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Mailbag: Which general manager and head coach candidates have best chance at getting job?

Answering Raider Nation’s questions after first week of offseason

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Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders
Mark Davis, Antonio Pierce
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The offseason is officially underway for the Las Vegas Raiders as we’re about to reach the end of the first week. The Raiders have been in the news quite a bit lately as Mark Davis has been conducting interviews for the vacancy at general manager and rumors about the team’s next head coach are running rampant.

So, that will be the primary focus for this week’s mailbag.

Q: Do the Raiders do the logical thing by first hiring a GM? Or does that even matter to Mark Davis?

A: It certainly looks like Davis is going to hire the GM first. There have been plenty of reports about the Raiders interviewing GM candidates like Ed Dodds, Adam Peters and interim general manager Champ Kelly. However, the only news or leak about the head coach search is that it’s between Antonio Pierce and Jim Harbaugh and that there’s mutual interest with Harbaugh, but nothing about head coaches interviewing.

So, if we’re reading the tea leaves and taking the information that’s given, it looks like Davis is going to hire the general manager and let that person have input on his decision for the head coach.

Q: Who do you think is more responsible for the defense’s turnaround this season, Pierce or Graham?

A: I got this question from a few people last week too, and the answer is Patrick Graham.

The Raiders' defense was good and far from the problem before Josh McDaniels got fired. While they played even better when Pierce got promoted, the guy putting together the game plan and calling the plays gets the majority of the credit or the blame.

Graham’s scheme was much improved this season and there’s a reason why the Chargers interviewed him for their head coach opening and why the Raiders blocked him from interviewing for another defensive coordinator position. They don’t want him to leave and he’s well respected around the league, so the new head coach might want to keep him on.

Q: Who else other than Mark Davis is conducting the interviews with GM candidates? Who else is trusted to provide feedback on candidates?

A: Davis is pretty secretive about who he leans on for advice and doesn’t let it leak out. So, I don’t have concrete names for you but I do know he values the opinion of the franchise’s alumni. If I had to guess, I’d say guys like Charles Woodson and Tim Brown since Davis respects those two a lot, and maybe Matt Millen given Millen’s experience in the front office with the Detroit Lions.

It’s a bit of a mystery panel and I think Davis likes it that way so that if things go wrong the people he brings in don’t take the heat and it all falls on his shoulders. Plus, if he let that leak and then people do get flak for being on the panel, it’s going to be harder to get volunteers for the next one.

Mark Davis' hair
It's clear some of the folks we brought in for an interview are not serious contenders for the GM spot.... which ones are? Which one has the most legit chance of getting the position (as of right now)?

A: Peters was hired by the Washington Commanders on Friday morning so we can cross him off the list.

Dodds appears to be the favorite right now as he interviewed for the job last time and NFL Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Raiders would have hired Dodds had they kept the GM and head coach decisions independent of each other. In other words, had Davis not chosen McDaniels as head coach.

I also think it’s telling that Davis has brought in a few candidates that he interviewed two offseasons ago, meaning those guys made an impression on him. So, Trey Brown is someone to pay attention to as well as Kelly.

Zaknoid Black
Why exactly are so many people so sold on Champ Kelly? Like specifics not platitudes. His tenue with the Bears and the players they drafted during that time isn't something to exactly write home about. Not saying he shouldn't be the guy but I am just curious why he has so many people acting like he is tried and true?

A: I can’t speak for other people and have wondered this a bit myself, but Kelly did help put together a bunch of good Broncos teams as part of their college scouting department from 2007 to 2009 and then as the assistant director of pro personnel from 2010 to 2014. Luring Payton Manning to Denver was the biggest factor as well as drafting receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker to name a few hits. Defensively, adding veterans like DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib bolster Kelly’s résumé as he deserves a lot of credit for helping put together that Super Bowl-winning team in 2015-16.

Also, The Athletic’s Vic Tafur wrote about how the young players on the Raiders’ roster developed and finished the season strong speaks well to both Pierce and Kelly.

“But, when Davis considers bringing back Pierce and interim general manager Champ Kelly (not in that order), the more important component should be the improvement players on this year’s roster showed,” Tafur said. “It’s unprecedented in the 14 years I have been covering the team.

“On offense, rookies Aidan O’Connell, Tre Tucker and Michael Mayer all got better from Week 1, not to mention second-year players Zamir White and Thayer Munford Jr. as well as veteran tackle Jermaine Eluemunor.

“The defense was more in sync on a weekly basis, with edge rusher Malcolm Koonce having a breakout year. First-round pick Tyree Wilson is still a little bit of a project, but there is more reason for hope than there was in September. A young secondary backed its toughness with know-how and chemistry, and Tre’von Moehrig, Nate Hobbs, Amik Robertson and even backup Isaiah Pola-Mao made strides.”

Again, I’m not completely sold on Kelly, but he does have a decent résumé and the players have voiced their support for him, just not as loudly as they have for Pierce.

Do you think Mark will make a GM and co-make a HC decision with said GM by the end of January?
If you were putting money on it, who are your educated guesses on GM & HC.

A: Yes. If the Raiders don’t have both positions set in place by the end of January, I’d be worried because it’d be getting close to free agency, the combine and the draft. I think Davis will pick a GM over the weekend or early next week and the head coach decision will come around the 26th, the Friday before the Senior Bowl starts.

With how much support he’s received from the players, my gut says Pierce will be the head coach and that got reinforced by Rapoport who said Maxx Crosby is “drawing a line in the sand regarding the Raiders next coach”. For general manager, I’ll go with Dodds since he seems to be the favorite right now.

Do you like Jim Harbaugh strong enough to be okay with drafting JJ McCarthy who looks like Zac Wilson 2.0 or trading for Justin Fields and signing him longterm? Greg Roman's offensive scheme needs a mobile QB to function but nether McCarthy nor Fields seem as dynamic carrying the ball as Lamar is. I am worried about the passing scheme of the Harbaugh/Roman offense and doubt that the run heavy style of offense with Fields/McCarthy under center would be able to keep up with the top offenses and QBs in the AFC or catch up with them, when playing from behind. It's hard to ignore the huge step forward Lamar made, when his OC wasn't Greg Roman anymore.
So hopefully, Harbaugh can present Mark Davis a plan to modernize his offense, to hire a good OC and to develop a QB and has learned from wearing out his welcome with the Niners. Even if so, I still think Mark should hire Vrabel or AP.

A: J.J. McCarthy and Greg Roman are reasons why I’m weary of hiring Harbaugh, and I’m not thrilled about giving up draft picks for Justin Fields either.

So, no.

Wild card, schmild card. Let’s talk draft.
Which QB is most likely to fall to us at 13?
If the top 5 are gone by our pick, will we reach for JJMc or just go BPA?
Or will we trade up?

A: I’d bet Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix are available at No. 13, meaning Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels are off the board. Maybe the Broncos nab Penix Jr. in front of the Raiders, but I think the buzz on him has cooled down after Monday night. He played great in the Sugar Bowl but people were living in the moment too much by calling him a lock to go top five and unseating Maye as QB2.

As far as reaching, trading up or BPA, I don’t know. It depends on who the general manager and head coach are.

What happened to Renfrow, and how many years will he have receiving with the Saints before his career turns to coaching?

A: Ahead of the season finale, Hunter Refrow talked about how injuries have held him back from being the player he was a couple of years ago. It was pretty noticeable this season that Renfrow hasn’t had the same quickness and shiftiness that he did during his 1,000-yard campaign so I think there’s some weight to that.

If Renfrow gets healthy, I think he can be a decent player elsewhere and add a few more years to his career, but I also think he’s reached his peak.

Which team do you think will pitch a huge upset this weekend?

A: We’ll end with some wild card predictions!

The Rams are one of the hottest teams in football so I like them to upset the Lions in Matthew Stafford's return to Detroit, and I think the Buccaneers upset the Eagles on Monday night. Tampa Bay has a good defense and Philadelphia has been spiraling lately. Other than those two, I like all chalk in the other games.

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 or look for our weekly call for questions on the site. The latter will continue to publish on Thursdays.