The Las Vegas Raiders are embarking on another search for their next head coach and general manager. And whomever owner Mark Davis picks to guide his team into the 2024 season will have to role up their sleeves and get to work on a number of items.
One of the looming spots for the eventual decision makers is the Raiders 22 in-house free agents. The biggest decision in that list of players is with running back Josh Jacobs. The 25-year-old had a slow start to his 2023 campaign after missing training camp and had a “down” year with 805 yards and six touchdowns on 233 carries in 13 games after leading the league in rushing the previous year. He hits unrestricted free agency and while the team could apply the franchise tag on him again (that designation cost the Raiders $11.791 million this past season), Jacobs is likely seeking some long-term security with a multi-year pact.
The free agents (list below) also boast key contributors on defense such as defensive tackles John Jenkins (61 total tackles, one sack, and a 44-yard fumble return for a touchdown) and Adam Butler (28 total tackles, five sacks, nine quarterback hits) and cornerback Amik Robertson (50 total tackles, one sack, two interceptions, six pass deflections). As well as role players in running backs Ameer Abdullah and Brandon Bolden, and fullback Jakob Johnson.
The eventual head coach and general manager hires are of vital importance to the makeup of the team as a whole. It’s unclear if any of the assistant coaches will remain — namely defensive coordinator Patrick Graham — as is who will be the final decision maker in terms of the roster. That should sync up and create a synergy between head coach and GM and out of that will come philosophy and scheme in all three phases of the game: Offense, defense, and special teams. And that’ll determine who is again a Raider in 2024 and who isn’t.
In an ideal state, coaches will adjust their philosophies and schemes to tailor suit their players and put them in the best possible position to succeed. But as we’ve seen, that’s not always the case, and that must be factored in.
Players like Jacobs, Jenkins, Butler and Robertson, have scheme diverse skillsets. Jacobs has shown he can run behind both power and zone blocking schemes. And the job of a space-eating defensive tackle remains unchanged in a variety of defensive schemes. Robertson has versatility to play zone or man.
There’s also center Andre James — who also hits unrestricted free agency this offseason — who has shown scheme versatility. However, the team may have their heir apparent at the pivot in Dylan Parham who could potentially move to center — if the coaches deem it so.
The quickest route to make roster decisions for Las Vegas is if Champ Kelly and Antonio Pierce were to return as general manager and head coach, respectively. While it’s unclear if Pierce would keep his coaching staff relatively intact, most head coaches bring in their own people to be coordinators and assistants. Remember, Pierce inherited what previous head coach Josh McDaniels put together sans offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi who was shown the door along with McDaniels and previous GM Dave Ziegler.
Thus, it’s probable Pierce may shape his staff in his own vision. Or, Graham can keep the group together and run it back in 2024.
“Getting after people and I’ve been fortunate to be coached by some really good defensive coordinators and want to study and learn and put my own little twist on it,” said Pierce when asked about delegating and not calling defensive plays in his final press conference as interim head coach. “But when you delegate to your assistants and allow them to have a say or put input, that makes you a better coordinator, and that’s no different as a head coach. And that’s what I think has given me the opportunity to be in the position I am today is because of our assistant coaches, them being the best version of themselves, understanding and taking input and listening.
“I think the one thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is becoming a better listener, and I think that’s obviously a facet and a trait that I don’t think a lot of people really do. Everybody wants to talk, everybody has the answers. Sometimes you just need to listen.”
Kelly, meanwhile, has seen the 22 in-house free agents up close and personal, knows the pros and cons of each player, and can work with Pierce on determining who stays or goes. First of which, will highly likely be Jacobs.
“I told you when I got here at the beginning of the year, he’s the heartbeat of this team, the heart and soul of this team. I mean our personality and the way we play and our style of play matches with Josh Jacobs,” Pierce said in his final press conference as interim head coach this past Monday. “So, obviously those conversations are going to come up as we go forward, but it was a pleasure to work with Josh. I hope things work out. That’s going to be something we have to discuss further.”
Raiders Free Agents
- Josh Jacobs, running back
- Bilal Nichols, defensive tackle
- Andre James, center
- Jermaine Eluemunor, right tackle
- Austin Hooper, tight end
- Brandon Bolden, running back
- Ameer Abdullah, running back
- Greg Van Roten, offensive guard
- Adam Butler, defensive tackle
- Andre Carter, wide receiver
- John Jenkins, defensive tackle
- Jesper Horsted, tight end
- Hroniss Grasu, offensive lineman
- Jakob Johnson, full back
- Brandon Parker, right tackle
- Curtis Bolton, linebacker
- Amik Robertson, cornerback
- Tyler Hall, cornerback
- Austin Walter, running back
*Restricted free agents (RFAs) are players with three accrued seasons. RFAs are free to negotiate with any team, but their original tem can offer them a tender that comes with the right of first refusal and/or a draft pick in return.
- Isaiah Pola-Mao, safety
- Kanai Mauga, linebacker
- Jordan Meredith, offensive lineman
*Exclusive rights free agents (ERFAs) are players with just two or fewer accrued seasons and an expired contract. Teams can extend a qualifying offer (league minimum salary based on the player’s experience level) and the player must accept the offer or not play football.