Whenever a new head coach and/or general manager takes over an organization, it’s human nature for the players brought in by the previous regime to feel uneasy and start to worry about their future with the club. In the cutthroat and ego-driven business that the NFL is, it’s understandable for someone to not trust the new guys right away and fear that they’ll be replaced by a crop of players who were hand-picked by the new regime.
One way that first-year head coaches and GMs can reassure that they’re committed to the guys who were on the roster before they got there is by handing out a few contract extensions. Obviously, the players who get extended will feel secure, and the rest of the team sees that the new front office isn’t just looking to clean house and bring in “their guys”.
To Dave Ziegler’s and Josh McDaniels’ credit, that’s exactly what they did last offseason. Maxx Crosby, Derek Carr, Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller were all brought in by previous regimes, yet Ziegler and McDaniels extended all four of their contracts. However, the former Patriots duo is toeing a fine line with their follow-through so far this offseason.
Carr is already on his way out and won’t play a single season for the Las Vegas Raiders under the extension that he and the organization agreed to last April. Getting rid of a perpetual team captain who is well-respected in the locker room is a risky strategy in itself, but the injury clause in Carr’s contract, which he agreed to, makes the move more understandable.
Also, one transaction likely wouldn’t bring back the uneasy feeling within the rest of the team. But if this starts to become a theme over the next couple of months, Zielger and McDaniels might invite that feeling back into the building.
According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the Raiders’ GM and head coach could be making a few more moves this offseason to fill the roster with “their guys” heading into their second seasons with the club.
“I’ve talked to a few people around the league who expect coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler to continue aggressively tweaking the roster,” Fowler reported. “McDaniels is big on ‘culture fits’ and will want his own guys. Teams will be keeping an eye on tight end Darren Waller and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow in that process.”
As noted above, Waller and Renfrow were two of the four players to receive contract extensions last summer. Now, both are reportedly on the trading block and there’s a chance that three out of the four players who were “extended” in the offseason aren’t even on the roster less than a year after signing.
Imagine seeing this from the perspective of a player who was brought in by the old regime and the questions that would pop into your head. “So, even if we agree to a contract extension, they’ll still try and kick me to the curb a year later? How much does their word really mean?”
Sure, one could argue that there’s always a constant fear of losing your job in the NFL, but it’s different when there’s a physical example that impacts someone you know and have a relationship with, let alone three people.
Also, think about this from the lens of someone like Josh Jacobs, who is set to become a free agent after his fifth-year option wasn’t picked up.
The 2022 rushing champ had an excellent year and one would think if he’s brought back, he’d be safe for more than one season. However, Renfrow was a 1,000-yard receiver and a Pro Bowler a year ago, as was Waller two years ago, and both could be gone by next month. In other words, Jacobs could be an injury away from suffering the same fate at this time next offseason, and that could easily play a factor in where he decides to sign in March.
Ultimately, Ziegler and McDaniels are walking a fine line between making business decisions and potentially losing the locker room. Yes, as the old anecdote goes, the NFL is a business, and feelings/emotions get checked at the door. But loyalty is a factor in even the most cutthroat of businesses and their word is on the line.
Ziegler and McDaniels aren’t just moving on from fan favorites or getting out of bad contracts, they’re handing out extensions and looking to go back on them as soon as possible. That would be an interesting culture to build and one that could have negative repercussions among the rest of the players on the roster moving forward.
Maybe these reports are just rumors and Renfrow and Waller will still be donning the silver and black in September, but right now, it feels like Zielger and McDaniels are playing a dangerous game.