A funny thing happened on the way to another weekend of national scorn and ridicule.
The Raiders dominated the NFL draft.
OK, “dominate” is probably too strong, because no one really knows how a draft class is going to be for a few years down the road. But considering the abuse they’ve taken over the past few years, much of it justified, most who watched as a fan or critic were of the opinion the Raiders had three good days.
Three very good days.
Tom Cable’s talk about “championships” remains a reach, but at least it’s not ludicrous any more.
The fact is, if Rolando McClain is a middle linebacker who even approaches the level of a rookie Ray Lewis or Patrick Willis, if Lemarr Houston can provide a stout end to turn runners inside, if Jared Veldheer or Bruce Campbell can add something to the offensive line, and most importantly, if Jason Campbell elevates the art of quarterback all the way to above average, the Raiders have the look of a .500 team.
And once you’re a .500 team, you’re only a break or two away from 10 wins.
People rolled their eyes at the Raiders on Wednesday. By Saturday, they were something to be taken seriously.
Seldom was heard a discourging word from the endless procession of talking heads on ESPN and the NFL Network, many of them prefacing their comments with a qualifier such as, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but . . . ”
Since he took over has head coach, Cable has wanted to get rid of negativity. He’s talked about in press conferences. He’s talked to reporters informally about it, wondering why doom and gloom is so prevalent. My response has been it’s a reflection of the won-loss record over the past seven years, and that it wasn’t going to go away until the Raiders changed things on the field.
Well, the Raiders, for the time being, did what I didn’t think was possible. They cast themselves in a positive light with what appears to be sound and decisive personnel moves.
In the cocoon of the Raiders draft room, Cable isn’t yet fully cognizant the negativity has ground to a halt.
“For awhile I’ve said at some point things will start to change,” Cable said. “If that’s the feeling out there it would be second to the feeling in that draft room.”
A skeptic can still find fault.
What if McClain isn’t any better than Derrick Johnson, the linebacker the Chiefs thought would change their defense in 2005?
Or that Houston is one of those Texas players who doesn’t take the next step in the NFL.
If Veldheer can’t make the gigantic leap from Hillsdale to the AFC West, and Bruce Campbell is one of those “looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane” types, then Jason Campbell will find himself taking a beating, the passing game will falter, and, well, you know the rest.
But the bad vibes are for another time.
Oakland has made a run at shoring up problem areas, and instead of reaching for “numbers” players like kick returner Jacoby Ford and Bruce Campbell too high, the Raiders took their shot in reasonable rounds. Veteran linebacker Kamerion Wimbley cost a third-round pick and Quintin Groves a fifth, both reasonable moves for talented players at not much cost.
Topping it all off, Jason Campbell, while not an elite NFL quarterback, was a 64.5 percent passer for a struggling Washington team and although he had 15 interceptions last year, has been pretty good at avoiding turnovers.
His arrival means Al Davis has taken a realistic view of JaMarcus Russell, which in turn will boost the spirits of the fan base. Campbell is scheduled to make $3.1 million this year on the tender he signed in Washington, and was extended for another $4.5 million next year. He’s not here to sit.
Campbell is far better idea than either an aging Donovan McNabb or the toxic Ben Roethlisberger, and it came at almost zero cost _ a fourth-round draft pick two years from now.
All the rumors about fire sales and the perception of a a franchise hopelessly adrift, and Davis did more good things in a short period than at any time in recent memory.
It wasn’t perfect, because it never is.
“You can always do better. I’m sure after we have some time reflect on it, we’ll look at it and say, `Man, I wish we could’ve done this or that,” Cable said. “But shoot, man. That’s a heck of a draft for the Raiders. It really is, and you can put some check marks to some very important issues on this football team.”