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Grading an Excellent Free Agency For the Oakland Raiders & the 1 Move that can Immediately Make Them a Playoff Contender:

curtis lofton

Excellent Grades for the Oakland Raiders in Free Agency & the 1 Move That Can Immediately Make Them a Playoff Contender:

Smile…….finally.

Much to the dismay of many Raider fans over the years, I don’t write like a homer; I’m real. I’m honest and I don’t over hype things which is done by 99% of Oakland Raider writers. I tell it like it is and in today’s world, that can be a turn off. That being said, when I say you need to be encouraged to be a Raider fan, you need to smile widely and give someone a high five.

In the twitterverse, many NFL fans grumbled when they admitted that I was right about most of the hot free agents not signing with their teams, especially Oakland Raider fans. Many want the sexy moves, but in reality things have slowly improved.  I also told them that there are many solid players still available that can be difference makers who don’t get all the publicity.

Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie has learned his lesson. Last year he waited way too long to sign players and in the end he literally gave money away to players that had little chance of helping the Raiders.   This year he was more aggressive.  He’s also going for youth, signing young players in the prime of their careers who can help the Raiders right now and in the future.  It takes character to admit and learn from mistakes.

Ron Wolf was a master at building teams and he taught Reggie McKenzie. No way is Reggie a hall of famer like Ron Wolf right now, but even with the hot free agents not signing with the Raiders, they have made great strides in the last 2 days at helping this team. Let’s look at the signings and then at the one move the Raiders can do to really start thinking about playoffs. Wow, did I just say that? Playoffs??? Yes I did.   Where is Jim Mora when you need him.   Let’s break down the signings so far.

Curtis Lofton, LB, New Orleans Saints

GRADE: A +

WOW; I LOVE this signing. Good attitude, toughness and talent. Want to know how good he is? Khalil Mack had 76 tackles last year and some Raider fans were losing their minds over him. Lofton had almost double that with 144 tackles last year. If you don’t know, now you know. This guy is good.

He’s a run stopping machine who has never missed a game since being drafted in 2008 and has been one of the top NFL tacklers since 2009. It’s no coincidence that when he left Atlanta, their defense started to go to pot. He’s still only 28.

Think of a little shorter Harry Carson from New York Giants lore. With Dan Williams and Lofton in the game, don’t expect much running up the middle.

Dan Williams DT, Arizona Cardinals:

GRADE: A

When Ron Wolf left the Raiders to eventually go to the Green Bay Packers, so did the philosophy of having a top defensive line in Oakland. So also went the fortunes of the Oakland Raiders.   Fast cornerbacks don’t build a defense; a good defensive line does. The signing of Dan Williams hopefully has the Raiders going back to what made them good; a defensive line that can rush the passer and stop the run.

It was reported this morning that the Raiders had signed Dan Williams. He is a stud run stopper who helped the Cardinals become an excellent football team. Their defensive line carried this team even when they lost key offensive starters and were down to their 3rd string quarterback.

Dan Williams is a HUGE non sexy signing. The average fan looks at sacks, hype and reputation, but hard core fans know this is a great addition. The Raiders DL last year couldn’t rush the passer or stop the run.   Unless that changes, nothing changes.   This helps a lot.

Roy Helu RB, Washington Redskins:

GRADE: B

This is a solid signing. Helu isn’t an every down back but he’s an excellent pass catcher and third down back.   I think the Raiders do not see Latavius Murray as an every down back so this is a nice addition to the offense.   He averaged more yards in third down situations when he touched the ball than any other player in the NFL.

Malcolm Smith LB, Seattle Seahawks:

Grade: C+

For the money they spent on him, I personally didn’t get this one unless they are going to make him a situational player. With the signing of Lofton, I could see Lofton playing on first and second down and Malcolm Smith playing more on passing downs.

When the Seahawks were healthy he was a backup who struggled against the run but was excellent in pass coverage.

In the famous playoff game against Green Bay last year he barely played and in reality he only played in 28% of the defensive plays for Seattle in 2014.   He’s fast and has great instinct against the pass but Seattle never considered him an every down linebacker.   He will get his chance now to play more and time will tell. A former Super Bowl MVP in 2013 (insert Larry Brown jokes here) who will get his chance to prove he’s an every down player.

Rodney Hudson C, Kansas City Chiefs:

Grade: A-

Wow; 9 million a year for a center? Well that’s what the Raiders paid for Hudson who is considered a very good NFL center.   When you are not a good team sometimes you have to overpay.  Hudson is equally good in pass protection and in the run game.

He’s young and physical and is an expensive signing but the good news is he’s a solid NFL football player who will help the offensive line. Steve Wisniewski is a better guard than center and this is an upgrade. Gabe Jackson is all that and a bag of chips so the left side of the Raiders line looks very solid.

Lee Smith, TE, Buffalo Bills

GRADE: C

He’s a one dimensional run blocking tight end. If he’s in the game you are going to run the ball. That sounds pretty predictable. In 56 starts he has only 20 catches. After watching the Raiders run on first down all the time with no audibles or imagination on offense last year, you’d think they’d sign a veteran that at least can catch the ball more. Not the worst signing though but they could have done better.

What Does All This Mean and What Needs To Be Done Next?

What it means is that the Raiders are going to be a better football team.   A .500 season is very realistic and anything above that would be whip cream on top.

What it also means is that the Raiders are almost for sure picking a WR with their first pick of the NFL draft. Most have Alabama’s Amari Cooper going to the Raiders and that is a probability.

I LOVE Sammy Watkins but I like Cooper. He had massive numbers in a conference with the best college defensive backs (and a shaky throwing quarterback), and I like him over Kevin White; the wide receiver from West Virginia.  White played in the Big 12 where defense is non-existent.

There is a very long list of failed Big 12 wide receivers with big numbers in spread offenses with failed NFL careers which scares me, so I’m not a White fan. Jaelen Strong has NFL written all over him. The big and physical wide out was a stud at Arizona St. and I like him as well.

Let’s face it, the “crack” of the Oakland Raiders is defensive backs with fast 40 yard dash times so expect another one to be chosen in the first 3 rounds for the Raiders. Even when they have huge holes elsewhere they have a 13 year history of drafting defensive backs that fail in the NFL. With every good defensive back they pick, there are several bad ones.   Some like redheads; the Raiders like defensive backs with fast 40 times in the NFL combines.

In the first 3 picks though, expect a defensive lineman to be picked as well.   With another defensive lineman the Raiders can have a 5 man rotation which should work well against pass happy teams like Denver and San Diego.

The Player That Can Immediately Make Them a Playoff Contender:

This isn’t a shocker; it’s Greg Hardy. With all the drama surrounding him, he won’t be as expensive as before but he’ll command a lot of money.   Forget Demarco Murray; forget all the other players; Greg Hardy is the one force that can transform the new Raiders into a possible playoff team immediately.

I will admit; I think he’s a scumbag; what he did was unforgivable and if he didn’t have money to pay off his victim he’d be doing serious jail time.   This isn’t church though, this is the NFL. It’s about winning and this guy is a machine.

If the Raiders can sign him, I think now you have the makings of a stud defense. Look at teams that turned things around quickly; Arizona, San Francisco during the Harbaugh days; Seattle, Carolina even with a terrible offense; these teams had one thing in common;   GREAT defensive line play. If the Raiders can pull off signing Hardy, then you really can lose your mind with excitement. Stop the run and rush the passer with 4 guys is the way to win in the NFL.   The Giants beat the Patriots twice in the Super Bowl with their DL leading the way and winning their games that way alone.  Seattle is the king of that now.

With a dominating front 7 on defense, your offense just needs to be average for you to win immediately.  It won’t win Super Bowls, but you will improve greatly, and fast.  The next year you can finish your work on the offense.

As we have seen, most of the articles and predictions and rumors about free agency were wrong as they are every year. That stuff bores me to tears to be honest but the actual signings always make things interesting and for the first time in many a moon, Raider fans should actually be happy and encouraged instead of just artificially hopeful. Things are looking up in Oakland. Now get Greg Hardy.

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“In 3 Minutes the Two Most Famous Goals in World Cup History Shocked the Soccer World”

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While Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi rule the soccer world today, if you were to ask historians who the greatest soccer player of all time is, you would probably get two answers.  For many, the majestic and magical Pele’ may be their answer. To others though it would be the great Diego Maradona.  While in today’s soccer world athleticism and speed is a huge tool for players like Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, Pele’ and Maradona used their ball handling skills and imagination to delight the world of soccer. They were more than soccer greats, they were artists.

The 1986 World Cup quarterfinal in Mexico between Argentina and England had a deep rooted meaning of anger and bitterness. In 1982 the Falkland War between Argentina and the UK had begun.   It was a 3 month war that created extreme friction between the two countries. This game meant so much to both teams.

Maradona had electrified crowds with his vision, cunning, and amazing ball handling and playmaking skills.   Listed at 5′ 7″ tall, in reality he was only 5′ 5″ tall but he had a strong, stocky build with muscular legs. He led Argentina into the quarterfinals with dominating expertise on the pitch.

The talented England squad had a lot of expectations. They had their only World Cup win in 1966 when they were the host country. England and Argentina were both soccer crazy countries and if you add the Falkland War into the mix, this game meant much more than a World Cup semi final birth.

On June 22, 1986, Estadio Azteca in Mexico City was magical. The place was rocking with an amazing 105,000 people jammed into the stadium. Chants, songs, and every noise device known on earth were in full effect from the fans. On a warm, sunny day the electricity in the crowd along with all the beautiful colors would create a once in a lifetime experience.   Half Wizard of Oz, half religious experience, this game would be one for the ages.

The first half was a feeling out period for the most part. Both sides being wary of the scoring talents of the other. England’s star Gary Lineker was watched closely by Argentina. Lineker would later win the Golden Shoe award for the highest scorer in the World Cup.

In the second half Argentina came out more aggressive. In the 51st minute, Maradona went on one of his patented drives.   As he entered the goal box, he attempted a give and go move to his teammate. The English defender intercepted the pass but kicked the ball toward the English goalie. Maradona; who had kept going in the hopes of getting a return pass; jumped up in front of the goalie and hit the ball. GOAL!   But was it? The England team protested wildly saying that he had hit the ball with his hand. The referee said he did not see that and allowed the goal.

Later when he was interviewed and asked about the goal, the Argentine star said that the goal was scored, “A bit with the head of Maradona and another bit with the hand of God”. From then on in sports lore, this goal was known as the “Hand of God” goal.

Diego Maradona had just started. Three minutes later he took a simple pass on Argentina’s side of the field. Maradona then took off like a jet and dribbled through 5 English defenders and went the length of the field. English goal keeper Peter Shilton could do nothing as a rocket shot went past him. The Argentina crowd went crazy and the stadium was electrified. Famous Spanish Speaking announcer from Argentina, Victor Hugo Morales, was going nuts actually thanking God for seeing such a goal. Immediately people knew they had seen something special. In 2002 FIFA and the soccer world voted this goal as the goal of the century and the greatest goal ever scored.

Argentina was up 2-0 now but England was not going to go away quietly. At the 70th minute England substituted in John Barnes.   Immediately his energy and passing skills changed everything. Barnes began to pound the goal area with crosses. England looked like a different team and in the 81st minute a cross was put in the goal by Lineker. It wasn’t over yet. At the 87th minute with the crowd on their feet, another great Barnes cross was sent over the middle to an open Lineker but it was inches out of his reach. A few minutes later the crowd roared when the three whistles of the referee marked the end of the game. The game meant so much that many in Argentina felt this was partial revenge for the bitter military conflict between the two countries.

After the game the media and the soccer world was buzzing. People knew they had seen something special, and the charismatic Maradona fueled that fire on and off the field.

To this day Maradona is celebrated by most fans, especially in Argentina where he has icon status. For Americans to understand what a star Maradona is; especially during his heyday; think Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth; COMBINED. And that isn’t an overstatement.

Some fans though are also disappointed and embarrassed by his lifestyle and mistakes.   He was suspended for 15 months in the Italian league in 1991 when he tested positive for cocaine and he was also sent home from the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. for testing positive for stimulants. He owes millions in back taxes in Italy and has had more than a few run ins with the law, the press, and even soccer officials in his own country.

For all the turmoil Maradona has created in his life, the 1986 World Cup will always be his shining moment.  To this day just the sound of his name brings back great memories to Argentina and the soccer world. And in a 3 minute span, he created sports history that will be talked about forever.