Question: Raiders have 2 open roster spots, how would you address them?
Answer: At this stage in the game, there aren’t a ton of quality players available as free agents, and the ones that are will be looking to play for a contender or not interested in signing with the Raiders.
So I’d start by promoting cornerback Sam Webb from the practice squad to the active roster. Webb has shown some promise over the last two preseasons and the front office could take the next several weeks to see what he’s got and if he’s worth keeping around for the future.
For the same or similar reasons, I’d also like to see running back Sincere McCormick get called up. With Josh Jacobs’ status with the Raiders uncertain, it’d be nice to see what McCormick can do especially since it doesn’t seem like Zamir White has made much progress this season.
Q: Are the Raiders now in spoiler mode for the rest of the season?
A: Yes. While they’re only a game and a half back from a Wild Card spot, they’re 12th in the AFC standings heading into this Sunday and, in my opinion, they had to steal one of the last two games to be a legitimate playoff contender.
Q: Even if the Raiders somehow manage to get the top QB in the coming draft, I don’t think any of them are as good as Stroud so the Raiders still likely get dominated by Mahomes. Thoughts?
A: C.J. Stroud was my QB1 in last year’s draft, but I’d put Caleb Williams and Drake Maye over him. Both guys have more arm talent and are better at using their legs—especially Williams for the latter—than Stroud was coming out of Ohio State.
If Las Vegas can get their hands on Williams or Maye and improve the defense, they’ll be close to competing with the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes. Granted, that’s going to be tough to do in one offseason since trading up for a quarterback means fewer assets to fix the defense.
Q: My solution for a quick rebound: draft Johnny Newton DT in the 1st round, trade 2nd for Justin Fields, sign Patrick Queen to cover Travis Kelce. Where am I wrong?
A: I like Newton a lot and would be happy with taking him in the first round if the Raiders aren’t going to move up for a quarterback, and Queen would definitely be a good free-agent signing.
But if you looking for a quick fix, Fields isn’t the answer because there’s so much uncertainty around him. While the Bears haven’t done a good job of putting him in a position to succeed, he also hasn’t held up his end of the bargain to inspire confidence that he’ll be a franchise guy in a better situation. Fields has had a lot of bad turnovers this season, is slow to get through his reads and runs into a lot of sacks that would make me hesitant to trade for him and turn the reigns over to him.
Also, while Queen is good in coverage, I wouldn’t just assume that he can take care of Kelce. That guy is hard for anyone to stop so I don’t think the solution for slowing him down comes by just adding one player.
Q: With the Jon Gruden returning rumor circulating, what would a Gruden 3.0 staff look like?
A: A disaster.
The Raiders need to move on from the Gruden era, in my opinion. They tried it and it didn’t work, and he’s going to want full control over the roster again. The countless first-round busts with Gruden and Mike Mayock are a big part of what’s currently holding the team back, and it’s time to move away from the model where the general manager answers to the head coach. I’d rather see them try something new and give a young up-and-commer who doesn’t have a massive ego a shot at head coach.
Q: Why isn’t Tre Tucker being utilized more? Maybe have him return kicks or even punts and show off that speed. I think the stain of McDaniels still lingers. After all, AP is part of his coaching staff.
A: Tucker has been getting more playing time since Bo Hardegree took over as offensive coordinator. He had seven total targets in Weeks 1-8, when McDaniels was calling the plays, and had the same amount in one game against the Dolphins. The problem is he’s still growing as a route runner and Hunter Renfrow has taken a bigger role with Hardegree, too. Right now, Tucker just isn’t a better receiver than Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers and Renfrow, so it’s hard to stand out as the fourth receiver. But I definitely agree that he can/should get more opportunities in the return game.
Q: Do you think Mark Davis will find a cost-efficient coach as a replacement for McDaniels? A qualified guy like Harbaugh won’t come cheap.
A: I’m not going to pretend to know what Davis’ finances look like, but I will say I think he’s tired of losing and think that will keep him from being cheap when it comes to hiring a head coach.
It’s a different sport and the contracts are, obviously, much smaller in the WNBA, but Davis made Becky Hammon the highest-paid head coach in the league’s history when he hired her a couple of years ago to coach the Aces. The team has won two championships in her two seasons so I think Davis will see that and know he has to open up his wallet to make his football team a winner, too.
A: I had a few questions about Aidan O’Connell’s future so I’ll sum them all up with a response to this one.
To me, O’Connell has played exactly like what you would expect from a young quarterback. He’s had moments of brilliance and then might get a little too comfortable/confident and starts forcing throws, i.e. the game in Miami. But I was really impressed with how he played last week against the Chiefs as he went back to his bread and butter, short to intermediate throws, and took more measured deep shots.
Finding the balance between taking what the defense is giving you and forcing the ball down the field is tough for any quarterback just starting in the league. So if O’Connell can keep playing like he did last Sunday, that’s a good sign he’s progressing well.
As far as his future with the Raiders, it would take a lot for me to think the organization should just roll with him and not at least explore other options in the draft. I don’t have a hard answer for that right now—like he needs to have X amount of good games to finish the year—so it will be more of a gut feeling at the end of the season for me. I know that’s not what people want to hear right now, but it’s the reality of the situation, and taking a firm stance at this stage would just be a hot take.
A: I wouldn't be surprised Davis hands over the head coach search to Champ Kelly or whoever he hires as general manager, but I’d like to see him take charge of hiring both positions. The Raiders have tried the model where the head coach and GM are tied at the hip during the last two regimes and it hasn’t worked. To me, that makes the idea of bringing in two people who are independent from each other attractive as they can get a more holistic view with player evaluations rather than have a yes-man.
A: I like how Antonio Pierce gets the team ready to play and how the players respond to him, but his game management and adjustments have been questionable over the last two weeks. The latter signals that he’s still figuring out how to be a head coach, so I’m not as confident with giving him the full-time job. And if we’re just looking at the four games he’s coached, he’s beaten two bad teams and lost to the two good ones he’s faced, which isn’t encouraging for his prospects moving forward.
A: Keep Jimmy Garoppolo on the sidelines.
If O’Connell struggles and the Raiders continue to lose to finish the year, that’s fine. At least they know what they have in the rookie and will have a better draft pick to help find another quarterback option.
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.