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Raiders offseason: Competition to build depth

New GM Dave Ziegler sees every position as a position of need

NFL: JAN 02 Raiders at Colts
Building quality depth through competition all throughout the Las Vegas Raiders roster is a key goal for new general manager Dave Ziegler.
Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Fight for and earn your job. The result of that is the eventual starter and backup pushing one another to the limit and making each other better. That competition builds all-important depth.

That’s the ideal state for Las Vegas Raiders general manager Dave Zielger.

“In terms of what we’re looking for in the draft, free agency, really the entire team. I would say what we’re looking at doing is to build depth and competition,” the Silver & Black’s new chief personnel man said during media availability at the NFL Combine on Wednesday. “I think that’s a really important part of team building.

“When you have competition through the top of your roster through your bottom of your roster and people are being pushed, that’s really the focus. And I think when you build depth in competition throughout your team, you’re really going to build position groups that have strengths.”

Ziegler inherits a team built by his predecessors — former head coach Jon Gruden and former general manager Mike Mayock — that has talent and isn’t devoid of quality players at key positions. With that said, Ziegler’s philosophy and approach is a sound one as his tenure as the roster decision-maker unfolds: Every position is a position of need. His personnel staff will leave no stone unturned and will do a thorough sweep of prospects, free agents and the like to bolster a roster that has good talent penciled in as starters but is lacking in quality depth.

Keyword here is: penciled. There’s no escaping the fact contract, length of service, overall talent and current lack of better options beckon certain players to be de facto starters. Players in this category are quarterback Derek Carr, slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby, kicker Daniel Carlson and punter A.J. Cole III, to name a few. But that isn’t going to preclude Zielger and his personnel staff from scouting collegiate prospects and veteran free agents to potentially add to the team and compete with established players for starting jobs.

That’s the prudent thing to do.

“Being pushed” wasn’t necessarily a Raider tradition the past few seasons. As mentioned above, contract and tenure had a big part in that as cap space was tight and the drafting hit and miss, resulting in some established starters facing little challenge to their status. Of course, this isn’t a phenomena that’s solely present in Vegas. All the other 31 NFL teams have similar situations. But it’s heartening to hear the Raiders new roster builder speak about competition building depth.

Fighting for a starting gig can often forge and strengthen a player’s resolve and desire for playing time and can make those around them better. And those that don’t have the fiery nature to compete, that’ll make Ziegler’s decision to wax them from the Raiders roster that much more simpler.

To help Ziegler accomplish the task of depth being built through competition is his new right-hand assistant general manger Champ Kelly. The duo will combine with head coach Josh McDaniels to build a roster that puts Vegas’ new El Capitan in the best possible position to succeed. Zielger expanded on why Kelly was a must-hire for him at the combine this past week.

“Champ just embodies a lot of the things that are important to me. Very high attention to detail, has a very high standard for all work that’s done, whether it’s big or small,” Ziegler said. “He’s really smart just in terms of football, big picture thinking. I know he’s a good evaluator. We have a level of trust and respect to each other. The asset he’s been for us so far has been huge.

“It was a no brainer for me. Even thinking before I ever had this opportunity, if this opportunity ever came, Champ Kelly was always someone who was going to — I would hope — would be able to go on this journey with us.”

Kelly’s previous post was assistant director of player personnel for the Chicago Bears where he helped shaped the NFC North squad. And now he brings his expertise to the desert in Vegas alongside Zielger as the assistant GM for a Raiders team that finds itself in what’s shaping up to be competitive AFC West.

Time will tell how the duo will do in building the roster via both the draft and free agency, but for free agents in particular, Zielger is going to bank on the team’s history — along with the dollar amount of contract offers, of course.

“The history of Raider football is exciting. It’s a historic franchise, I think that’s an attractive thing,” Ziegler said. “When you talk about Las Vegas, it’s warm all year around, we have a beautiful facility, we have a new stadium. There’s a lot of things we have in place in terms of our facilities that allow football players to maximize on their potential.

“Players want to be their best and when you can offer players a chance to do that ... that’s going to be an exciting thing for players to go somewhere they can maximize their abilities.”