Raiders slowly turning the page from Al Davis

The Raiders have made it clear they won't go after Greg Hardy, a very talented player, but one who has been accused of violent acts against women.

There's a personal reason for this. Raiders owner Mark Davis is close to Fred Biletnikoff, whose daughter was strangled by her boyfriend. But it's also a practical matter. It's much easier to concentrate on football if you're not constantly having to deal with off-field problems.

I wonder how long it will take 49ers general manager Trent Baalke to realize that.

In the early years under Al Davis, the Raiders had the reputation of being bad boys. In fact, most of them were solid citizens, but they did have some who were popping so many pills that they went a little crazy. More than a little in the case of John Matuszak. Ironically, Matuszak died from overdose of a prescription drug when he was retired.

In those years, the Raiders had so many good players they could win even with the problem players, but that policy went sour in the post-Jon Gruden years, most notably with JaMarcus Russell, taken with the first pick in the 2007 draft. Even a cursory pre-draft investigation would have shown that Russell had little interest in playing football.

Now, it's the 49ers' turn to sign the bad guys and then watch them get in trouble. Baalke seems to have convinced CEO Jed York that coach Jim Harbaugh was the problem. But with Harbaugh gone, it's all on Baalke now.

Meanwhile, the Raiders seem to be doing things right. GM Reggie McKenzie wants to build primarily through the draft, but he has the money this year to invest in solid free agents. McKenzie has been criticized by some writers, who apparently think every decision has to be right, but I think that, overall, he's done a good job, getting the team in a position where it had the money and salary-cap space to get the players for a big jump.

This is that time.

The Raiders are in a tough division. The Denver Broncos were in the Super Bowl two seasons ago and still have Peyton Manning. Both the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers barely missed the playoffs last year.

So, it won't be easy, but McKenzie knows what he has to do. One priority has to be a fast receiver who is also a good pass catcher to give quarterback Derek Carr the downfield target he lacked last year. The offensive line will be much different and that's a priority, which McKenzie started to address with the free-agent signing of center Rodney Hudson.

One plus the Raiders have is a very enthusiastic fan base. Despite all the rumors that they might move, despite an 0-11 start last season, the Raiders sold enough tickets to have every home game on Bay Area sets. Players on other teams often comment on the commitment of Raiders fans.

At this point, it's difficult to say how good the Raiders will be, other than to predict that they'll be the best team in the Bay Area. It's been a long time coming, but the Raiders are finally shaking off the effects of Al Davis in his declining years.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on Email him at

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