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Telesco Time: QB1 is one of GMs priority tasks

Creating a competitive quarterback room is a must for Raiders

Las Vegas Raiders Introduce Antonio Pierce As Head Coach, Tom Telesco As General Manager
Tom Telesco has a reputation for having an eye for talent. He’ll need to bring that expertise to the desert to create a competitive quarterback room for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

In a quarterback-driven league, can the Las Vegas Raiders truly go into 2024 pinning its hopes that Aidan O’Connell continues his growth as the starting quarterback?

That’s the biggest question on Tom Telesco’s plate as the Silver & Black’s new general manager to answer. It’s a priority task for the chief personnel man in Las Vegas and, while he has final say as GM, he’ll work in unison with newly minted head coach Antonio Pierce and his coaching staff to build the Raiders in a shared vision.

Getting to up to speed with the staff and dissecting the roster he’s inherited was something Telesco noted he needed to do and right away during his introductory press conference last week. And QB1 will have a major hand in the success or failures of the Raiders in 2024.

Thus creating a more competitive quarterback room — something the Silver & Black haven’t done for a long time — is a must for Telesco. Fortunately for the new GM, the cupboard isn’t bare at quarterback.

O’Connell was thrown into the fray as a rookie by Pierce this past season and showed promising play mixed in with poor decision making — something that most neophyte signal callers will do if they get playing time in Year 1. Dubbed by many as a developmental pick when taken in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft (135th overall), O’Connell was every bit of that as he went 5-5 in his 10 starts and threw for 2,218 yards with 12 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He completed 62.1 percent of his passes (343 attempts, 213 completions) while getting sacked 24 times.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
Las Vegas Raiders head coach Antonio Pierce, right, noted rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell, left, gave the team the best chance to win this past season. Will that hold true in 2024?
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Telesco got to see in-person the early-season version of O’Connell — in the Los Angeles Chargers’ 24-17 win over the Raiders on Oct. 1 — and the late-season variant — in Las Vegas’ 63-21 throttling of the L.A. on Dec. 14 — so there’s some familiarity, a base knowledge there for the Raiders GM.

“I’ll tell you, like I just said before, I have a lot of learning to do to figure out this team from the inside, not from the outside. Obviously Aidan played pretty well against us, so that’s a plus,” Telesco said when asked specifically about his evaluation of O’Connell during his introductory presser. “But I need to get a lot more in depth with this team as far as more than just a couple games and then talk with the staff. We’ve got to do that at every position. That’s really probably No. 1, at least for me. I have to get to know this team as well as I knew the team I just came from, which I don’t yet, but I’m going to get there pretty quick.”

Pierce also chimed in on O’Connell during the joint presser.

“I thought we saw growth with Aidan. I thought at the end of the season he was playing some really good football that led to some wins for us. But taking care of the football, being responsible, being more vocal. I think he put himself in a position to learn what it’s like to be a pro in the off-season because he could reflect on what he just did. If he didn’t have those opportunities, he would never know what mistakes he made. So I think it was a great learning tool for him, now that we have it on film, like Tom said, to evaluate it and really look at it going forward.”

Pierce also chimed in on O’Connell during the joint presser.

“I thought we saw growth with Aidan. I thought at the end of the season he was playing some really good football that led to some wins for us. But taking care of the football, being responsible, being more vocal. I think he put himself in a position to learn what it’s like to be a pro in the off-season because he could reflect on what he just did. If he didn’t have those opportunities, he would never know what mistakes he made. So I think it was a great learning tool for him, now that we have it on film, like Tom said, to evaluate it and really look at it going forward.”

The evaluation process began almost immediately and Telesco is setting the barometer. Las Vegas has O’Connell in tow along with veterans Jimmy Garoppolo and Brian Hoyer. There’s also Anthony Brown Jr., who inked a future/reserve contract and is an undrafted free agent out of Oregon. The Raiders GM will have decisions to make on the vets.

The assumption is Garoppolo won’t be on the Raiders roster for very much longer — the former starter who was benched in favor of O’Connell — carries a hefty $28-plus million cap number in 2024. If cut with the post-June 1 designation, the Raiders save $12.82 million in cap space but are hit with a $15.517 million dead money cap hit. If traded with the post-June 1 distinction, the cap savings boosts to $24.07 million with a dead money hit of just $4.267 million. However, a trade looks unlikely due to Garoppolo’s current contract which totals to $72.750 million over three seasons.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Detroit Lions
With a cap number just over $28 million for 2024, it’s difficult to see quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in a Las Vegas Raiders uniform.
Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

Hoyer, meanwhile, has a manageable cap number of just $2.695 million in 2024. But the 38-year-old is nothing more than veteran sounding board at this stage of his career.

If those two are out, that leaves O’Connell and Brown and that is as bereft of competition as the Raiders can get. Which means eyeing free agency for another veteran option or drafting another signal caller in the 2024 NFL Draft.

“He built a very talented team. It all starts with the quarterback (Justin Herbert). They’ve got a guy who can really toss the ball around the football,” Pierce said when asked about his thoughts on Telesco during a Q&A on the team’s official website. “A very talented roster. Big, tall, length, speed. When you look at them on paper and you watch them on film – it’s scary. It’s something we knew we had to prepare for and really be at our peak because of the athletic DNA of that team and the way they were built.”

With the 13th overall pick in the draft, Telesco and his scouting department have the opportunity to scour the draft-eligible prospects and deem if any are worth selecting — at No. 13 or trading up or waiting until later rounds. There’s one prospect in particular that has connections to not only Pierce but Marvin Lewis (who is expected to be officially added to the Raiders coaching staff at some point) in LSU’s Jayden Daniels. The Heisman Trophy winner isn’t expected to fall out of the Top 5 or 10, which will leave him out of reach for Las Vegas. That’ll bring the balance of leveraging picks Telesco has at his disposal or trading future picks to move up in the draft to land a prospect like Daniels.

The free agency market will become more settled as we approach mid-March, when the foray begins and, as such, Telesco should have options to make the Raiders quarterback room chalk full of competition — if he sees fit. No matter the choice, Telesco, Pierce, and the rest of the coaching staff will need to build a team around the quarterback — put him in the best possible position to succeed. Building and coaching an offensive line for a statue-esque signal caller like O’Connell is different than doing so for a functionally mobile or athletic one.

But give O’Connell this: He’s risen and earned the opportunity to be the starter at both Purdue and in Las Vegas. He welcomes competition and notes it’ll make everyone better. And he wouldn’t have it any other way than competing and proving he’s earned the gig.