Ahead of their Week 9 matchup with the New York Giants, Mark Davis and the Las Vegas Raiders fired head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler while promoting Antonio Pierce and Champ Kelly as the interim replacements. That, and the direction of the Raiders moving forward, is the focus of this week’s mailbag.
Q: What kind of changes should we expect for the rest of the year? Are we trying to compete or in full development mode?
A: Well, we already know of one big change which is Aidan O’Connell starting over Jimmy Garoppolo, and I think we can expect to see the Pierce-led Raiders make a lot of similar moves down the stretch of the season. What I mean by that is more young players getting more playing time if the veterans in front of them are struggling.
When a new coach takes over, they’re typically more willing to make changes because he isn’t responsible for bringing specific players in. Whereas McDaniels had to be more patient with someone like Garoppolo, or some of the vets he signed, since he needs to justify adding them to the roster. Now that Pierce has seen that hasn’t worked, he’s better off giving the other guys a shot to see if he can turn it around and earn the full-time job.
As far as compete or development mode, Davis did say Pierce has a chance to be the head coach moving forward, so Pierce is going to go for it. However, if we’re being realistic, the Raiders have quite a few flaws offensively right now that I don’t think a linebackers coach is going to be able to change midseason.
I’m not saying this season 100 percent can’t be turned around and who knows, maybe O’Connell lights it up and was exactly what the team needed. But I’m not going to put my money on that.
Q: It seems that last year and this year the Raiders are able to take the opening drive and score (or have a shot at the FG). After that, the offense goes flat and they can’t even get a 1st down. What’s the deal with that?
A: A lack of adjustments/bad coaching.
Like most coaches, McDaniels would script his first 15 plays and he was decent at figuring out how to attack a defense with time to prepare for them. However, he was also very predictable throughout the game where if he found something that worked early on, he would keep going to it and didn’t have a counter to keep defenses honest.
In the NFL, defenses are so good that you have to be multi-dimensional offensively because defenders are so talented they’ll be able to stop a route concept, blocking scheme or play call if they know it’s coming. There isn’t as much “just line up and play ball”, or that’s not as effective as it is at lower levels where the talent gap between two teams can be wider.
Hopefully, that changes moving forward, and in full disclosure, this question was asked last week before McDaniels was fired.
Q: It almost sounds like the Raiders celebrated festivus airing grievances...who won the feats of strength? On a more serious note, historically meetings of this nature never point to a good vibe in the locker room. What’s your read on the player's vibe?
A: Another question that was submitted pre-McDaniels’ firing, just as an FYI.
Frustration definitely seemed to be boiling over in the locker room toward the end of McDaniels’ time and the video below from NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport is eye-opening. Rapoport mentioned that Davis met with veterans on the team to gauge the culture of the team and that helped lead to the coach getting fired.
Also, several beat writers have mentioned how the players seemed happier than they’ve been in a while on Thursday, so that should give you a pretty good idea of the vibe during the “Patriots West” era.
Q: How long do Raiders fans Gotta keep going through the same thing every year? No production, no chemistry, why is Mark Davis so quiet about McDaniels?
A: This one gave me a good laugh because the question was submitted on Halloween a little after 2:00 p.m. PT. So, to retroactively answer your first question, about eight hours! And Davis just doesn’t speak publicly very much. He’ll hold a presser every now and again, but he doesn’t speak to the media very often.
A: If O’Connell gets hurt, then I could see Garoppolo starting again. But if O’Connell is just playing poorly, the smart move would be to just let him play it out and try to work through it. If he gets better, then maybe he’s the team’s quarterback of the future. If he struggles the entire way through the second half of the season, then the Raiders should be in a decent position to draft another quarterback.
Riding it out with O’Connell the rest of the way is a win-win situation in my eyes.
A: 1) It kind of depends on how they handle getting rid of Garoppolo. Per Spotrac, the Raiders are essentially going to have to take on a little more than $28 million in dead cap space if they cut him in the offseason. They can either eat all of that money next season with a pre-June 1 release or spread it out over 2024 ($15.5 million) and 2025 ($12.8 million) via post-June 1. So, it will depend on what the new general manager and head coach want to do. If they’re looking at tearing it down and rebuilding next year, taking the big hit this offseason would be the route to go because they probably won’t be that active in free agency anyway.
2) I’m not completely against a teardown, but Maxx Crosby needs to be a part of the rebuild and I can’t get on board with your plan if it includes losing/trading him. Trading Crosby would be worse than trading Khalil Mack. At least Mack was on a contract year whereas Crosby is signed through the next three seasons after this one and is still in his mid-20s. It’d have to be at least three and probably four first-round picks for me to agree with that move.
3) I’m happy for Pierce and think he can be a good leader and motivator. I also like that he’s an ex-player who can relate with the guys and help make this crappy situation a little better. He’s said all the right things so far and I’ll be rooting for him.
A: The outlook for the rest of the season will depend on how O’Connell plays which is a massive wildcard given his inexperience. As mentioned above, my expectations for the team as a whole are pretty low. Maybe they win a few more games but I don’t foresee a dramatic swing halfway through the year despite the changes.
The timing of the firing seemed pretty spot on. Any earlier would have been waving the white flag on the season too soon, and it seems like the players were fed up with McDaniels so waiting any longer could have been even more damaging.
A: To answer the first question, this is why I’m not expecting a dramatic change for the rest of the season. It’s impossible to try and make big sweeping changes to the playbook in-season. That’d basically be like trying to cram an entire offseason into a few weeks. By the time everyone picks up the new playbook, it will be Week 17 or far too late. Also, it’s hard to expect many schematic changes since these coaches were part of putting together and implementing the current scheme. There will be minor changes and different play calls, but don’t expect to see a complete shift.
That’ll do it for this week’s mailbag. Thank you all for submitting questions and, as your weekly reminder, if you’d like to have your questions answered in a future column, tweet them at me, @MHolder95, email them to SBPQuestions1@gmail.com or look for our weekly call for questions on the site. The latter will publish on Thursdays throughout the season.