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Raiders face uncertain future

Lineup changes are more than likely for a team that is aging and faced with salary-cap concerns.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 28, 2003

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The short-term plan failed, and the long-term troubles are just beginning for the Raiders.

While desperately pursuing their first championship in 19 years, the Raiders didn't think far into the future beyond Super Bowl Sunday. They stocked their roster with talented veterans and pushed the limits of their salary cap for years to come with lucrative contracts.

After their crushing 48-21 loss to the Buccaneers and former coach Jon Gruden, the Raiders' future arrived -- and it isn't promising for an aging, expensive team that's almost certain to get major changes before next season.

"We had a great shot this year," guard Frank Middleton said. "Who knows what the future holds? None of us have any idea what's going to happen to us next year."

As they packed up and headed home Monday, most of the Raiders were disconsolate at their failure.

They wanted to win for Tim Brown, the longest-serving player in team history who was in his first Super Bowl. They wanted to win for 73-year-old owner Al Davis, who inspires incredible loyalty in most of his players. They wanted to win for a city that could use the good news and not the shameful rioting that followed their loss.

"It's more disappointing than I ever thought it could be," Pro Bowl tackle Lincoln Kennedy said. "I can't put it into words. I thought this was our year."

All-Pro center Barret Robbins didn't even wait until the game to begin the scattering of the Raiders. He disappeared Friday night and didn't resurface for nearly 24 hours, after which the Raiders kicked him out of the team hotel.

Whether Robbins' situation was a distraction or not, Oakland wasn't nearly up to the challenge posed by the Buccaneers.

A team built on veteran maturity seemed wholly unprepared to deal with Tampa Bay's swarming defense, which bullied its offensive line and reduced its vaunted receiving corps to a bunch of spectators for nearly three quarters.

The NFL's best passing game was in ruins. Rich Gannon didn't throw a pass near Jerry Rice in the first half, and Brown caught just one for 9 yards on the Raiders' first drive. Three of Gannon's career-high five interceptions were returned for touchdowns.

"It's a tough one to swallow because we've thrown the ball so well this season," Rice said. "I'm not sure what went wrong. We weren't clicking from the start, and it just never got going. I can't make excuses, because I can't even think of any."

While Gruden's future looks bright with the Buccaneers, Raiders coach Bill Callahan and owner Davis face an uphill battle to return the team to the form that has earned three straight division titles and two trips to the AFC title game.

After the game, Callahan promised he would reveal all when the team returned home -- but in typical Raiders style, the team then decided to stay off-limits to reporters on Monday.

It's a given that several key veterans will be gone. Defensive tackle Sam Adams, signed to a six-year deal in training camp, said he expects to be released; others already sense their fates.

Even if the Raiders use enough salary-cap alchemy to keep much of their roster together, an old team will be one year older. Rod Woodson, Bill Romanowski, Trace Armstrong, Gannon, Rice and Brown are past 35. What's more, it's hard to believe Robbins' teammates could trust him again.

"We definitely don't have a cap problem," Brown said last week. "If you know anything about football, the only time you have a cap problem is when you have players you're paying but don't want to keep. So hopefully we have enough of these players back again to help us try to do this thing again."

Woodson said if he's not in the team's plans, he won't play for any other team.

"We all know the Raiders have some decisions to make," he said. "I have a least one more game as a Raider, in the Pro Bowl next week. If they want me back next year, I will be back. If not, I will be coaching peewee football with my kids."

Back to the Super Bowl XXXVII
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