While the NFL playoffs are ongoing with the Divisional Round this weekend, Las Vegas Raiders fans patiently awaited the announcement of the team’s next head coach and general manager. Luckily, Friday brought some clarity as Antonio Pierce had his interim label dropped and will reportedly be the team’s full-time head coach.
No one seems to know what the holdup is at general manager, but the Raiders’ offseason is filled with plenty of other topics like the NFL Draft and free agency to talk about for this week’s mailbag.
Q: If you were to pick one incoming QB among this year’s second-tier crop (not including Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels), who would it be?
A: I’ll preface my answer by saying that I’m still in the early stages of diving into this year’s quarterback class and the two guys I’d be deciding between—Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix—are both going to be at the Senior Bowl in a couple of weeks. So, my answer could definitely change by April, but I’d go with Nix right now.
While Penix Jr. has the stronger arm, and maybe the strongest in this draft class, Nix can sling it too while being more accurate and a little more athletic. Nix just set the record for the highest single-season completion percentage (77.4%) in NCAA history and has the athleticism to create off-script plays. Also, he doesn’t come with the long injury history that Penix Jr. does.
Don’t get me wrong, both guys are good quarterbacks and this is an evolving process, but the Oregon product would be my preference with how things stand right now.
Q: I have seen a few outside people talk about the idea of having Kelly being promoted to president of football opts and bringing in Dodds as GM. Could you see this happening or something like this with another candidate?
A: I have a hard time seeing that happen.
While it’s not the case for every team, the president of football operations is usually the same person as the general manager or head coach. For example, the Seattle Seahawks have John Schneider as VP and general manager and Schneider shared the VP responsibilities with Pete Carrol. They don’t even have a president of football ops. Another good example is the San Francisco 49ers, who added ‘president of football operations’ to John Lynch’s title last offseason.
If the two positions are separate, the football operations guy takes care of the logistical and operational side of things like coordinating team travel and making sure the club is compliant with the CBA and NFLPA rules. Sometimes, that can also mean serving as an advisor to the general manager, but the GM is still ultimately making the roster decisions.
This is an assumption on my part, but seeing as Champ Kelly has been involved in player evaluation throughout his career and has only been a GM for a few months, I’d imagine he’d want to stay in that role and not hop over to the admin side.
So, I think it’s a situation where Mark Davis has to pick between Kelly and Ed Dodds for the general manager job. I just don’t see a scenario where they both get hired and one answers to the other, especially since both have had GM interviews elsewhere.
Q: What Raiders free agents would you like to re-sign?
A: This could be an article by itself and one I’ll likely write soon that has more details, but I’ll list a few players as a teaser!
Isaiah Pola-Mao (exclusive rights), Greg Van Roten, Austin Hooper, John Jenkins and Amik Robertson.
Q: Who are some free agents you think are realistic signings?
A: Again, this could be its own article so I’ll go with the same approach as the last question. And the Raiders are projected to have $38.7 million (11th-most in the NFL) of cap space available by Over The Cap or $43.5 million (12th-most) per Spotrac, so they’ll have plenty of money to spend in free agency if they want to. In other words, they can go after a few of the top players on the market.
Toward the top of my list of targets would be; CB Jaylon Johnson (CHI), DT Christian Wilkins (MIA), LB Patrick Queen (BAL) and G Robert Hunt (MIA).
Q: First, I’m old school and have been a Raiders fan in Chiefs country for over 50 years. While it would be nice to draft a franchise QB, that will not happen where we stand and there is some risk when moving up and tying one’s hands from the draft capital surrendered to move up to the top 5 or 6 spots. I like the old way of building a team by solidifying the trenches first. I’d love to see the Raiders go after a “10-year” starter on the offensive line and continue to build on the offensive and defensive lines at least with this year’s draft, trade for Wilson or Fields without giving up one of the first three rounds and fill other spots via free agency. The one exception would be a top-rated CB in the first round. Is getting a franchise QB now more important?
A: My thought process on finding a quarterback of the future is if there is someone the front office is convinced will be the guy moving forward, they should do whatever they can to get that QB. It’s too important of a position to settle and hope you get lucky with another player later in the draft.
While I get the thought process behind wanting to build out the rest of the roster so that a rookie comes into a great situation, I’d worry about becoming a team like the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons have a roster with a lot of talent, especially offensively, but they had to settle for Desmond Ridder at quarterback and that didn’t work out.
Now, the other end of that is if there isn’t a quarterback who the team likes or isn’t completely sold on, don’t just draft one or trade up because they think they need to. That’s where I’d stay put, take the best player available to build up the roster and roll with a guy like Aidan O’Connell for another year.
Long story short, if the Raiders feel strongly that either Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels is a franchise quarterback, then do what it takes to get the guy. If not, sit back and let the draft board come to you.
Q: I believe this team is only a few players away from not only competing for a playoff spot but for the AFC West. How far do you believe they are away from unseating the Chiefs next year?
A: Well, the Chiefs have a few crucial defensive free agents like Chris Jones, L’Jarius Sneed, Drue Tranquill and Willie Gay Jr. and only about $27 million in cap space, per Spotrac, to re-sign them which should help bring them down a bit. Meanwhile, the Raiders’ biggest loss will likely be Josh Jacobs and they don’t have a ton of big-name impending free agents.
That being said, Las Vegas is still inferior at two crucial spots; quarterback and cornerback. Granted, if Sneed leaves Kansas City in the spring, that’ll help even out the latter.
Whether it’s O’Connell stepping up or someone else stepping in, the Raiders need better quarterback play to unseat the Chiefs next season which the Silver and Black have proven is a lot easier said than done over the last couple of decades. Also, adding some talent at defensive back and defensive tackle will help as well.
Q: Do you know if Aiden will be working with someone (trainer, track coach) in the off-season to try and get “twitchier”? I know he’s a bit of a lumbering type but if he could learn to move a bit quicker or more fluid in the pocket AND learn to be quicker with a FIRST step when he sees an opening to run, he could be a QB who can pick up a few easy yards and first downs with his legs. Of course, he’ll never be a fast, elusive runner, but a quick first step could get him moving faster in stride. Maybe you could suggest this to the Raiders brass.
A: I don’t know what O’Connell’s offseason plans are but I’d imagine mobility will be a big point of emphasis for him and the Raiders have probably told him that. And I appreciate the thought that I have pull with the team’s brass, but anything I’d suggest would fall on deaf ears, lol!
Q: Why doesn’t AOC run? Aiden O’connell’s 40-yard dash time (4.96) isn’t horrible: Mahomes (4.8) and Josh Allen (4.76). He CAN run, he’s only been asked to look to run in one game (he said) in college against Illinois and he averaged 16.5 yards per attempt. “A couple of times, they just ran out to go get Devin — which I probably would, too — and let me go run.” - AOC. Here’s his coach, “I was proud of the way he ran,” Brohm said of O’Connell. “He got some yards, and the hole looked like it was big enough for a couple trucks to drive through. You know what, he didn’t get hurt, and that’s critical for us.”
A: Pro Football Focus removes sacks from a quarterback’s rushing yards (which the NCAA doesn’t for some reason), and had him rushing for 120 yards in all four years at Purdue with 64 coming during his senior season. In the game you’re referring to, he had 32 rushing yards so it accounted for half of his season total in 2022 and about a quarter of his career total. In other words, it was an outlier performance.
When O’Connell says Illinois “just ran out to go get Devin”, that means the defense was selling out on the running back against read options by dedicating two or more defenders to him. In the NFL, the option doesn’t work as well because defenders are faster and more consistent tacklers so they’ll only have one guy account for each potential ball carrier.
You might see a play or two where the quarterback catches the defense off-guard and gets some free yards, but once the defense catches on, a non-elusive quarterback isn’t going to get anywhere.
Also, I wouldn’t use 40 times to judge how capable of a runner a quarterback is. Other factors are more important as short-area burst (10-yard split time) and agility (three-cone and pro shuttle times) are much more important.
At the end of the day, O’Connell just isn’t a good enough athlete to be a consistent runner in the NFL and very few quarterbacks are.
A: I think Penix Jr. and Nix should be there at 13, or at least one of them, and either of those two would be worth the pick at that spot. The problem is there are a handful of quarterback-needy teams drafting ahead of the Raiders which makes it difficult to definitively say who will be on the board. But Penix Jr. and Nix have the best chance of falling into the Raiders’ lap without having to trade up, in my opinion.
A: I wouldn’t gut the roster since a lot of their best players are in their 20s; Maxx Crosby, Kolton Miller and Jakobi Meyers, to name a few. Also, they had some even younger guys show promise at the end of the year like Malcolm Koonce, Michael Mayer, Jack Jones and Tre Tucker. So, I wouldn’t start unloading players who are under 30.
Now, if we’re talking about someone like Davante Adams, who just turned 31, I’d see what I could get for him in a trade. If a team like the Jets were willing to part with their 10th overall pick for Adams, I would strongly consider that offer. However, I’d probably set the minimum around pick 20 that I’d even entertain the thought of giving up Adams.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t want to rock the boat too much this offseason since the Raiders’ core is still relatively young.
A: Easy, the divisional round and last weekend would have been better! The longer the Chiefs are in the playoffs, the more we have to sweat them winning another championship. Plus, and I know this is unlikely, but if they do win and Houston upsets Baltimore, that means the AFC Championship is in Kansas City for the sixth year in a row and I’m tired of calling that game the ‘Arrowhead Invitational’!
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 SBPQuestions1@gmail.com or look for our weekly call for questions on the site. The latter will continue to publish on Thursdays.