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Raiders Bye Week: Toting the fine line of competing and roster evaluation

At 5-7 and five games left, Las Vegas has slim playoff chance but must also data mine for 2024

New York Jets v Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders interim general manager Champ Kelly has plenty of evaluating to do in order to build a competitive roster in 2024 — if he remains general manager.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

At 5-7 overall and five games left, the Las Vegas Raiders postseason aspiration isn’t gone — yet. But the little pool of water that’s the Silver & Black’s playoff hopes is on the verge of evaporating.

The team is third place in the AFC West looking up at the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs (8-3) and the resurgent Denver Broncos (6-5), a team that’s won five-straight games, which is tied for longest win streak with the NFC king Philadelphia Eagles (10-1).

As of now, Raiders final five game slate after this bye week, only the Los Angeles Chargers (4-7) tilt in Week 15 on December 14, marks the lone clash against a sub. 500 team. Heading into Week 13, the Minnesota Vikings (6-6), Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts (6-5), and Broncos are at or above the .500 mark and each are trying to make a serious run at playoff spots.

The Chiefs are the class of the AFC West, while the Vikings and Colts enter the week as the No. 7 seeds in their respective conferences. The Broncos are on the bubble but are in second place in the West.

Yet, as we’ve seen in NFL seasons prior, funny things can happen. Losing streaks can strike, as can improbable win streaks. But one more loss while everyone else wins would surely scuttle the very slim Raiders hopes.

NFL: New York Giants at Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders interim head coach Antonio Pierce has five games left. The team’s playoff hopes are still alive but the team must start winning again to grow the slim chances.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Thus, the team is in a strange purgatory-type situation. The playoffs haven’t been eliminated as a possibility, yet, but based on the matchup with the best team in the AFC West, Las Vegas has plenty of work to do to catch up to Kansas City. And the team is going to tote the fine line between being competitive while evaluating its roster.

We got an early glimpse of the evaluation period by interim general manager Champ Kelly and interim head coach Antonio Pierce earlier this week when the Raiders waxed ineffective veteran cornerback Marcus Peters from the roster on Monday.

“Yeah, just decided to move forward. I wish Marcus Peters the best. We had a great conversation last night, great conversation this morning, and we’ll just stick with that,” Pierce said during his Monday press conference. “You don’t really replace anybody, it’s next man up mentality. We’ve got some young guys here, JB (Jakorian Bennett), Jack Jones just got here, hopefully get some more guys healthy in the mix. Just a great opportunity for some of our younger players.”

Opportunity for younger players. That’s the tell tale sign a team’s season didn’t go as planned and an inherent part of roster evaluation for the following season. Las Vegas needs to see what it has with the current crop of players to determine the best course of action this offseason to prep for the 2024 campaign. Peters as a Raiders seemed like a shell of the playmaker he was — outside his pick six against the Detroit Lions — and thus, the 30-year-old is free to sign with any of the other 31 teams.

And, as Pierce noted, that’ll open up snaps for Jones (25 years old), Bennett (23), Amik Robertson (25), and Tyler Hall (25) to swoop in and prove they can be trusted and are pieces to move forward with in 2024.

Then there’s cutting safety Roderic Teamer, who was arrested before last Sunday’s tilt with the Chiefs and charged with suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI). Kelly and Pierce wasted little time, made the veteran inactive before releasing him on Monday along with Peters. Teamer’s absence opens up snaps not only at the safety position but on special teams. That’ll give Isaiah Pola-Moa (24 years old) and Chris Smith II (23) more opportunities to get on the field.

Then there’s the curious case of rookie defensive tackles Byron Young and Nesta Jade Silvera, along with the continued evaluation of No. 7 overall pick Tyree Wilson’s play. Would it hurt the Raiders defense to get Young and Silvera active and more snaps? We’ve seen what Wilson brings to the table and it hasn’t been endearing.

Offensively, getting younger players in the mix can be tricky, considering the majority of the Raiders salary cap allotment is spent on offense — $103.8-plus million (which is eighth highest in the league, according to OverTheCap) vs. $57.36-plus million on defense (31st out of 32 teams) — and the veteran players at key positions like running back Josh Jacobs and wide receivers Davante Adams and Jakobi Meyers.

Rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell will continue to get an extensive look, which is an excellent thing. At the all-important signal caller spot, Las Vegas needs any and all intel on incumbents to formulate a plan of attack in the offseason. The team’s evaluation of O'Connell looms large on both free agency and draft plans in 2024.

NFL: NOV 19 Raiders at Dolphins
Right tackle Thayer Munford Jr. is a younger player the Las Vegas Raiders should get an extensive look at to determine if he’s a potential starter or mere depth piece.
Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The team should also find out exactly what it has in fellow neophytes in tight end Michael Mayer and wide receiver Tre Tucker — the two youngest players on the roster at 22 years old. Shifting to the offensive line, Las Vegas could have another shuffle at right tackle between youngster Thayer Munford Jr. and veteran Jermaine Eluemunor. As with many veterans vs. young player scenarios, the team knows what it has in the older players, not necessarily with the up and comers.

And the team needs to find that out.

Which brings us back to the fine line. Can the Raiders afford to mix in younger players and doing a roster evaluation while remaining competitive?

Either way, something is going to give.

The Raiders could win out and make a run leaning on the veterans. Or they could lose and continue to do so, forcing the scenario where the team’s postseason aspirations are stomped out and it’s full bore roster eval time.

Las Vegas performance and end result against visiting Minnesota on December 10 will go a long way in determining the Silver & Black path in the final four games.

This much is certain, Kelly and Pierce will traverse that landscape and tote the fine line together.

“I think it goes hand in hand, like if we’re not partners in this and walking side by side, that’s a problem. And you’ve seen really good relationships in the NFL from afar. And I think what Champ has done, which I really appreciate, is he has his opinion, he has his thought and his vision, but he brings it to me before he even says it, then asks me mine,” Pierce said. “And I think if we agree or disagree, we walk out understanding what’s best for the organization, what’s best for the team, what’s best for us. And when you have that, then there’s no hidden agenda and everything’s out in the open, it’s black and white. There’s no gray in this room, there’s no gray in this building.

“Everybody knows where they stand, me and Champ know where each other stand. We know what the vision and the culture and what we want this to look like for whatever many weeks we’ve got going forward, and we’re going to do our damnest to make it happen, and we’ll let the chips fall when it falls at the end of the day.”