by Ryan Lasal
John Gruden and Mike Mayock ftw? While John Gruden has the pedigree to leave Raiders fans optimistic heading into his second season, Mike Mayock is about to show the football world whether a draft analyst can be a General Manager. Although, since the Raiders won’t even start playing in Vegas until 2020, does anything that happens this season even matter? One thing is for sure if this team isn’t the focus of HBO’s Hard Knocks series this year, HBO has failed us all.
The Raiders have already made a number of significant moves in the off-season, which we’ll cover in a bit, but they still possess the 6th most cap space in the league at about $33 million. That’s a good thing because the Raiders still have a lot of work to do in order to build this team into anything to be proud of. With 67 players under contract and 8 draft picks as of writing, the team has 15 more positions to fill with that cap space. That is a significant number considering most of the additions at this point will be at a bargain or minimum contracts. The only significant dead money as of now is Jordy Nelson ($1.8m) and Donald Penn ($1.75m). The Raiders currently have 5 players that will have 8 figure cap hits this season, QB Derek Carr, C Rodney Hudson, LT Trent Brown, WR Antonio Brown, and WR Tyrell Williams .
Mike Mayock has not sat idly by while learning how to be a General Manager. His off-season was opened by trading for the much-maligned Antonio Brown for a third-round pick and fifth-round pick. The move gave the Raiders a legitimate weapon for Derek Carr after trading Amari Cooper during the 2018 season. The Raiders then added another weapon by signing WR Tyrell Williams to a 4-year deal worth $44 million, $22 million of which is guaranteed. To make sure that Carr can stay upright long enough to find his fancy new receivers, the team also decided to make LT Trent Brown the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history with a 4-year $66 million dollar deal. Whether any of the deals work out is yet to be seen, but the Raiders definitely have made moves to try and improve offensively.
As previously mentioned, the Raiders possess eight draft picks in this year’s draft. That may not sound like a lot to make an improvement, but 3 of those picks are in the 1st round (4, 24 (via Bears for Mack), 27 (via Cowboys for Cooper)). This allows a lot of versatility for a team with gaps all over the roster (EDGE, CB, LB, TE, IOL, S, IDL). The primary spot to watch right now is the #1 pick, where the Arizona Cardinals have a real interest in Kyler Murray. If Murray is not the pick at one, John Gruden reportedly loves the Oklahoma phenom. The idea of drafting Murray and letting him sit behind Derek Carr for a season or two is an enticing one, and one that a team with 3 first round picks can legitimately consider. If Murray is gone at four, that leaves a lot of defensive talent on the board. One of Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, or Quinnen Williams will all be there and Gruden would be happy to add any of the three to his defense. Further down the round, the Raiders have two of four picks. This allows them to bolster their first-round haul, or move up in the first round if the player they love falls. Assuming they hold, they’ll be able to address the defensive line position they did not fill at four. Players in this range include Christian Wilkins (EDGE, Alabama), Byron Murphy (CB, Washington), Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (S, Florida), and Clelin Ferrill (EDGE, Clemson). After the first round, the Raiders have only five remaining draft picks. So while the thought of adding three first-round picks who can start right away (or two and a franchise QB waiting in the wings), don’t discount the idea of the Raiders trading back from 24, or even 4 if Murray is gone, to acquire additional Day 2 picks.