Thursday, November 22, 2007

Time for Reflection

This rebuilding year under young Lane Kiffin has been at times quite difficult to read. Many befuddling situations seem only to make sense under one of two possibilities:
  1. Al Davis' meddling is at odds with Kiffin's plans
  2. Kiffin is absolutely focused on building for next year and he has to change a deeply damaged locker room culture

Under scenario #1 our recent misery is unlikely to abate anytime soon. But under scenario #2 we will continue to await an inevitable a return to glory, complain about referees, and attend frozen away games. Despite the foregone conclusion, it's worth looking at a few of the current head-scratching situations within this context. I'll start with the running backs.

Jordan is in the doghouse but on the roster. Rhodes has barely touched the field. Fargas is starting. Bush won't play in 2007. Much of the scenario #1 talk has centered on how short-sighted it is to hold onto Jordan/Rhodes to keep him off the Chiefs or Broncos rosters at the expense of critical development/evaluation time for Bush. Clearly, Davis is loathe to let another free agent signing be declared a bust and then watch as he embarrasses him by contributing to a record-extending divisional loss. But it may not be such a bad reason, and activating Bush may not have been such a great idea. The Raiders have to win at least one game against the AFC West this year to take something positive into the offseason. And if Bush were to get injured this year it would be devastating.

The end of this year is going to be about getting JaMarcus' feet wet. Two guys in the backfield who haven't played a down would be tough to digest. The first time Bush missed picking up a blitz could destroy the franchise. Speaking of picking up a blitz, Fargas' block against Minnesota made it clear why he's starting and Jordan has hit the bench. Fargas is running ok, but he's doing all the little things Kiffin wants his RBs to do. After a brilliant start, Jordan has been phased out as too injury-prone, too unwilling to do everything it takes to improve, and yes, too expensive next year. Why not cut him if he's not the kind of guy we are rebuilding around? He's cheap this year, Crash Test Dummy might get hurt, he might have trade value in a trade/restructure deal, maybe he'll get with the program and take another pay cut to stay...and we don't want him replacing Larry Johnson this week or plugging into Shanahan's system on December 2.

So what about Rhodes? The argument for scenario #2 is to label Rhodes a classic Davis Super Bowl star signing that flops. Kiffin is not just going to play him because he was signed, he has to earn it. In his limited - well, extremely limited - reps this season he hasn't exactly impressed. So why keep him? I tend to believe the Jay Glazer rumor that they considered cutting him, and may yet, but didn't for a few reasons: their return game is awful, they were undecided on Bush, and yes, they wanted to keep him off the Denver and Kansas City rosters.

The risk in all of this is that whether you believe in scenario #1 or scenario #2, the same reason for doing something could emerge from either scenario and cause harm in the locker room. For instance, if the Raiders are holding onto Jordan and Rhodes at least partly to keep them out of Denver and KC's hands, is it because Al is a spiteful maniac or because the single most important thing the Raiders can take out of Kiffin's first season would be a win over one or both of those opponents? Either way, you risk holding onto players who become cancers in the locker room, causing other veterans to say, "Moss was right - they don't treat their veterans well."

This will be a big test for Kiffin the rest of the way. Can he build a new locker room culture without entirely purging the locker room? His handling of wide receivers has been far different - they're all gone. The Jordan and Rhodes situation has risk written all over it. A win against Kolby Smith and the Chefs this week would go a long way towards mitigating that risk.

With that, I'm declaring turkey more important than looking at any other odd Raiders situation today. Happy Thanksgiving!

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