The NFL is still very much a quarterback-driven league. The conference championship games merely proved that — again.
Once the San Francisco 49ers lost not one, but two quarterbacks in the NFC Championship clash with the Philadelphia Eagles, it was all but over. Flip to the AFC title matchup and the duel between the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and Cincinnati Bengals’ Joey Burrow was a solid matchup.
Four teams, each with signal callers who stepped up in the biggest high-pressure moments to get their respective teams one game within the Super Bowl. And unfortunately for the Niners, the loss of surging Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy, scuttled their super hopes.
But even then, San Francisco’s top-ranked defense kept them in the mix — until backup quarterback Josh Johnson was lost, too. While there’s hard lessons for the 49ers and Bengals to learn after their playoff exits, the 28 other teams watching the postseason should be taking notes also. Particularly the Las Vegas Raiders.
The team has to hit a tremendous trifecta: Answer the question mark at quarterback, build a quality defense, and close the widening gap the Chiefs keep on extending.
Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler was boots on the ground at the East-West Shrine Bowl practices this past weekend to work in earnest on improving the Silver & Black. Several other scouts and personnel people are scattered throughout the nation trying to build up a lackluster Raiders roster, too.
The first domino that’ll fall will be the decision on quarterback Derek Carr — shortly after the Super Bowl. Then it’s building a sustainable roster from there on in. Lots of work for Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels ahead.
Let’s hit the quick slants as fast as the complexion for the NFC title game changed when Purdy got injured:
—A sustainable and consistent winner is what the Chiefs have become. Yes, they lost key players due to cap ramifications, but they’ve been able to pay core players while getting value and return on investments from draft picks. That helps Kansas City keeps the gap wide in the AFC West.
—The Silver & Black quarterback conundrum solution: Free agency or draft? Maybe even both? It’s pure speculation at this point and we could just end up with Jarrett Stidham captaining the offense with a rookie (maybe even late-round or undrafted) backing him up.
—Las Vegas, like all 32 teams, get more coin to spend in 2023 as the league announced the salary cap is a record $224.8 million. That’s an increase from $208.2 million this past year. Perhaps giving coin to running back Josh Jacobs is in play with an increased cap?
—It’ll be interesting to see if Raiders are active players in free agency. The March event is where coin is thrown around (see what the Jacksonville Jaguars did on a big unrestricted free agent spending spree last offseason). Ziegler is big on building through the draft, but with the way the roster is now, he may have no choice but to dole out money.
—The NFL Draft follows a month later and we’ll get to see even more of the Raiders building plans. Word of caution: Best player available (BPA) is a keen philosophy. Yet that’s Las Vegas’ BPA which often can differ from the general consensus.