We live in an instantaneous society. We want things now. Zero patience and very rarely any perspective for the time it takes to build something. Or understand how it crumbled.
Welcome to the 2016 season for the 49ers and Raiders.
Some of the current narratives for both teams are actually amusing.
1. The Raiders are great! They are going to be a playoff team. They are a team on the rise. Now this is actually true, but remember the Raiders last made the playoffs in 2002. 2002!!! Given the NFL draft and salary cap, this length of futility seems almost incomprehensible.
2. Reggie McKenzie is a genius. He’s done a great job building the Raiders. Khalil Mack, Derek Carr and Amari Cooper have all been tremendous picks. Of course, he also invested in Matt Flynn and Matt Schaub, who were both miserable failures, but hey, who needs actual facts. Its all about NOW.
Now to be fair, Al Davis had run the Raiders into the ground. They had $154 million committed for a $120 million salary cap year in 2012 when McKenzie took over. The Raiders had also traded away most of their draft picks that year. So McKenzie had a clean-up job of epic proportions upon his arrival. No playoffs in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 though. It’s about time the Raiders get back to the postseason. And the personnel and coaching moves have been made to make this a realistic goal.
3. For the 49ers, they are actually in the normal life cycle of NFL teams. Now they also made the playoffs in 2002 (like the Raiders). They then missed the postseason for eight years, but in the process accumulated many of the players who were responsible for a tremendous three-year run (13-3, 11-4-1, 12-4). Three NFC Championship games, one Super Bowl appearance.
Their eventual decline is quickly pointed to as revolving around the departure of Jim Harbaugh. Good trivia question: what was Harbaugh’s record his final year? Try 8-8. No playoffs. Key players were on the decline and even a solid coaching staff doesn’t stop that.
And the “development” of Colin Kaepernick? Here are his QB ratings by year:
Kaepernick’s play actually declined each year under Harbaugh and continued that slide in 2015 with an injury plagued nine-game season. That doesn’t fit the narrative of the 49ers’ slide so it’s rarely mentioned.
The 49ers hit bottom in 2015 with a poor coaching hire and massive departure of elite players who either retired or had skills decline to the point that they weren’t productive. This happens to every team, but the drop from 8 wins to 5 wins is not unprecedented territory in NFL history.
4. So now Chip Kelly enters Year 1. The 49ers play the most difficult schedule in the NFL and could actually be an improved team and still finish with the same five-win total as a year ago. This actually wouldn’t be the worst thing for the future of the franchise. You have to have high picks to change your fortune going forward (see Raiders above).
Areas of improvement figure to be both offensive and defensive line. Staley, Beadles, Kilgore, Davis and Brown with Garnett as a backup is vastly superior to a year ago. Defensively, Armstead, Dial, Buckner, Purcell, Dorsey is a nice group of five for three spots.
People will point to the quarterback position and you actually have three from the same draft class of 2011: Blaine Gabbert (10th), Christian Ponder (12th), Colin Kaepernick (36th). Considering what Kelly was able to get out of Nick Foles, don’t be surprised if the 49ers actually get decent QB play during the year.
Wide receivers, linebackers not named Bowman and a host of young secondary players will prevent the 49ers from taking a huge step forward, but 2016 should be about being competitive, finding young players that can eventually be building blocks going forward and the emergence of players like Vance McDonald and Carlos Hyde, who have to produce to improve the league’s worst offense.
The Raiders’ playoff drought comes to end after 13 years; the Niners will miss the postseason for the 3rd year in a row but need to show rebuild progress to indicate that 2015 was the bottom.
In the NFL nothing ever happens overnight. Either success or decline usually has a multi-year pattern that is responsible for both.