The Las Vegas Raiders won four games in a row to close out the regular season. After their Week 18 overtime win over the Los Angeles Chargers, the Raiders made the playoffs for the first time since 2016. However, the Raiders underwent massive changes after losing 26-19 to the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. They fired intern head coach Rich Bisaccia and replaced him with New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The Raiders also fired general manager Mike Mayock and replaced him with Dave Ziegler. As the former Patriots duo heads into their first offseason together in Las Vegas, the Raiders have several critical decisions ahead of them.
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Pending Free Agents
According to Over the Cap, the Raiders have $18.9 million in cap space. They have 30 upcoming free agents, including six restricted free agents headlined by fullback Alec Ingold. That said, the Raiders don’t have any critical free agents this offseason as the core of their team is under contract for next year. However, Las Vegas does have a few free agents they should try to retain this offseason.
In his first season with the Raiders, Hayward was the best cornerback on the team. He tied for the team lead in interceptions and finished second with nine passes defended. Furthermore, only 57.1 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed this season. It was the second year in a row that Hayward allowed less than 60 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed. With several young cornerbacks on the roster they like, the Raiders might elect against re-signing the soon to be 33 year old Hayward.
While Jones had only one touchdown in 2021, he was the most consistent wide receiver on the team not named Hunter Renfrow. Jones had his best season since joining the Raiders, finishing with 47 catches on 70 targets for 546 receiving yards. Derek Carr heralded Jones throughout the year. He repeatedly praised Jones as the first one in the building and the last one out every day. While he played well in 2021, Jones isn’t likely to receive a massive contract offer on the open market. It might be a week or two into free agency but expect Jones back with the Raiders next season.
A few years ago, Mariota signed a two-year deal with the Raiders. At the time, many thought he would take the starting job from Carr. However, Mariota played in only one game during the 2020 season. Last year he played in 10 games but only threw two passes as he was mostly used on designed quarterback runs. Now that the Raiders have fully committed to Carr, Mariota will leave this offseason. With several teams needing a starting quarterback this offseason, the Raiders will have to find a replacement backup.
Potential Cap Casualties
With only $18.9 million in cap space, the Raiders might not be big players in the free agency market. However, they have two ways to open up more cap space this offseason. One is by extending players on the roster. A prime candidate for an extension is Carr. After a terrific year, the Raiders and Carr are reportedly working on a long-term deal. According to Over the Cap, the Raiders can open up to $15 million in cap space by extending Carr. The other way to create cap space is by releasing players that are no longer worth the money. That said, the Raiders don’t have many potential cap casualties this offseason.
Denzelle Good ($4.2 Million Saved)
Good has been with the Raiders for the past 3.5 years. He was a starter in 2019 and 2020. However, Good played only one game last year because of a torn ACL he suffered in Week 1. The Raiders moved 2021 first-round pick, Alex Leatherwood, to guard a few weeks later. It appears he has a new hour at home at right guard. At soon to be 31 years old, the Raiders will likely cut Good in the coming weeks. The $4.2 million saved by cutting Good would be used somewhere else on the roster.
Nick Kwiatkoski ($3.2 Million Saved)
A few years ago, Kwiatkoski signed a three-year deal worth $21 million with the Raiders. However, he hasn’t lived up to expectations. He has played 20 out of 33 games in two years with the Raiders, totaling 102 tackles in those 20 games. Meanwhile, Cory Littleton has a $15.8 million cap hit, while Denzel Perryman finished sixth in the NFL last season with 154 tackles. Furthermore, the Raiders are very high on 2021 third-round pick Divine Deablo. If the Raiders cut Kwiatkoski with a post-June 1 designation, they can save $7 million in cap space.
Kenyan Drake ($2.8 Million Saved)
Last year, the Raiders signed Drake to a two-year deal worth $11 million. With Josh Jacobs on the team, signing Drake made no sense. He had only 63 rushing attempts in 12 games during his first year with Las Vegas. Drake suffered a broken ankle in Week 13 against the Washington Commanders, ending his season. With Jon Gruden and Mayock no longer with the team, the new front office may move on from Drake. If Las Vegas can trade Drake, they will open up $8.3 million in cap space. While the Raiders only save $2.8 million in cap space by releasing the veteran running back, Drake doesn’t play a critical role for the team.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
Heading into free agency, the Raiders have a massive need at wide receiver. Carr threw for 4,800 yards last season despite having only one player with over 670 receiving yards. While the Raiders would love to get their hands on Davante Adams or Mike Williams, both are likely to receive the franchise tag from their current teams. Depending on what the Raiders do with cap causalities and extensions, they could become big players in the free agent market.
Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
After playing last year on the franchise tag, Robinson will hit the open market this year. While he had the worst season in his career last year, Robinson was in a poor situation. Over the previous two years with the Bears, Robinson averaged 100 catches for 1,198.5 receiving yards and 6.5 receiving touchdowns per game despite playing with Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles. Pairing Robinson with Renfrow and Darren Waller would give Carr an excellent trio of weapons.
Jarran Reed, Kansas City Chiefs
Reed signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs last offseason and had a productive year. However, the Chiefs have limited cap space and more critical free agents to re-sign this offseason. That means Reed will likely play for a new team next season. The Raiders have three defensive tackles set to hit the open market in a few weeks. While they could potentially re-sign Johnathan Hankins, Solomon Thomas, or Quinton Jefferson, they should look for an upgrade on the open market. Pairing Reed with Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue would give the Raiders an impressive defensive line unit.
Morgan Moses, New York Jets
Right tackle Brandon Parker is an upcoming free agent. While the Raiders could try to re-sign him, they would be better off looking for an upgrade on the open market or in the draft. Moses hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season, proving he can play through injuries. He was productive with the Jets last season, but they likely won’t re-sign him this offseason as they focus on getting younger on the offensive line. Even if the Raiders plan on drafting an offensive tackle in the draft, Moses gives them a stop-gap option in the short term.
Previewing the 2022 NFL Draft
The Raiders have seven picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. They own an extra fifth-round pick from the Trent Brown trade a year ago. While their free agency plans will play a role in who Las Vegas picks in the draft, their top needs are wide receiver, defensive line, and offensive line. After making it to the playoffs, the Raiders will have the 22nd overall pick in the first round.
Round 1, Pick 22: Wide Receiver
Even if Las Vegas adds Robinson in free agency, that shouldn’t keep them from spending their first-round pick on a wide receiver. With Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes in the division, the Raiders will need as many weapons as possible to keep up with those explosive offenses. Some potential targets for this pick include Treylon Burks, Chris Olave, and Garrett Wilson. Pairing any of those three with Robinson, Waller, and Renfrow would give Carr one of the best receiving cores in the NFL.
Round 2, Pick 53: Defensive Tackle
With three defensive tackles set to hit the open market next month, the Raiders will need to draft at least one replacement. While the draft class lacks a superstar defensive tackle, it is loaded with day two prospects. A couple of players to keep an eye on for this pick are Devonte Wyatt, Perrion Winfrey, and Phidarian Mathis. If they can sign a veteran like Reed and pair him with one of these three prospects, the Raiders would have arguably the best defensive line unit in the AFC West.
Round 3, Pick 86: Offensive Line
Last year, the Raiders used their first-round pick on Leatherwood with hopes of playing him at right tackle. However, he struggled at tackle and moved inside to guard. The Raiders have four offensive linemen set to hit the open market this offseason, including Parker and Richie Incognito. Even if the Raiders add a starter in free agency, spending a middle-round pick or two to provide depth is critical. Potential options for this pick include Max Mitchell, Jamaree Salyer, and Sean Rhyan.
Early 2022 Expectations
After making the playoffs for the first time in five years in 2021, the Raiders appear to be heading in the right direction. However, the AFC is full of talented teams led by superstar quarterbacks. The Baltimore Ravens and Chargers missed the playoffs last year despite being in the picture for most of the year. In a division with the Chiefs, Chargers, and Denver Broncos, the Raiders don’t have an easy road to the playoffs in 2022. That said, if they can make the few critical moves needed this offseason, the Raiders will return to the playoffs next year.
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