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Raiders 2023 preview: Offseason, current roster means dampened expectations

Dave Ziegler, Josh McDaniels rebuild is in full effect

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Rams
Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis, center, is giving his general manager Dave Ziegler, right, and head coach Josh McDaniels, left, the latitude to build a football team in their respective images.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While their words may say one thing, the actions of the Silver & Black power structure of general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels this offseason are quite loud — it’s a Las Vegas Raiders reset in the desert.

Ziegler and McDaniels won’t say the “rebuild” part out loud, but the writing is on the wall. Raiders owner Mark Davis is giving his GM and head coach the latitude to build a football team in their respective images and Las Vegas is on their way.

The offseason and the current roster means dampened expectations as the team has retooled as several position groups as the power duo is bringing in former New England Patriots — that’s where they came from, after all — mostly on the offensive side of the ball while trying to stack young talent on both sides of the ball this past NFL Draft.

While it would be grand to have both draft selections and undrafted free agents strike hot this coming season, the more reasonable nature of player development suggest it’ll take time for the new incarnation of Raiders to develop. And Davis seems apt to let it all play out.

The patience is a byproduct of going all in during the 2022 season and banking that the big-time trade acquisition of elite wide receiver Davante Adams would elevate quarterback Derek Carr to a different level and that would mesh beautifully with the offensive wizardry concocted by McDaniels.

No dice.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers
A cold performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers in equally frigid Acrisure Stadium was Derek Carr’s, right, last game as a Las Vegas Raider.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Instead, the Raiders rolled snake eyes and the resounding thud of a 6-11 campaign led to the dismantling of the Silver & Black. One could say the disassembling of the Silver & Black occurred right when the team decided to bench Carr, the franchise’s quarterback for the past nine seasons. That caused a ripple effect that saw another household name — tight end Darren Waller — get shipped off to the New York Giants for pick No. 100 in the draft this offseason.

In Carr’s and Waller’s place are Jimmy Garoppolo and second-round pick Michael Mayer. Both are the type that Ziegler and McDaniels prefer — Jimmy G is a former Patriot while Mayer fits the mold of an all-around tight end who can both run routes, catch, and block — and the talent amongst the two is apparent.

While inherited players remain, Ziegler’s given McDaniels his hand-picked quarterback and the GM surrounded said signal caller with additional weapons who cater to his strength. In comes another precise route runner and sure-handed receiver in Jakobi Meyers (you guessed it, another New England product), speed options in Philip Dorsett and Tre Tucker (taken in the draft with the pick obtained in the Waller swap), and tight ends Mayer and Austin Hooper. Each, along with incumbents like Adams and Hunter Renfrow, can help Garoppolo excel in quick or intermediate passes over the middle.

And while Garoppolo’s availability will always be under question — the hoopla over the quarterback having offseason surgery to fix his foot is something that’ll be talked about until he suits up and is on the practice field — what isn’t up for debate is the quarterback’s effectiveness in a troublesome area for the Raiders, historically — the red zone. A quick decision-maker, Garoppolo reads and scans the field quickly and fires the ball accurately with a much better conversion rate inside the 20-yard line.

The focus on offense is even apparent in the Raiders cap situation. The coin spent on McDaniels’ side of the ball is quite the disparity to the financial assets tied to Patrick Graham’s crew on defense: Las Vegas ranks second in the league in total cap spent on offense while 29th in money allocated to defense.

And that’s the biggest rub in the Raiders reset.

NFL: NFL Draft
Defensive end Tyree Wilson is brimming up potential and upside, which is why the Las Vegas Raiders took the Texas Tech product No. 7 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Defense is where a massive undertaking needs to be done both on the player personnel side and the player development side

Ziegler did well to land a promising and talented pass rusher in Tyree Wilson with pick No. 7, an all-around defensive tackle prospect in Byron Young with the 70th pick, a fast and disruptive cornerback in Jakorian Bennett with the 104th selection, a potential steal of a safety prospect in Christopher Smith with pick No. 170, Ziegler left the linebacker position — one devoid of a true difference maker — relatively untouched.

Las Vegas wasn’t one defender away from a stout group and defensive boss Patrick Graham must do some heavy lifting coaching-wise, but unless one of the free agent signings at either the linebacker or cornerback spot — Robert Spillane at middle linebacker and Duke Shelley at corner, chief among them — step up along with incumbents like Divine Deablo (outside linebacker) and Nate Hobbs (cornerback), the Raiders defense could be a pushover group — again.

While scoring more points in consistent fashion will certainly help the Raiders’ odds for winning in 2023, so will preventing the opposition from getting in the end zone, too.

Optimism is certainly titled heavier on McDaniels’ side of the ball than Graham’s due to the additions and current roster makeup. But for the Raiders to make noise and contend, both units must play at a high level, especially in the AFC West, a division the domineering Kansas City Chiefs inhabit — if not own.

Which dampens expectations even further. Ziegler, McDaniels and the Raiders know who they’re chasing and they’d best be careful and more diligent not to get lapped by the Chiefs or the other three squads in the division, for that matter.