The Las Vegas Raiders will wrap up the season with a Week 18 matchup against the Denver Broncos this Sunday in what’s essentially a preseason game as not much other than pride is on the line. So, there will be a heavy focus on the offseason for this week’s mailbag.
Question: Who are your candidates for Raiders team MVP for this season?
Answer: Maxx Crosby, Madd Maxx and The Condor.
Let’s be honest, no one else on the team even really comes close as Crosby balled out pretty much every week, even with a bum knee for the last month and a half. He even put his life on the line to play against the Chiefs. The Raiders’ defense, and the team as a whole, doesn’t have nearly the amount of success as they did without Crosby this season.
Q: Who are some candidates for the President of Football Ops job and how does the position affect the team and GM?
A: For context, this question is derived from an article The Athletic’s Tashan Reed wrote a few weeks ago as Mark Davis sat down with Reed and talked about the future of the organization. Davis mentioned that one of his first mistakes as an owner was having a rookie general manager—Reggie McKenzie—and rookie head coach—Dennis Allen—simultaneously.
Davis basically said that was a bad combo and that he should have hired someone else in an advisory-type role. That’s how Reed concluded that the Raiders might bring on a Director or President of Football Operations—what have you—since Champ Kelly and Antonio Pierce would both be rookies if they keep their positions in the offseason.
It’s not very common in the NFL as some teams will apply that title/position to their GM or head coach. But, obviously, the Raiders might be in a unique situation so having an advisor with more experience handling trades, the draft and contract negotiations would make sense.
The candidate that Reed named specifically is Marvin Lewis, the long-time head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals (2003-2018) who has a relationship with Pierce and has already been in the building to serve as a mentor for Pierce. Lewis coached Pierce in Washington and they worked together at Arizona State, too.
Other names to keep an eye on would be Tom Coughlin—Pierce’s coach with the New York Giants—and Herm Edwards who hired AP at ASU.
If Davis wants more of a “neutral” or third-party candidate, your guess would be as good as mine since he could cast a wide net. But it’d probably be someone who is older and wants to be around the game but not involved in the day-to-day operations.
Since it’s more of an advisory role, the general manager and head coach would likely still have the final say on any roster decisions. The Director of Ops would be more of a sounding board for advice. That’s why I’d think someone like Lewis, Edwards or Coughlin would make the most sense because they can offer insight and their words would carry more weight with Pierce and Kelly since they already have the coach’s and GM’s trust.
Q: The Raiders need organizational structure. They need to hire a President of Football operations to run the team. They need a GM to run the draft and player personnel, and a Head Coach to just coach. Know your lane and stay in it.
A: Sounds good, lol!
Q: How much cap are the Raiders projected to have? Will they get relief from the Chandler Jones dead cap hit?
A: Per Spotrac, the Raiders are projected to have about $52.7 million in cap space to begin the offseason which is the ninth-most in the NFL. So, they’re in pretty good shape to sign free agents.
Jones is on the books for about $12.3 million, which is already factored into the figure above, and the team won’t get any relief from that since it’s tied into his signing bonus and restructure bonus. His base salary, roster and workout bonuses are already removed from the equation.
You can thank Dave Ziegler and Josh McDaniels for that blunder of a contract. But the good news is Las Vegas still has plenty of money to play with on the open market.
Q: I’ve been a Raider fan most of my life I’m 62 now. I saw some good improvement on the defense in the last part of the year. I don’t know if that was because of Pierce or Graham finally figuring it out. My question is, do we go get Jim Harbaugh, if he’s available, and move Pierce to defensive coordinator and definitely need to bring in an offensive coordinator? Thank you.
A: Personally, I’m not thrilled about the idea of Harbaugh as I think he’s more of a college coach. His gimmicks and coaching style wear thin after a while which is fine when you get a new crop of players every three to five years.
Also, former 49ers offensive lineman Alex Boone confirmed that in the same segment, per the quotes below obtained by PFT.
“He does a great job of giving you that spark, that initial boom,” 49ers guard Alex Boone tells Kremer. “But after a while, you just want to kick his ass. . . . He just keeps pushing you, and you’re like, ‘Dude, we got over the mountain. Stop. Let go.’ He kind of wore out his welcome.”
“What does that mean?” Kremer asks.
“I think he just pushed guys too far. He wanted too much, demanded too much, expected too much. You know, ‘We gotta go out and do this. We gotta go out and do this. We gotta go out and do this.’ And you’d be like, ‘This guy might be clinically insane. He’s crazy.’ . . . I think that if you’re stuck in your ways enough, eventually people are just going to say, ‘Listen, we just can’t work with this.’”
Now, I do think Harbaugh is a legitimate candidate and if he wants the Raiders’ job, he’ll get it. I wouldn’t hate the move, he’s just not my first choice and I’m not sold on him for the long haul.
If someone else gets the gig, I’d be surprised if Pierce comes back in a lesser role. I’d imagine he’d feel slighted and that’d be a weird power dynamic that could cause some internal friction. Also, Piece was the co-defensive coordinator at ASU for one year and held the position outright for just one season, so he doesn’t have the experience for that role in the NFL/with the Raiders.
If any internal candidate is going to be the defensive coordinator next season, it’s Patrick Graham. Plus, the defense wasn’t the problem and was playing well at the beginning of the year as well.
A: I don’t think it’s a “must-win” game for Pierce in the sense that winning or losing this game will determine his fate, but more of a résumé padder if that makes sense. I do think a win can help his chances for the reasons you stated. However, I do believe the theory that Davis is going to see if he can land a big name—i.e. Harbaugh—and if he can’t, then Pierce will be the fallback option.
A: With AP, I’m not really sure since his network of coaches in the NFL is pretty small. The Raiders are the only team in the league he’s coached for and I feel pretty confident he won’t be hitting up McDaniels for any names. Hue Jackson and Jay Gruden would be guys to keep an eye on since they were offensive coordinators under Lewis in Cincinnati.
For Harbaugh, Greg Roman is the first name that comes to mind since they worked together at Stanford and in San Francisco. Also, John Harbaugh hired Roman with the Ravens after Jim “mutually parted ways” with the 49ers. Roman wore out his welcome in Baltimore as people got frustrated with his play-calling, which is another reason why I’m weary of hiring Harbaugh.
David Shaw could be a candidate too, but I think Shaw is more interested in being a head coach than offensive coordinator.
Q: Do you think we can work on leg work from Aidan O’Connell so he can at least have a moving pocket and still pass accurately?
A: It can be a learned skill in that quarterbacks can get a better understanding of pressure to help anticipate where it might come from and then be able to avoid it to a certain degree. But, it’s difficult to significantly improve a player’s athleticism, that’s why scouts and general managers put weight into events like the NFL combine and pro days. So, O’Connell is always going to be limited in that part of his game.
Can he get better? Absolutely. By how much? That’s the big question that remains to be seen and part of the reason why there’s doubt in his status as the “quarterback of the future”.
A: Well, it depends on who the general manager and the head coach are. Unfortunately, until we know that for certain, I can’t give you an answer that’s not a pure guess.
What I will say though is that if Kelly and Pierce are retained, trading up for Jayden Daniels will certainly be on the table. Kelly was part of the front office that drafted Justin Fields in Chicago, an athletic quarterback, and Pierce was the recruiting coordinator at ASU when Daniels committed there.
A: Marcus Johnson and I debated Jimmy Garoppolo’s trade market on ‘Tape Don’t Lie’ a few weeks ago. I don’t see how any team would want to give up assets for Garoppolo after the season he’s had and the fact that two teams in two years have been willing to let him go. Plus, the Raiders won’t have much leverage since everyone knows he’s not going to be their starter next year and they’re probably going to release him anyway.
I explained the salary cap implications of cutting Garoppolo in the mailbag column above, so take a peek at that one for those numbers. Now, if Las Vegas can trade him, the Raiders would take on about $17.1 million in dead cap with about $11.5 million savings in 2024 pre-June 1, per Spotrac. Post-June 1, it’s $4.3 million dead cap in 2024 and $12.8 million in 2025 so a savings of $24.25 million for next season.
A: Davis hired McDaniels and Ziegler right before the start of the Senior Bowl, the last week of January, so I’d use that as a good timeline. The two situations are similar where Gruden resigned midseason and that basically sealed Mike Mayock’s fate since Gruden was Mayock’s boss. Also, there’s an interim head coach that the players are vouching for and has had some success.
I’d like to see Davis decide at least a week earlier than that so the scouts have a better idea of what players to look for at a big draft event like the Senior Bowl. Every general manager and coach is going to have their preferences for players, so it would help to have a clearer direction of who/what types of guys the decision-makers want to target.
A: I think the defense going to need to add some talent regardless, especially at cornerback and defensive tackle, but I definitely would like to see Graham get retained as well. He’s done an outstanding job of working with limited resources, and I’m with you in that I’d worry the defense would significantly regress without him.
Hopefully, whoever the next head coach is, Graham will be retained similar to what happened last offseason when Shane Steichen was hired by the Indianapolis Colts as Steichend kept Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator. That’s another reason why Pierce or an offensive-minded coach like Ben Johnson would be good candidates.
Also, I know a guy who is very intelligent (and even more handsome) that has been pounding the table for Johnson since McDaniels was fired...
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.
Also, I want to thank everyone who participated in this column all season. It truly means a lot to me that you all care enough about what I have to say about the Raiders to make this possible, and I look forward to keeping it going in the offseason!