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Raiders free agency 2022: Patriot Games

Dave Zielger, Josh McDaniels go back to New England roots in Las Vegas

NFL: NOV 28 Titans at Patriots
Josh McDaniels has the fullback he deployed for three seasons in New England in Las Vegas now after Jakob Johnson signed with the Raiders as an unrestricted free agent earlier this week.
Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the best ways to get comfortable in new digs is to surround yourself with things that are familiar. That’s most assuredly what Dave Ziegler and Josh McDaniels are doing in the desert.

And, unsurprisingly, the newly minted Las Vegas Raiders brain trust of general manager and head coach, respectively — duo that sat underneath the New England Patriots learning tree for a number of years — are playing Patriot Games out West.

First and foremost, look at McDaniels’ coaching staff. He surrounded himself with assistants that were with him in New England: Offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo, offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi, quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.

Then, Zielger — as the Raiders new chief personnel man — showed us even more of the “Patriot Way” when he jumped into his initial foray of free agency a captain of the Silver & Black ship this week.

NFL: AFC Wild Card Playoffs-New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Brandon Bolden is a veteran tailback at age 32, but provides a quality pass catcher out of the backfield as well as a pass protection specialist with his blocking ability.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

First let’s start with methodology. While the other AFC West teams were busy before and during the legal tampering period, the Raiders were radio silent. This lead to quite the frenzy on social media. Yet, considering where Ziegler and McDaniels cut their teeth, deliberate and methodical was going to rule the day — no knee-jerk reactionary signings. Zielger didn’t appear to be a Wave 1 participate during the flurry of reported signings as big-money deals were being thrown around — mainly by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

And the day when the league year and free agency started, Las Vegas began to move chess pieces across the board.

Now, the players added. The Raiders big-ticket item in free agency is pass rusher Chandler Jones, then the team snared pass-catching running back Brandon Bolden and battering ram fullback Jakob Johnson to one-year deals. All share a common trait: They were Patriots, once upon a time. Familiarity with the trio of signees runs deep, now they’re slated to head to the desert and Raiders HQ in Henderson.

The addition of Jones is the big highlight and plays right into what Graham spoke of during his press conference a week ago.

“I want good players. You give me good players, I’m good,” he said laughing heartedly. “Whether I’ve worked with them before or not, I trust our coaches. I trust my ability to coach and teach. Give us good players, we’ll be good to go.”

Jones is one of the premiere pass rushers in the league (107.5 career sacks, 10.5 last season), even at age 32. And Graham and McDaniels are well-versed in what Jones brings to the table. Graham served as the Patriots defensive line coach (2012-13) and linebackers coach (2014-15) and worked directly with Jones in New England, while McDaniels was the Patriots’ offensive coordinator during Jones’ stint in New England (2012-15). While Jones still can get after the quarterback, the current Raiders regime is banking on something that happened with the Patriots frequently: A quality and accomplished veteran comes in and their mentality and work ethic reverberates and rubs off on teammates.

Jones is set to be the bookend to Vegas’ up-and-coming and well-paid in-house pass rusher Maxx Crosby. Already a tenacious worker and lead-by-example type, Crosby not only gets to tag team with a true sack artist this coming season, but his endless motor is going to be amplified by Jones. And that’s going to be a fruitful thing for Graham’s defense and the Raiders as a whole.

Offensively, the additions of Bolden and Johnson give McDaniels a backfield makeup that he’s accustomed to deploying. I’ll have more on this in a future piece, but it became very apparent when the Raiders didn’t tender Alec Ingold and the Patriots not tendering Johnson, the latter would be Vegas-bound.

As free agency heads into Wave 2 and 3 and as we careen towards the NFL Draft, don’t be surprised if more ex-Patriots land on the Raiders roster. And don’t be miffed when more New England-rooted philosophy arises during and after the draft.

You may have scoffed at the notion of the “Patriot Way” for the Raiders, but Ziegler and McDaniels are showing that once you’ve been thoroughly steeped in those methods, old habits die hard.