While the Las Vegas Raiders are set to take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Christmas Day in Week 16, all but one of the questions for this week’s mailbag are focused on the offseason as the only thing certain in Las Vegas is that a lot of uncertainty lies ahead...
Question: What changes do you foresee with the Raiders regarding their head coach, quarterback, draft needs and other roster decisions after the season?
Answer: Right now, my gut says Antonio Pierce won’t be retained as head coach and Mark Davis will swing for one of the big names on the market like Jim Harbaugh, Ben Johnson, etc. That said, pulling off the upset against the Chiefs this weekend would swing the momentum in Pierce’s favor. That would give him a win against a quality opponent and bring the team closer to finishing with a .500 record which I’ve previously mentioned is likely the benchmark for him to keep the job.
As far as the quarterback goes, I think my opinion changes every week with how up and down Aidan O’Connell has been this year. But it’s looking like the Raiders aren’t going to be within striking distance of drafting one of the top quarterbacks, barring a major deal to trade up. So, I could see them sticking with O’Connell for another year and signing a backup with starter potential like Gardner Minshew or Jake Browning in free agency.
Beyond the fluid quarterback situation, Las Vegas’ biggest draft need is at cornerback seeing as Amik Robertson is currently their top player at the position and is an impending free agent. The offensive line would be next since Kolton Miller and Dylan Parham are the only starters who are under contract for 2024. I wouldn't mind re-signing Greg Van Roten to another one-year deal as he’s grown on me this year, but Andre James and Jermaine Eluemunor are expendable to me. After that, defensive tackle would round out the Raiders' top three draft needs.
Q: How do you think the team will come out after this (almost) bye week? I’m hoping not the same as the last time.
A: Well, I certainly hope they learned from their mistakes!
I think it helps that the Raiders are coming off of a dominant win this time instead of a crushing loss. Plus, the Vikings were also coming off of a bye two weeks ago, so they had as much time to prepare for the game as the Raiders did. But the Raiders have the advantage by a few days this week since the Chiefs played on Sunday. In theory, that should mean they come out of the gates stronger than last time. But, as Raider fans have come to know over the last several years, the in practice part often proves to be very difficult!
A: Malcolm Koonce still needs to get better as a run defender and I’d like to see him continue to finish the year strong as a pass-rusher before making a call on a contract extension. If Koonce can continue to put together performances like he did against the Chargers where he showed nuance as a rusher and a few more moves in his arsenal, then an extension should be on the table this offseason. Hopefully, the coaching staff will take the training wheels off and let him play full games over these next three weeks to get a better sense of how complete a player he is heading into the spring.
A: Yes, I think Jim Harbaugh is one of Mark Davis’ Great White Buffaloes. And yes, one of the risks—and probably the biggest risk—of hiring Harbaugh is that the Raiders would be going back to the same strategy that has failed with the last two regimes.
I’d like to see them go in a different direction but, to play devil’s advocate, at least Harbaugh has been successful pretty much everywhere he’s gone whereas Josh McDaniels wasn’t and the end of Jon Gruden’s tenure in Tampa Bay wasn’t pretty. Plus, Gruden hadn’t coached for 10 years when he came back to the Raiders.
Meanwhile, Harbaugh has had one losing season since 2010 and that was the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. Again, I don’t mean to be an advocate for him to be the head coach, more so just trying to paint the picture as to why he might be a candidate.
A: Realistically, I still think the Jets’ highest offer for Davante Adams would be their first-round pick. They’re currently sitting at No. 7 overall but they do have two winnable games left on the schedule with the Commanders this Sunday and the Patriots in Week 18. With eight teams heading into the weekend with five or six wins, and New Orleans sitting at 7-8, there’s still a wide range of where New York could fall in the draft order, but it will likely be anywhere between the fifth and 13th pick.
A: Right now, Drake Maye and Caleb Williams are the only slam-dunk first-round/Top 10 quarterbacks for me and it seems like almost a foregone conclusion that those guys are going first and second overall. Bo Nix is intriguing, but I’m not thrilled about spending a premium pick on an older prospect who took five years to look like a viable NFL starter.
I haven’t gotten a chance to dive into Jayden Daniels as much, but he kind of falls into the same category as Nix as someone who took a while to put it all together. Michael Penix Jr. is the guy I hope they avoid in the first round. He’s just not very mobile and benefitted from playing with a plethora of talent at Washington this year.
I know you said four and I named five guys, I just wasn’t sure who was left off between Nix and Penix Jr. as those two seem to be the fringe first- to second-round quarterbacks right now.
A: That’s pretty much the gist of being an offensive coordinator. Bo Hardegree has been good—or at least better than McDaniels—at utilizing his player’s strengths as Tre Tucker’s, Michael Mayer’s and Josh Jacobs’ increased production since Hardegree took over stands out in my mind. O’Connell could be lumped into that category too, although the sample size of him working with McDaniels was small.
The biggest issue with Hardegree is that he’s inexperienced and tries to do too much with his play-calling. I appreciate the creativity and willingness to be flexible, but it seems like he’s trying to install new plays or change things up every week. While that can be good in smaller doses, at some point, the offense needs to have an identity.
As a play-caller, it’s about finding the balance between being creative and having bread-and-butter plays that the team can execute at a high level regardless of who the opponent is. That comes with experience and, to Hardegree’s credit, that’s even more difficult to do when you take over midseason for an offense that didn’t have an identity, or at least a good one, to begin with.
So, to answer the question, I like Hardegree’s ability to adjust to his player’s strengths, but his inexperience has shown in his play-calling.
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.