideal fit for the Raiders running attack which is based on the Zone Blocking Scheme. It is the type of system that requires the back to make 1 decisive cut up field and accelerate to the 2nd level. With Fargas in the fold, there is no reason to use our 1st round pick on Darren McFadden.

It is my hope that Michael Bush will become an intergal and complimentary part to the Raiders rushing attack. Fargas & Bush could be similar to the "Thunder & Lightning" attack of White & Bush at USC or Jacobs & Bradshaw of the GMen. One of the skill areas that I would like to see Fargas develop in the off season/training camp is his pass catching abilities which are below par. Durability is also a concern over the rugged 16 game season. Depth is crucial at this position. Fargas, Rhodes, Bush, and Eche would be a versatile and solid group moving forward into 2008. Jordan can pack his bags come June 1st and tryout for the next edition of "Dancing with the Stars".

With the free agency period upon on us in 2 weeks and the Draft in April, here are some of my quick thoughts on this matter:

* I would LOVE to see the Raiders dilligently negotiate a long term contract with Nnamdi Asomugha once the franchise tag is placed upon him. The numbers that popped into my head are 6 years, $50M with $25 guaranteed. This would be a slightly below market value (approx. $8.3M per year average) contract for one of the top 5 CBs in the entire NFL. In my estimation, this would be a shrewd business move for the Raiders organization and a way to reward Nnamdi farily for his value to the team. Nnamdi is clearly a cornerstone, franchise type player.

* The WR position needs to be addressed aggressively in both the free agent market and draft. The Raiders desperately need playmakers AND depth in order for JaMarcus Russell to realize his potential. Assuming Jerry Porter signs elsewhere (Miami, SF), the Raiders WR corps is paper thin. Ronald Curry is a solid, chain moving possession WR who is effective in the slot. Jonny Lee Higgins is a speed merchant who is in development. I'm not sure if the Raiders will bring back Tim Dwight. I would like to see the Raiders sign 2 free agents and at least 1 draftee. These are a few FAs that intrigue me:

Bernard Berrian (Chicago) > Big play threat ideal for Russell. The downside to Berrian who hails from Fresno is that he isn't a true #1 WR and in a diluted WR class, he will command more money than what he is probably worth.

Bryant Johnson (Arizona) > A very physical, polished WR who has been stuck behind Fitzgerald & Boldin which has effected his numbers. Would be a solid #2 WR.

Dervey Henderson (New Orleans) > Untapped athleticism, excellent deep threat and only 26 years old.

Greg Camarillo (Miami) > Some of you might be saying "Camarillo?". He is the potential hidden gem in the FA class. Some pundits make the case that Camarillo is in the same mold as Welker ... a gritty, hard working WR who just needs an opportunity.

Draft Prospects. These are potential WRs who would be prospective picks for the 2nd and 4th rounds (The Raiders don't have a 3rd round pick).

2nd Round:

Early Doucet (LSU) > An elite college WR who already has a rapport and relationship with Russell. Projected to be a late 1st round/early 2nd round pick.

Limas Sweed (Texas) > At 6'4", 215, Sweed is very phyical and atletic target. His draft slot has been dropping due to a wrist injury which prevented him from playing in the Senior Bowl.

James Hardy (Indiana) > The 6'6" WR was a productive force for the Hoosiers.

4th Round:

Jordy Nelson (Kansas State) > A former walk on who has quickly developed into a versatile and explosive WR.

LaVelle Hawkins (Cal) > Hawkins is a big play threat everytime he touches the ball and could have a dual purpose of excelling as a KR/PR.

Although I will post a more detailed anaysis of the draft in the coming months, let me share my views on our 1st round pick. I'm 100% sold on taking "Son of Howie" (Chris Long, DE, Virginia) as our 1st round selection. Both Glenn Dorsey (DT, LSU) and Sedrick Ellis (DT, USC) would be excellent choices to fill the need for a run stuffer. However, I believe drafting Long would kill 2 birds with 1 stone. He helps address 2 of our most critical defensive deficiecies (stopping the run: 31st ranked; pass rush: only 27 total team sacks). Long, 6'5", 285, is strong at the point of attack and has a knack for getting to the QB just like his pops. He would be a great bookend DE pass rusher on the opposite side of the field of Derrick Burgess.