There was a point in the last 10 years when the 49ers and Raiders both seemed destined for decades of mediocrity.
The Raiders cycled through head coaches faster than Roman Abramovich fired his managers at Chelsea FC; meanwhile, the 49ers conspired to blow seemingly every draft pick they caught sight of and trotted out a pupu platter of horrendous quarterbacks in the post Jeff Garcia era.
Fast forward to today, and the dichotomy couldn’t be clearer; the 49ers are among the kingpins of the NFL, while the Raiders are among the most holey (as opposed to holy) rosters in all of professional football, potentially including college as well. The turnaround has been stunning.
Never was this more evident than in the NFL Draft that just concluded.
The 49ers filled every need on their roster, took calculated risks on potentially game-changing players and played the game of numbers better than just about anyone else.
San Francisco squashed swirling speculations of a deteriorating secondary in an otherwise fearsome defense by picking up LSU safety Eric Reid. Reid isn’t Darrelle Revis by any means, but the young man already wants to be the cause of many sleepless nights for Aaron Rodgers. Unlike the Raiders (cough, JaMarcus Russell, cough), the 49ers had the common sense to know that the SEC’s strength lies in defense, not offense. Picking up Stanford’s own Zach Ertz wasn’t a bad idea, either, considering that the 49ers needed a promising replacement for Delanie Walker.
The Raiders? Because of the ill-advised and shortsighted trade for Carson Palmer, they found themselves with a dearth of picks and sadly possessed a very high pick in a draft that had no real elite talent past the first two picks. They were forced to trade out of a great position in order to recoup all the picks they had frittered away over the years.
The reason for this drastic change in fortunes can be attributed to a few major and key philosophical differences between the two organizations. The 49ers made the conscious move to hire an incredibly talented front office, led by secretive GM Trent Baalke, and mortgaged the farm to raid The Farm for head coach Jim Harbaugh (pun fully intended).
This new regime—a breath of fresh air after the backstabbing of head coach Mike Nolan and the plain idiocy of the Mike Singletary era—built the team around a core of great draft picks and smart and inexpensive free-agent signings. It put together a firm system within which players could thrive.
Meanwhile, the Raiders did no such thing. They hired and fired coaches at a whim, used the brilliant draft strategy of “speed, speed, speed” and otherwise tried to fit square pegs into Al Davis-shaped holes (may he ever rest in peace). The consequences of those ten wasted years are clearly evident now, as the Raiders can barely put a CFL-quality team on the field.
The Raiders drafted for quantity over quality; with so many glaring holes, they need to get some actual bodies on their team for cheap prices as they begin the tough rebuilding process. As they move forward, they might want to look across the Bay at the 49ers for how to rise from the ashes.
However, one piece of advice holds universally: when your top pick nearly died from a heart condition, he might not be the best investment of your pick and your money.
Vignesh Venkataraman wrote about the 49ers and Raiders to distract himself from the terrible decisions that the Patriots made in the Draft. Give him false hope and deceivingly assure him that the golden days of the Belichik-Brady era are not over just yet at viggy “at” stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @Viggyfresh.