A Surprise Pick @ #7? *And a Surprise Retirement

Injured TE Michael Mayer doesn't start for Notre Dame at Virginia Tech

So this is typically the time of year when I’m like every other Raider fan - wasting my time doing deep dives into the draft - while knowing full well we're going to strike out again....but I have faith this year, Nation.

With Gruden and Carr out - both criminally overrated - I feel an overall sense of positivity for the first time in a long while.

*Wow....and as I type this; the positive forces are already at work. Look at this....Tom Brady retires. Even Brady can't stop this wave of positive energy. Because say whatever you want about Tom Brady, but he was yet another QB that was driving a wedge between fans in Raider Nation. Was he not? Seriously. Half of the fan base wanted Brady....the other half didn't. Sound familiar? Well, that's over, too. There will be no BradyWars.

It all makes sense. The timing, I mean. Brady would never retire the week of the Super Bowl and upstage the biggest day of the season. And he also couldn’t wait until after the Super Bowl to retire because teams need answers as soon as….well, this week. I'm guessing that this news will only escalate the activity of the Raider front office and that we could have a couple trades coming soon, but I all really just feeds into the theory that I have on our pick @ #7 because a certain tight end will likely remain retired now.

Now, a few basic principles here:

  • When you trade a 1st round pick (and a 2nd) for Davante Adams and hand him a lucrative contract, you have effectively become a team that’s in " win now mode."
  • When you have a special running back - because of the shelf life with running backs in general - you are effectively a team in " win now mode."
  • When you have a head coach whose job security isn’t so strong - you are in " win now mode."

Thus, in this piece we will not be going down the path of potentially starting Jarrett Stidham or some rookie at QB - quite simply because those are not win now options at QB. Nor would quality free agents be excited about potentially playing for a team being led by Stidham or some rookie. And we have to do better in free agency. Good gracious, we have to do better.

And for those of us in the Nation that don’t actually want the Raiders to be in " win now mode"….when's a good time for you? When’s a good time for the Raiders to be in win now mode? When the Chiefs have added 2 more Super Bowl wins and have taken the division lead in Super Bowl win count? Denver has Sean Payton now….look, it’s now or never. The Raider organization either makes a stand now, or they just get steamrolled by Mahomes, Herbert and Sean Payton for the foreseeable future….certainly not the introduction to Las Vegas that Mark Davis had in mind.

So yes, the Raiders want to win now. Accept this.

With all of that said - and before I get to the potential pick @ #7 - for more than a week, we've been getting little bread crumbs here and there about both Darren Waller and Aaron Rodgers.

  • We saw the report that said the Raiders could be interested in moving off of Waller - and who's had heavy interest in acquiring him in the past? Green Bay. And how much cap space would the Raiders save by trading (not releasing) Darren Waller? $11MM in cap space would be attained with a trade.
  • We saw Aaron Rodgers (on the Pat McAfee show) talk about voiding the final years of his contract to lessen the blow of his salary cap numbers moving forward - and what is Rodgers' cap number for teams that want to acquire him from Green Bay? A measly $16MM is his cap number in 2023.

Following these bread crumbs (and a few others), I fell deep into the offseason rabbit hole and just decided to construct a roster that could potentially win right away with a surprise pick @ #7 and Aaron Rodgers under center.

First order of business; how did we acquire Rodgers in this hypothetical trade?

Given all of the reports; Rodgers has way more leverage than Carr has in his dealings with the Raiders right now. If Rodgers were to retire, the dead cap hit for the Packers would be astronomical, so the Packers essentially have to abide by whatever he says. And when I say " astronomical ", I mean the Packers would incur a dead cap hit of roughly $100MM if Rodgers were to retire - or if he simply threatened to retire, the amount is so much that they'd have to act immediately and pretty much go into the tank. Now, for their part - the Packers are reportedly more than willing to work with Rodgers on a trade elsewhere - having written the contract with moving on in mind. They're ready, but they also gave themselves no choice.

This is perfect for the Raiders - who, obviously, have already successfully completed a superstar trade with Green Bay. All the Raiders really need here, is for Rodgers to make Las Vegas his lone target destination for continuing his career and that will set a low bar for the Raiders to clear in trade talks. Raiders could essentially - only - offer Green Bay assets that benefit the Waller.

Yes. Our #1 asset going to Green Bay would be Darren Waller, and it benefits the Raiders because again, they clear $11MM in cap space if Waller's traded. But why else would it benefit the Raiders to finally make Waller available to Green Bay?

  • Because the Packers covet Waller, having tried multiple times to acquire him from the Raiders - offered a 2nd round pick and a 5th round pick - and they'd likely feel some measure of victory having finally landed him after being linked to him for more than a year. Which is important in high profile trade negotiations.
  • Because arguably the strongest position group in the 2023 NFL draft is the tight end position, and a much younger/much cheaper TE talent is a better fit for the Raiders' current roster construction.

And as for Green Bay - when you have a 1st year starting quarterback (Jordan Love), surrounding him with dynamic/veteran pass catchers can be a huge aid in their progression. Considering their circumstances, adding a vet like Waller is a better option than opting for a rookie TE who'll also be learning the NFL game. For the Packers' part; even in knowing that they'd be looking to move on from Rodgers soon - that hasn't stopped them from trying to get Waller.

But what else would the Packers get in return for Rodgers? Potentially other players on cheaper deals that the Raiders just have no plans for. Guys like Amik Robertson, Andre James....maybe a Bilal Nichols. Guys who leave very little dead money on the Raiders' books if they're traded. The point is, from a draft compensation standpoint; the Packers are simply not in a negotiating position to get a haul like Seattle got in return for Wilson.

Raiders would possibly offer a conditional 1st or 2nd round pick in 2024....that would only become a 1st or 2nd round pick if Rodgers is still lined up as the starting QB in Las Vegas after next season. And even then, the Raiders could be a playoff team with Rodgers under center, so the conditional 1st or 2nd round pick would come later in those rounds. A late 1st round pick is sometimes even valued as a 2nd round pick because that point in the 1st round is generally when you get to the 2nd round talents. So we're talking about the Packers getting very little 2023 draft compensation from the Raiders in this....Waller and those couple/few extra players would just have to suffice for the Packers until 2024.

And to replace Darren Waller in this scenario - the Raiders would select Michael Mayer - far and away the #1 tight end in this very strong tight end class, and one of the 10 best players in the draft regardless of position. Mayer would slide right in for Waller and off we go. McDaniels gets " his guy "....his " Baby Gronk", as they call Mayer in college football.

A perfect fit for McDaniels' power blocking scheme. Much more of an impactful blocker than Waller currently is, and with room to grow and even get better.

Now, in regards to building around these new parts - around $75MM in cap space was cleared after:

  • Trading Carr to Carolina for their 2nd round pick - #39 overall (giving us back to back picks in the early 2nd round) - clearing an additional $29MM in cap space to add to the $20-$22MM that the Raiders currently already have.
  • Trading Waller and clearing $11MM in cap space.
  • Restructuring Chandler Jones' and Kolton Miller's contracts to save $8-$10MM in cap space.
  • Plus, the $6-$7MM in additional cap space that the Raiders are rolling over from last offseason.

Now, of course, Rodgers eats into $16MM of that cap space, but what were the other additions?

  • By trading Waller alone, enough space was made to offer Jacobs a realistic contract, so it only made sense to bring him back and keep the passing windows open in the opposition's secondary. What's the use of having Davante Adams and Aaron Rodgers if you can't draw safeties and linebackers closer to line of scrimmage? They were always at their best with a dynamic runner in the backfield - ala Aaron Jones. Jacobs would do that and more with Rodgers and Adams as his partners in crime.
  • T.J. Edwards, MLB, $14MM average over 5 years ($11.5MM cap number in 2023). I had to move on from Perryman in this one, Nation. You can't make the club from the tub. Perryman was a solid player, but the injuries are piling up....can't build much consistency.
  • Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, DB, $12M average over 5 years ($9MM cap number in 2023). I continued to raid Philly's nest here. They have cap problems in Philly and are going to lose key pieces. CGJ has already been linked to the Raiders, and called a perfect fit by a couple of outlets, and I agree. Good safeties always slip through the cracks in free agency and the draft. Great value.
  • Dalvin Tomlinson, DT, $9MM average over 3 years ( $7MM cap number in 2023). Not a world beater, but versatile and reliable.
  • David Onyemata, DT/DE, 1 year prove it deal worth $6.5MM. Also, versatile. Former stud coming off a down year for his standards - but still an upgrade here.
  • $9MM in cap space spent on returning free agents: QB J. Stidham, S D. Harmon, OL J. Eluemunor, DL A. Billings, FB J. Johnson, and TE J. Horstead.

The rest of the cap space - roughly $6-$7MM - is saved for the draft.

Now, in this particular scenario - considering the additions through trade, free agency and the draft - a 53 man roster could look something like:

QB - A. Rodgers - J. Stidham - H. Hooker (4th round)

HB - J. Jacobs - Z. White - B. Brown

FB - J. Johnson

WR1 - D. Adams - C. Lacy

SWR - H. Renfrow

WR2 - Ty. Johnson (FA) - I. Zuber

TE - M. Mayer (1st round) - M. Lewis (FA) - J. Horstead - T. Sieg

LT - K. Miller

LG - T. Munford - T.J. Bass (6th round)

C - D. Parham - J. Meredith

RG - J. Eluemunor - T. Manning (6th round)

RT - D. Wright (2nd round) - J. Herron

DE - D. Onyemata (FA) - A. Butler (FA) - J. Lole (7th round)

DT - D. Tomlinson (FA) - A. Billings - Farrell Jr.

DE - B. Nichols - M. Butler

LOLB - M. Crosby - I . McGuire (7th round)

MLB - T. Edwards (FA) - D. Butler

MLB - D. Deablo - L. Masterson - I. Pace Jr. (5th round)

ROLB - C. Jones - M. Koonce

CB1 - D. Turner (2nd round) - S. Webb

CB2 - E. Forbes (3rd round) - I. Brown

SCB - N. Hobbs - T. Hall

S - C. Johnson (FA) - T. Moehrig

S - D. Harmon - I. Pola-Mao

As with any build - you need your draft to bear fruit. Here, we rely on young/cheap, but very talented cornerback play out wide. D.J. Turner reminds me of Jaire Alexander, and Emmanuel Forbes is a ball magnet that could really benefit from playing with an elite pass rusher like Maxx.

Did I do enough with the front 7 to aid the young cornerbacks? You be the judge.

Did I do enough with the O-line? Even now, Rodgers isn't quite a statue back there, so there's that to consider. But Darnell Wright (out of Tennessee) should be a solid option for RT in the 2nd round. Very seasoned OT in a loaded SEC.

The overall gist here is that a competitive team - can - be built by this front office this offseason. Even if they ship Waller out - which is what I predict will happen - whether it's to Green Bay or elsewhere. He's too valuable....someone will come for Waller. Renfrow, no. Too much dead money incurred with a Renfrow departure + slot receivers with questions about their health aren't all that valuable to begin with. The ceiling for a Renfrow return is likely a 3rd round pick. The ceiling for a Waller return is a 1st round pick....he's a unicorn. And the Raiders should value him at nothing less than a 1st round pick - which they have - particularly in their talks with the Packers. So that's essentially one 1st to start out with. And with Mayer as the pick @ #7, there's no need for the Raiders to reach for one of the many underwhelming offensive lineman that are getting 1st round hype in this year's class.