The Las Vegas Raiders have spent the capital gained in the Khalil Mack trade, yet they still haven't reached the playoffs under Jon Gruden.
Three seasons into the second edition of the Gruden Era (this time, split between two markets), the Raiders have posted a 19-29 mark. They're improved in each of the campaigns, going from 4-12 in 2018 to 7-9 in 2019 and finally, 8-8 in 2020. For a stretch of time, Las Vegas appeared poised to qualify for the postseason and potentially make some noise in the 2020 season.
They didn't, though, and can officially feel things heating up around them. Star tight end Darren Waller is well aware of this and isn't shying from the reasonable expectation of his team.
"I agree. Yeah, we have to make the playoffs," Waller said during an appearance on Good Morning Football. "No more excuses. No more justifications. I know offensively speaking, on the side of the ball that I'm on, we can be better in the red zone. We're good at a lot of things, but we can definitely be better at red zone efficiency and scoring touchdowns there.
"Defense, I feel like just for them, the small things and those little habits and how we prepare on a week-to-week basis will carry over into the game, playing a more simpler scheme for them and allowing their individual skill sets to shine and just being more disciplined. I feel like we're right there outside of a few plays even the defense would agree can't happen. We're right there. So I believe in these guys and I know that this year is going to be a special year for us."
The Raiders almost need it to be special in order to quantify progress beyond an extra win per year. Las Vegas had the look of a postseason contender before it faltered down the stretch, losing to Miami in stunning fashion late in the season and watching its postseason hopes melt away among an incredibly strong AFC bunch that included three wild-card teams with records of 11-5.
As Waller said, the time for excuses -- blaming the slow turn on the grind of a rebuild -- is over. General manager Mike Mayock has two drafts under his belt at this point, and he's scored some surprise victories in picks like edge rusher Maxx Crosby. The Raiders were competitive for much of 2020 and with the same quarterback in line to return, they should expect the same at the bare minimum in 2021.
"I have all the belief in the world in Derek Carr," Waller said. "I have ever since I got here. I still do to this day. I think he's a guy that can take us everywhere we want to go."
With Waller and Carr returning as leading members, it's time for the rest of the Raiders to fall in line behind them and get going.