The Oakland Raiders were once looked at as the destination for NFL rejects looking to cash in on one final paycheck before ending their career, but that's no longer the case.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders front office have been able to bring in solid free agents as of late, especially this season when he signed linebacker Bruce Irvin, cornerback Sean Smith, safety Reggie Nelson and offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele. McKenzie has done a phenomenal job in changing the culture in Oakland, but it wasn't just him and head coach Jack Del Rio.
“It was something that I dreamed of when I was a rookie," quarterback Derek Carr says about being drafted by the Raiders. "When I was first brought in, they told me, ‘You’ll play probably two years from now, a year and a half, two years from now. We just want you to come in… We really drafted you because we think you’re a great player, but more importantly, we want you to change the culture. We want you to be yourself, be the leader, hard worker you are. Show them what it takes.’"
Carr, who grew up a Raiders fan in Bakersfield, Calif., took that to heart and took it as a challenge to make the Raiders a more desirable place to play by leading by example. But he didn't do it by himself as he asked the rest of this 2014 draft class to be a part of the change. That class includes linebacker Khalil Mack, OL Gabe Jackson, DT Justin "Jelly" Ellis, CB Keith McGill, CB TJ Carrie and DE Shelby Harries.
"I said, ‘OK.’ I thought to myself, I said, ‘I want this to be a place where people want to come, want to work like we work, want to play the way that we play,'" Carr said on Monday. "I just had it in my mind and I said, ‘If I want people to do that, I can’t do it for everybody, but I can do it for myself.’ A group of us got together, our rookie class, and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to set the standard of how we practice, how we lift, how we take care of our bodies, how we study film.’
The young quarterback has seen his hard work validated, noticing the difference in the building.
Not only has he seen a difference inside the facilities, but he has also noticed that it has had an affect in free agency around the NFL -- the Raiders are no long looked at as a place players don't want to go.
"Guys see, ‘Yeah man, they’re a few pieces away, I want to go be a part of that,'" Carr said. "We have a really young, talented team that guys just want to be a part of. It’s really cool to be here and see that. It’s not like we have to beg people to come play here or guys don’t have anywhere else to go. We have some of the top free agents that picked us over some teams that have won Super Bowls in recent pasts. It’s pretty cool to be here.”
Mack, a part of that draft class, sees the same thing. He knows that the guys are enjoying themselves, but when it comes down to it, they're all ready to contribute and work hard in righting the Raiders ship that has been kept out of the playoffs since 2002.
“Oh yeah, man. It’s holding strong. It’s holding strong," Mack said. "You see it in the guys’ eyes when you walk around the building. We all talk and joke, but at the same time, we know that deep down we’re putting in that work. We’re going to keep continuously trying to put forth those wins on a consistent basis.”