There was a time when the Raiders were one of the most valuable franchises in the National Football League. And, yes, general manager Al Davis was a big part of it.
Many folks seem to forget that Al Davis is in the Professional Football Hall of Fame. At the age of 33, Davis took over the AFL’s Oakland Raiders, a fledgling three year old franchise that had struggled to just 9-33 for its short lifetime. In Davis’ first year, the team was 10-4 and he was named coach of the year. He then steered the AFL as commissioner, becoming competitive with the NFL before gaining a 10 percent share of the Raiders franchise before forcibly taking a controlling interest shortly thereafter.
In short, Davis is a competitive, successful person. He helped build some amazing teams, including three Super Bowl winning teams in 1976, 1980, and 1983.
However, now it is fair to say that the game has passed Davis by. Once a brilliant coach, administrator, and ruthless business tactician, Davis has transformed into an eccentric recluse who is obsessed with all of the wrong physical traits of modern draft picks (speed over EVERYTHING else) when building a modern football team.
Under Davis’ leadership – and recently his impatience fueled coaching carousel – the Raiders have regressed even further. The backward slide means the Raiders, once one of the more feared and powerful franchises in the NFL, has been rendered impotent.
In fact, the once proud Raiders are now the least valuable NFL franchise. While Davis would turn a profit if he ever sells the team (he bought it for $160,000), the franchise is bleeding revenue, down seven percent from last year. Some telling financial statistics include the $40M from gate receipts last season against a payroll (player expenses) of $168M… with an average ticket price of $62 a ticket. Revenue per fan is just $42 dollars. No fancy business analysis is necessary to understand those numbers do not add up to success. Fans are forced to pay a high price for a diminishing brand, and it is causing fan attrition. Why is the brand down so far? Look at the personnel and the contracts.
The team is comprised of albatross contracts and a bizarre mixture of players. The contracts do not match the player’s talent. Chronically overweight quarterback JaMarcus Russell has a contract nearly as massive as his girth, with $60M over six years and $31M guaranteed. His stats do not reflect his contract, averaging just 147.2 passing yards per game for his career. The Raiders first round pick of 2009, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, received a five year contract that will guarantee him $23.5M. Oddly, Heyward-Bey was not valued very highly by other teams, showing that Davis likely overpaid for a speedy receiver with limited upside.
Davis was at it again with strange personnel moves last Sunday when he decided to trade his first round 2011 draft pick (which will likely be high, given how poorly the Raiders have been playing in recent years), for a defensive lineman from the New England Patriots, Richard Seymour. Seymour, a once very valuable player while playing in the 3-4 defensive scheme, will now be forced to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, taking a once talented player out of his comfort zone. In other words, Davis gave up a valuable draft pick for a player that is likely not a perfect fit for the system his team runs.
The Oakland Raiders have the least talented group of players in the league and are valued at the least amount of money, too. It is a double whammy that secures them the dubious honor of the NFL franchise most deserving of a demotion.