The Raiders offseason slowed down some after new head coach Jon Gruden assembled his staff. That crew holed up in the team’s Alameda complex, save a brief break to move to the East Bay, devising schemes and strategy for the offseason.
There are players to cut, others to re-sign and new guys to add in free agency and the NFL draft. Roster turnover is coming, as it often does with new staffs, and those queries dominated questions submitted for the first edition of what will be a weekly Monday Raiders mailbag. We’ll delve into five topics each week as we move through the offseason, which will pick up pace at the NFL combine.
Q: I would love to keep Bowman. If so, do we draft an ILB in the first round? (Tony Dale, Facebook)
A: There were lots of questions about NaVorro, so I’ll start with him. The former 49ers linebacker is a few weeks from unrestricted free agency following a 10-game stint in Silver and Black. Bowman stabilized the interior defense and, while he wasn’t the All-Pro of old, he proved a quality run player, on-field leader and sure tackler.
Here’s what we know regarding a possible return: Bowman said in January he wants to play in a Jon Gruden regime. New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said a few weeks later he hopes the Raiders can get him back. General manager Reggie McKenzie was open to the prospect while meeting with the press in November.
Those are positive signs aiming toward a reunion, assuming, of course, dollars make sense (see what I did there?) for both sides.
Re-signing Bowman won’t impact Raiders draft strategy. Bowman is nearly 30, and might not be around long if he does return. The Raiders could also draft a top linebacker like Georgia’s Roquan Smith in the top 10 and play him alongside Bowman on the weakside, which might be Smith’s best position. Tremaine Edmunds has middle linebacker size but could play anywhere. Despite attractive options atop the draft, McKenzie hasn’t shown a willingness to select a linebacker high. Might Gruden influence that prospect? Time will tell. Retaining Bowman, however, doesn’t alleviate the need to add young linebacker talent.
Q: Any word on Mack contract talks? (Andre Analla, Facebook)
A: Not at this moment, but an extension is expected later this offseason. The Raiders exercised Mack’s fifth-year option, worth $13.8 million, for 2018. Mack would be an unrestricted free agent in 2019, but franchise tags would get applied before he received that designation. Let’s put it plain: There’s zero chance edge rusher Khalil Mack will walk out the front door.
I don’t think it’ll get to that. I believe a long-term, massive-money extension’s coming down the pike. McKenzie budgeted for it. Mack has earned it, and has the talent, drive and work ethic required to sustain elite-level play.
The Raiders could’ve worked a way to extend Mack last year, but the fifth-year option bought some time and allowed McKenzie to award quarterback Derek Carr and Gabe Jackson with big-time raises. Mack wasn’t necessarily thrilled to wait, but he knows it’s his turn now, and the market has gone up. Oh, and don’t expect a hometown discount. If I’m Mack, I don’t risk injury in a single training camp practice until a new accord is done. It’s time to pay up, and the Raiders know it.
Q: Who goes and who stays before Free Agency begins in your opinion? (Richard Sablan, Twitter)
A: This has been the primary Raiders topic recently, especially after David Amerson was released earlier this month, and signed with Kansas City on Friday.
The Raiders essentially have team options on several veterans under contract, without guaranteed money left on their deals. That group includes running back Marshawn Lynch, receiver Michael Crabtree, cornerback Sean Smith, edge rusher Bruce Irvin and tight end Jared Cook, among others.
Uncertainty reigns in the aforementioned group. Gruden told Bay Area News Group he hoped to work with Lynch and Crabtree next season. Don’t take that as a guarantee either guy returns or as Gruden blowing smoke. The Raiders will evaluate how to best spend their salary cap space, and where roster upgrades can be made. If coveted players become available, attitudes could change.
Smith seems like a clear cut, considering his $8.25 million base salary and the fact he’s facing felony counts of assault and battery.
The Raiders like Irvin a great deal. He can play strong-side linebacker and move to the front on passing downs or play on the line every down. Even if the Raiders want him to lower an $8 million base salary, Irvin will certainly balk at that. He has 15 sacks and 10 forced fumbles in two years with the Raiders. His salary fits that production level. The Raiders need more off the edge, and a draft pick could add depth and possibly replace Irvin down the line. They still need him now, in a big way.
Cook was the Raiders’ leading receiver last season, and could’ve had more production and targets. Reports have surfaced that the Raiders might look to pay less at that position or move on from someone who caused some tension in the locker room. That would be a surprising move, and create yet another hole on a team with plenty of needs already.
Q: With a guy like (Jamize) Olawale on the roster, would you be surprised if we don’t go RB in the top 3 (rounds), and do you see him with a larger role next year? (Alexander Singh, Facebook)
A: There’s no secret Gruden loves versatile fullbacks. Jamize Olawale counts as one. He can catch passes out of the backfield, protect the quarterback and fight for tough yards. He also has more speed in space than one might think. Olawale had some big catches in 2016, but was an offensive afterthought under 2017 coordinator Todd Downing.
Olawale could earn a larger role in 2018, and the fullback could thrive under Gruden. Lynch could as well, if he remains with the club.
The Raiders could use a still primary back for the future, especially after Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington struggled some through sophomore seasons. There are other, more pressing needs to take up a high draft pick over another rusher. If Lynch moves on, however, anything could happen. The Raiders would need help right away.
Q: Is the 2018 right tackle on the roster, or do they bring in someone new? (Terry Heffern, Twitter)
A: That will depend on offensive line coach Tom Cable’s evaluation of this group. We can all agree Marshall Newhouse struggled at times, giving up eight sacks and 30 other pressures in 16 games last season. David Sharpe and Jylan Ware are reserve tackles, but neither player was a replacement option last year. They could be with rapid development. Can’t see the Raiders spending big on another offensive lineman, considering the other four starters are so expensive. A free agent Cable trusts may be an option, or the respected coach could try and get more out of Newhouse and scheme help his way.