ALAMEDA — Instead of preparing for the playoffs as many speculated four months ago, the Oakland Raiders held their final practice Friday and began planning for the offseason.
Players walked off the field and tugged off their practice jerseys then tossed them into a nearby basket. Bags were packed inside the locker room. A semi-truck waited on a street adjacent to the team’s facilities, waiting to load up players’ cars and take them to their offseason homes.
There is no postseason for the Raiders, a major disappointment for a team that finished 12-4 a year ago and was predicted by many to challenge New England for the AFC title.
That alone is why middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman believes it would be a major mistake for the players to simply go through the motions this week.
“I don’t think guys can afford to do that, being on a team like this where we haven’t played well and changes can be made after this year,” Bowman said. “Anybody, including me and the quarterback, including the coaches, you have to be preparing the way that you would prepare if you were 8-0. In the position that we’re in, you don’t want to put any bad film out there.”
Bowman’s status is one of the issues the Raiders front office and coach Jack Del Rio will have to confront in the offseason. A four-time All-Pro, Bowman joined Oakland in midseason after being released by the San Francisco 49ers and helped improve a defense that made noticeable strides after John Pagano replaced Ken Norton Jr. as defensive coordinator.
The 29-year-old Bowman has 50 tackles in nine games with the Raiders and will be a free agent in the offseason.
“Sometimes you make it to the playoffs and sometimes you don’t,” Bowman said. “We win together, we lose together as a team. I came here eight weeks ago and we’ve all been working toward a common goal. We try to play together and play a full 60 minute game and control what we can control.”
The Raiders defense as a whole is facing another overhaul in the offseason, although Del Rio and his staff must address an offense that regressed under first-year coordinator Todd Downing as well.
Oakland also spent millions in extensions for quarterback Derek Carr, left tackle Donald Penn and right guard Gabe Jackson but have just six wins to show for it.
The only tangible goal left for Oakland now is to avoid having double-digit losses, something that hasn’t happened since Del Rio was hired in 2015.
Like Bowman, Del Rio said he will be watching to see which players finish out the season strong and which ones pack it in early.
“You’re looking for guys who love ball,” Del Rio said. “We feel like we have that.”
Still, it’s an issue he and his staff will monitor.
“You’re always learning,” Del Rio said. “You’re always evaluating, you’re always learning. I think when you’re dealing with tough times, I think you probably do get to have the exposure of how guys respond. I think really for the most part, our guys have been really, really solid with that.”
Notes: Wide receivers Amari Cooper (ankle) and Cordarrelle Patterson (hip), tight end Jared Cook (wrist), center Rodney Hudson (ankle) and defensive linemen Denico Autry (hand/ankle) and Mario Edwards Jr. (ankle) all practiced without restrictions for the first time this week and came off the injury report.