The NFL Playoffs are underway in earnest, but for the Raiders, the off-season has begun. As the team gets up and running with an eye on next year, let’s take a look at the Raiders offense and how it projects for 2019.
Derek Carr is the Raiders starter, for now. I say for now as there is still a chance he is moved on by Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock this off-season (discussed later in 4th-and-7), but for the purposes of this analysis, let’s assume the Raiders ride with Carr for the 2019 season.
Carr gives the Raiders a solid foundational building block. He is just 27 years old, which gives him roughly a decade of pro football left in his career. Carr’s cap hit for 2019 of $22.5 million is just the 15th-highest cap hit for any quarterback in the league. The Raiders will not be hamstrung with his contract. Carr had a mixed 2018 but improved as the season went on, finishing with career highs in passing yards, completion percentage and passing yards per pass attempt. All this, despite having a constant turnover on the offensive line that was decimated by injuries. Add losing Marshawn Lynch to a season-ending injury and a revolving door at wide receiver and it would have been a tall task for any quarterback. It’s clearly evident that Carr needs more weapons around him and given the Raiders will have roughly $80 million in cap space this off-season (and three first-round picks), they have the necessary ammo to provide with that.
Marshawn Lynch is a free agent and given the Raiders are almost certain to play their home games away from the Oakland Coliseum in 2019, he will retire for the second time in his career. Doug Martin is also a free agent, but Gruden really likes the Muscle Hamster and I could see him getting another one-year deal. Running backs who are 30 years old don’t usually have a big market in free agency, so he should be had on a similar low number to his $1.475 million cap hit in 2018. Jalen Richard is an explosive option in the passing game out of the backfield and he’ll be a restricted free agent. He too can be had for pennies on the dollar, while DeAndre Washington will likely be moved on either via trade or release. Chris Warren was lauded as Lynch’s understudy by fans and will get a chance to produce in 2019 after a foot injury led him to IR this season.
The running back prize in free agency is Le’Veon Bell and it’s not out of the question to see Gruden spend big to acquire him. Bell is a proven runner and is a true third down option. He also has elite hands as a receiver, allowing him to be used in a variety of ways. The Raiders lack playmakers on offense, though Bell would go some way to rectifying that. At fullback, Keith Smith had a poor season as the lead blocker but he is solid on special teams and one of coordinator Rich Bisaccia’s guys on that front so he should stick around for another season at least.
The Raiders had a stable tight end unit right through the 2018 season. Jared Cook had a career-best season under Gruden and was Derek Carr’s favorite target. He only had more than three catches in a game twice over the final seven games of the season, so he is far from a lock to be back. Cook made himself unavailable to media late in the season after talk of his impending free agency commenced. The Raiders also like Darren Waller who they picked up off Baltimore’s practice squad mid-year. He has the tight end size with wide receiver speed and could be a handy replacement at a much lower cost than Cook. Primary backup Lee Smith bounced back from his disappointing 2017 season, being his reliable self particularly in the run game as an in-line blocker. He also had a career-high three receiving touchdowns where he was effective on play-action passes at the goal line. If the Raiders want to upgrade at tight end and keep just the three TEs on the roster, Derek Carrier will likely be the one to be replaced.
The wide receiver position had a lot of turnover throughout the year, leading to inconsistency and a clear lack of chemistry with Carr. The highlight of this unit was veteran Jordy Nelson. Nelson played through a bad lower extremity injury for five games, but he showed himself to be a reliable target for Carr over the latter part of the season. In the final five games of the year, Nelson had 38 catches for 384 yards. Over a full season at that pace, Nelson’s numbers would be a ridiculous 121 catches for 1228 yards. It’s a relatively small sample size, but he can still be relied upon as a very solid No. 2 receiver at the very least. Seth Roberts has a $4.65 million cap hit in 2019 that could make him a prime candidate to be released. Neither Keon Hatcher or Saeed Blacknall appear to have any legitimate claims to be relied on next year, though rookie seventh-round pick Marcell Ateman could have a role as a situational receiver. Dwayne Harris is the last member of this unit, though he is more a special teams ace than a receiver at this point of his career. This is clearly the least talented unit of the Raiders offense, and it’s clear a revamp at this position will happen this off-season. Look for the Raiders to acquire a receiver in the first three rounds of April’s draft.
The rebuild of the offensive line started the moment the Raiders drafted first and third round picks Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker respectively. When healthy, Miller was an effective left tackle who showed he can handle some of the better pass rushers in the league. Parker is a stout run blocker but beyond raw in pass protection and really struggled in this aspect of the game. Both rookie tackles need to hit the weight room hard this off-season to fill out their bodies, as well as improving their functional strength. Veteran Donald Penn is signed for 2019 and it’s possible the Raiders want to move in another direction. Penn would save $5.475 million if he was released. On the interior of the line, center Rodney Hudson was the best player on the entire team. Right guard Gabe Jackson played through a torn pectoral muscle for the majority of the season and should be back in that spot next year, though left guard Kelechi Osemele is a prime candidate to be released. Osemele has a cap hit of $10.2 million and has been severely underwhelming the past two seasons with his production on the field. Fourth year veteran Denzelle Good played well on the line when Jackson and Osemele were sidelined could be someone the Raiders will try to retain. Backup guard/center Jon Feliciano is also a free agent, though he will have a solid market for his services and thus likely will be elsewhere in 2019.
There are some solid pieces the Raiders can work with going into 2019, specifically Carr, Richard, Nelson and a large chunk of the offensive line. However, their lack of playmakers in 2018 really hindered this unit. Time and time again they couldn’t make plays in crucial situational moments, particularly on third down and the inability to score touchdowns when entering the red zone. The only way to fix this is to acquire more playmakers. There was enough to suggest this past season that Gruden’s offense still fits in the modern NFL. Once better pieces are acquired to execute it, the potential for explosive plays will improve, and this should result in far better on-field scoring production.
A Quote to Remember
“If it’s a good trade, I’ll make the call. If it’s a bad trade, it’ll be Mayock … We’re open for business, I know that.”
Jon Gruden with a sly dig at the notion Mike Mayock will purely be a ‘yes’ man, whilst admitting the Raiders will look to be active in the trade market this off-season.
A Tweet of Amusement
— Mike T (@Ironhurts) January 1, 2019
1. The Indianapolis Colts go into Arrowhead Stadium this week and beat up on the Kansas City Chiefs. All teams in the NFL are physical, but on the grand scale, the Colts are by far a more physical team than the finesse and glitz of the Chiefs. The Chiefs defense is horrendous which should allow the Colts to establish a consistent ground game. This, in turn, opens everything up for Andrew Luck to pick apart defensive backfields with T.Y. Hilton and Eric Ebron.
2. The New Orleans Saints have been inconsistent, to say the least on offense over the last month and a half of the season and the Philadelphia Eagles might just be the hottest team in football right now. That being said, I can’t see the Eagles having a repeat of their Super Bowl run like 12 months ago. Their run ends this week in New Orleans.
3. The Los Angeles Chargers were impressive on the road in Baltimore against the Ravens. So impressive that I’m picking them to upset the New England Patriots this week. The Patriots still have Tom Brady, but their team as a whole is nowhere near as complete as past Patriot units, and I just can’t see them handling the physicality of the Chargers defense.
4. The Los Angeles Rams are a class above the Dallas Cowboys, though the Cowboys defense should give the Rams offense a few issues. I still think Dallas is an overrated football team and I can’t see them going into Los Angeles and coming away with a win.
7 Things I Think:
1. It seems that the thinking is the Raiders have once again chosen to bypass and make a mockery of the Rooney Rule, requiring a minority candidate to be interviewed for the general manager or head coaching role prior to making any hiring official. People are pointing to Mark Davis’ refusal to disclose the names of people who interviewed for the position. This is being taken grossly out of context. Davis hasn’t disclosed the names of the people because there’s a reasonable chance at least one and maybe more will be hired to the Raiders front office in some capacity once Mayock has fully evaluated the staff. One of the purposes of the Rooney Rule is to get a minority candidate’s name ‘out there’ for the potential for further interviews on other teams. Considering that the NFL has a league-approved list of minority candidates to interview, the names of the relevant people are already freely available to the necessary NFL owners who would be looking to hire a high-level executive or head coach in the first place.
2. Mayock’s press conference didn’t feature a heap of great sound bites, but it was rather interesting that Mayock didn’t endorse Derek Carr as the starting QB moving forward. On NFL Network, he did clarify in an interview that Carr needed more weapons and better protection around him, but it’s clear that the Raiders are not completely all in on No. 4. If a team such as the New York Giants offers the Raiders their first round pick for this upcoming draft, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Gruden and Mayock jump on it.
3. Mayock claimed that he wanted to evaluate the current front office staff before making changes, though some change has already swept through the building with the dismissal of Joey Clinkscales. Clinkscales was former Reggie McKenzie’s right-hand man and was no longer traveling with the team after McKenzie’s firing, so this is hardly a surprise. It is expected that Ryan Grigson will be replacing Clinkscales in a director of pro personnel type role. Grigson has a long history in the NFL as a front office executive, though his time as a GM with the Indianapolis Colts was a disaster. We do see sometimes head coaches who bomb out in the top job but thrive as coordinators, so Raider fans should hope a similar concept applies to Grigson not being in the lead role.
4. Jon Gruden and his coaching staff will be coaching one of the teams in this year’s Senior Bowl. Any time as a staff you can access more information on these young players entering the NFL Draft should be seen as beneficial.
5. Tom Flores and Richard Seymour are two Raiders nominated as finalists for the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in 2019. Receiving that illustrious gold jacket would be sorely overdue for Flores. Flores was the minority head coach to win a Super Bowl, winning Super Bowl XV and XVIII with the Raiders. Seymour spent the last four seasons of his career with the Raiders, and though the Raiders during that time never reached the playoffs, he was influential in shifting the losing culture in the late 2000s. Seymour will eventually make it to Canton, but I’m not sure he’ll get in this year.
6. The former voice of the Raiders Greg Papa is making his return to the NFL with the Raiders rivals across the Bay, the San Francisco 49ers.. This is just another gut punch for Raider fans in the Bay Area, given how poorly current radio broadcaster Brent Musburger was in 2018. Musburger was brought in on a 3-year deal to call the Raider games on radio and has strong ties to Las Vegas. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Raiders looked to upgrade this in 2019 and move on from Musburger early.
7. There have been some rumblings that the Raiders will not be selling season tickets in 2019. If this is indeed the case, it appears inevitable that the Raiders will be playing ‘home’ games away from the Oakland Coliseum. The NFL is pushing hard to have the Raiders play in London. The NFL eventually wants to put a team across the pond permanently but there are a number of logistical difficulties associated with it coming to fruition. The Raiders playing in London for 2019 would give the NFL a dummy run year to work out these difficulties to make it easier on an expansion team. It’s not ideal for the Raiders to be dealing with this, but it’s a small price to pay given this was a potential favor the NFL could call them on having secured the votes to relocate to Las Vegas.