HENDERSON, Nev. — It’s not often a team that just played in the postseason undergoes a massive rehaul, from front office philosophy to on-the-field playcalling. Yet, here are the Las Vegas Raiders, implementing a certain Patriot Way via the arrivals of coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler in January from New England.
As such, McDaniels and Ziegler are trying to put a shine on the outfit that endured the Jon Gruden/Henry Ruggs III/Damon Arnette controversies and a 1-5 midseason stretch to win four straight games at the end of the season to finish 10-7 and force their way into the playoffs for just the second time since 2002. Talent on the offensive side of the ball already exists, so not much finagling had to happen, but the new regime was able to swing a trade for the best receiver in the game to make the No. 11 overall offense a threat to be a top-five unit.
The last time the Raiders brought in a new coach, Gruden took a wrecking ball to the roster. The new regime, at least for now, seems to have taken a polishing rag to the roster. And, as owner Mark Davis said, it’s not a reset so much as taking a next step.
Breaking down the offense and judging whether the units within are better, worse or the same is an exercise in patience — hurrying up to wait and see if McDaniels truly learned from his last painful experience as a head coach with the Denver Broncos in 2009-10. Already with the reputation of an elite playcaller — especially in the red zone, an Achilles’ heel for the Raiders of late — McDaniels has the pieces in place (the No. 6 passing attack in the NFL, the No. 18-ranked scoring team) to, yes, take that next step.
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Additions: Chase Garbers (rookie free agent), Nick Mullens (Cleveland Browns), Jarrett Stidham (New England Patriots)
Losses: Marcus Mariota (Atlanta Falcons), Nathan Peterman (Chicago Bears)
Returners: Derek Carr
Better, worse or the same? Better … with a caveat
Of course, a million times of course, the Raiders’ QB situation should be better with the additions of the best receiver in the game in Davante Adams and an elite playcaller in McDaniels. But keep this in mind — not only is Carr learning an entirely new offense, the QB room is almost also entirely new with Mariota gone.
Plus, Carr’s QBR dropped precipitously the last two times he changed playcallers, going from 56.1 in 2016 under Bill Musgrave to 50.5 in 2017 under Todd Downing to 46.5 in 2018 under Jon Gruden. Carr’s QBR last year with Gruden and then Greg Olson taking over upon Gruden’s resignation? Try 52.4, a year after a career-best 64.3.
Additions: Ameer Abdullah (Carolina Panthers), Brandon Bolden (Patriots), Zamir White (fourth-round draft pick), Brittain Brown (seventh-round draft pick), Jakob Johnson (Patriots)
Losses: Peyton Barber (free agent), Jalen Richard (free agent), Alec Ingold (Miami Dolphins), Trey Ragas (free agent), Sutton Smith (free agent)
Returners: Kenyan Drake, Josh Jacobs
Better, worse or the same? Better
Given the amount of front-line talent and depth added to Jacobs, who has averaged more than 1,000 yards rushing a year in his three seasons, and Drake, who was coming into his own in the offense before a broken right ankle ended his season in Week 13, the No. 28-ranked rushing attack in the NFL has to be better, right?
Bolden knows the offense and was not brought in to simply be a mentor. Using a fourth-round pick on White should portend the future at the position, especially since Jacobs did not have his fifth-year option picked up by the new regime. In any event there are power backs (Jacobs and White), pass-catching backs (Bolden and Drake) and short-yardage backs (Johnson) in this group, so McDaniels has a variety from which to pick and play.
Additions: Cole Fotheringham (undrafted rookie), Jacob Hollister (Jacksonville Jaguars), Jesper Horsted (Bears)
Losses: Derek Carrier (free agent), Daniel Helm (free agent)
Returners: Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Nick Bowers
Better, worse or the same? Same
While rumors were flying that Waller, who is in line for a contract extension, was in line to be traded, the former Pro Bowler was instead watching old tape of Rob Gronkowski doing his thing in McDaniels’ offense to better prepare himself for a similar role. And if Waller can stay healthy — he missed six games with knee and back issues — he will be the perfect complement to Adams, who will take the top off of defenses, and Pro Bowler Hunter Renfrow, who will work underneath from the slot.
But Waller, who set a franchise record with 107 catches in 2020, had just 55 last season and you have to wonder if his production goes down again with the addition of Adams, the emergence of Renfrow and Carr’s ever-growing trust in Moreau. Especially with said extension in play.
Additions: Davante Adams (Green Bay Packers), Keelan Cole (New York Jets), Justin Hall (rookie free agent), Mack Hollins (Dolphins), Demarcus Robinson (Kansas City Chiefs), Jordan Veasy (Houston Texans)
Losses: Bryan Edwards (Falcons), Zay Jones (Jaguars), DeSean Jackson (free agent), Henry Ruggs III (released)
Returners: Hunter Renfrow, Dillon Stoner, DJ Turner, Tyron Johnson
Better, worse or the same? Better
Adding the best receiver in the NFL who, I don’t know if you’ve heard this yet but, also happens to be the college bestie of the QB? Yeah, the Raiders receiver room is the best it has been since Carr entered the NFL in 2014. Adams has averaged 108 catches for 1,328 yards and 12 TDs the last four years. Him joining Waller and Renfrow gives the Raiders one of the most feared pass-catching trios in the league. Period.
The additions of Hollins and Robinson provide some versatility and special teams opportunities, but it all revolves around Adams and how quickly he and Carr can reignite their chemistry without upsetting the vibe already set with Waller and Renfrow. Tim Brown and Jerry Rice 2.0? Pump the brakes a bit there, but this is the best WR room since the two Hall of Famers wore Silver and Black at the turn of the century.
Additions: Dylan Parham (third-round draft pick), Thayer Munford (seventh-round draft pick), Alex Bars (Bears), Bamidele Olaseni (rookie free agent), Tyrone Wheatley Jr. (Bears), Jordan Meredith (no team in 2021)
Losses: Richie Incognito (free agent), Nick Martin (free agent), Jeremiah Poutasi (free agent),
Returners: Kolton Miller, John Simpson, Andre James, Alex Leatherwood, Denzelle Good, Brandon Parker, Lester Cotton Sr., Jermaine Eluemunor, Hroniss Grasu, Jackson Barton
Better, worse or the same? Same
Are the Raiders really going to run it back with the same O-line that contributed to Carr being sacked 40 times in 2021, the second-most of his career? On the surface, it looks like it. But the two keys could be Good, who was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee in the opener last year, regaining his form and, thus, his position at right guard, and Leatherwood, last year’s first-round pick, regaining his right tackle spot after being relegated to right guard in Week 5.
The fact the new regime selected an interior lineman (Parham) with its first pick spoke volumes. A summer O-line prediction, then — LT Miller, LG Parham, C James, RG Good, RT Leatherwood, with Parker the swing tackle. Not sexy, but workable. Unless it collapses — again — and serves as another built-in excuse.
Coming soon: Defense