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LAS VEGAS – The Las Vegas Raiders went through a season of upheavals not seen in recent NFL history and came out of it with a winning record (10-7) and the franchise’s first playoff spot since 2016, the second since 2002. In less than a year, the Raiders have seen the departure of coach Jon Gruden, general manager Mike Mayock, interim coach Rich Bisaccia and both their first-round pick in 2020 – receiver Henry Ruggs III and cornerback Damon Arnette.
A new regime was hired by owner Mark Davis to bring football activities into the 21stst century in poaching the New England Patriots for general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels, a development that both excites and upsets a fan base accustomed to loathing the Patriot Way. Alas, McDaniels is seen as an elite offensive playcaller, and the Raiders have talent on that side of the ball, from franchise quarterback Derek Carr to elite tight-end Darren Waller to Cooper Kupp-like slot receiver Hunter Renfrow.
Defensively, the Raiders will change their identity under defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, because while the defense improved under former DC Gus Bradley, the crossbar was extremely low and so many of the Raiders’ free agents are on that side of the ball. Davis said this is not a rebuild – rather a reload centered on taking the next step. Stick around.
Expected salary cap: $ 20.95 million
Top Free Agents: QB Marcus Mariota, CB Casey Hayward Jr., RB Jalen Richard, WR Zay Jones, WR DeSean Jackson, LG Richie Incognito, DT Johnathan Hankins, DT Solomon Thomas, DT Quinton Jefferson, LB KJ Wright
Potential cutback candidates: Two guys to watch are linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. They were signed to renew the LB Corps in 2020, and none of the players have lived up to the hype since Littleton was replaced by rookie Divine Deablo last season, and a banged-up Kwiatkoski had all sorts of trouble staying on the pitch. Littleton, however, has a cap of more than $ 15.7 million for 2022. Yikes.
The big question: What will McDaniels and Ziegler do with Carr? Well, it depends on whether they see him fit McDaniels’ plan, as opposed to any kind of move they might get in return in a trade. Carr has pretty much all passed records in franchise history, but has a career record of only 57-70 and has in his eighth season just played in his first playoff game.
Carr is entering the final year of the then-record-breaking $ 125 million extension he signed in 2017 and is scheduled to earn a little more than $ 19.6 million this season, even though all the guaranteed money from his deal is already paid out. A short-term extension in the upper market is perhaps the step here, as Carr is a proven quarterback and gives McDaniels a head start on the most important position in team sports. Unless, of course, McDaniels wants a fresh start.
Best scenario for the team’s offseason: A content Carr adapts well to McDaniels’ plan in offseason training, and a noticeable improvement in the red zone offense follows. Graham also adjusts his schedule to best suit the talent he has available in Pro Bowl defensive MVP Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue, instead of forcing them to play in the 3-4 schedule he has been with in its previous stops.
Worst-case scenario for the team’s offseason: The Raiders move on from Carr with no real plan in place, and free agents take a wait-and-see approach to Las Vegas in general, the new regime in particular, and pass on the signing with the new Raiders, who still have more areas of need – including a No. 1 WR, O-line help and cornerback.
Early look at the NFL draft from ESPN analyst Jordan Reid: The beginning of the Josh McDaniels era is likely to bring about many changes. Adding a broad receiver to the current group is a necessity and getting better in the middle of the defense should be a priority. As the inside defensive line class was strong during Day 2 of the draft, the Raiders could look to target the key pieces accordingly.
Top needs: WR, IDL, CB
Top picks: No.22