Scott Bair

Raiders mailbag: Bowman’s future, Mack extension and more


Raiders mailbag: Bowman’s future, Mack extension and more

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)
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)
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)
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.

Carr believes Raiders must 'hit a reset button' after difficult stretch


Carr believes Raiders must 'hit a reset button' after difficult stretch

The Raiders have been through a ton these past two years. A major injury ruined 2016’s dream season. They lost a coaching staff and two offensive coordinators after a disastrous 2017 campaign. They had several off-field incidents that brought distraction to their doorstep.

Rock star head coach Jon Gruden is in charge now, ready to lead a new era.

That’s a ton of turnover in a short stretch, creating tons of drama along the way.

Quarterback Derek Carr believes this Raiders roster doesn’t need a major overhaul. The Silver and Black do, however, need to find themselves again.

“We know what we’re capable of,” Carr said Friday on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio with Adam Schein. “We have so much talent on our team, but talent only gets you so far. We have to come together as a team like we never have. We have to hit a reset button after the emotional highs and lows we’ve been through. If you think about it, the last 24 months have been a roller coaster for us. We were so high winning 12 games (in 2016), and then I break my ankle and everyone goes down. Then we come back and  start 2-0 (in 2017), and then it turns into a weird season.

“We have to hit a reset button. We know what we’re capable of. We know what it takes to win now. We’ve changed the culture. Coach (Jack) Del Rio came in and helped us do that along with our leadership. Anyone we add will be welcomed to the team and told, 'Hey, this is how we do things.' I don’t think we need to completely change things.”

Carr address other hot-button offseason topics, including Marshawn Lynch, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. Here’s what he had to say about those guys:

Carr on Crabtree: “I really hope the best for out situation with him. I want Crab (here). I love him as a person, I really do. I love working with him, because we’re so competitive and we just want to win. …He loves football, he loves winning and he loves playing with me. I love playing with him. When we’re rolling, we feel we can do whatever we need to do. …I’m not worried about Crabtree. He’s going to give us everything he has and is going to compete his tail off just like he always does. I can’t wait to throw him the ball. He’s my brother. I love that guy.

Carr on Lynch: “We all know about his running style. He runs his tail off and gives it everything he has. As teammates, we know he’ll do whatever we need him to do for us. The way he picked up blitzes and studied those things, that’s selfless. …To be honest, some of the most intellectual conversations I’ve ever had, and some of the most knowledge and wisdom I’ve gained, was with Marshawn.

“I hope he is here. I hope he wants to come back, and that our organization wants to bring him back.”

Carr on Cooper: “He and I are learning how to communicate better and get done what we both want to get done. Our goal is to dominate. It’s a work in progress, and we hit and bump in the road, him and I. He would never tell you, but that man was out there playing on one foot. He was out there trying to battle for his teammates. A lot can be said about how it didn’t work out with stats and all those things, but I want to say I’ll roll with him any day of the week. He was trying to give it his all despite the fact he could barely get out there and do it. That’s the kind of guy I want to play with, and that’s how I know we’re going to be just fine.”

TJ Carrie unafraid to be a beacon to kids after open-heart surgery


TJ Carrie unafraid to be a beacon to kids after open-heart surgery

PALO ALTO – TJ Carrie can command a room, naturally engaging one without forgetting others. A smooth gait, comforting cadence and 1,000-watt smile makes him friendly and approachable, important traits for a beacon of hope.

Scared kids and parents see the East Bay native and Raiders defensive back as a fairytale ending, proof that happier days are attainable following open-heart surgery.

Count Soraya Duckworth among them. The eight-year-old girl has been in hospitals most of her life, battling a congenital heart condition that required several surgeries and demands more down the road.

Carrie came to see Duckworth and others like her Wednesday at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, exactly 12 years after he went under the knife to reposition a misaligned coronary artery.

This anniversary, however, was something special. He reunited for the first time with Dr. Frank Hanley, the surgeon who allowed him to pursue NFL dreams. He also brought awareness to Camp Taylor, a support system for kids with heart disease, by bringing cameras in tow. Carrie’s primary focus, however, remained on these kids.

Carrie was 16 when he had major surgery, and remembers the fear and stress that came before and after. His goal Wednesday, as it is every time he makes these hospital visits, was to take worry away.

“I want them to walk away with positivity,” Carrie said. “I know this period is going to shape their life. This is something important, something that’s going to propel them when times get tough in the future, when they have to make other life decisions. Kids will remember these days forever.”

Duckworth was first in line for a meet and greet. They talked about Frozen, Disney princesses and her dream of becoming a doctor, ignoring cameras and PR folks and loved ones glued to the interaction. Carrie then handed her a plush doll with his likeness, right down to the long scar dividing its chest.

Carrie used to hate the real one. It came with a bump in the middle of his chest, after his sternum didn’t properly come back together following surgery. He hated that, too, and the daily reminder that he was somehow different, seemingly weaker than athletes he hoped to compete against. It was the one thing that could sap Carrie’s confidence.

“It took me a while to embrace my scar and the defect I had,” Carrie said. “Being self-conscious just happens. You feel like you’ll never be the same again. You’re embarrassed to take off your shirt because you don’t want anyone else to see what I went through. Kids go through that, and sometimes kids don’t leave that mindset. It’s important to view them as battle wounds and proof that you overcame so much, that you fought and won.”

Carrie’s fight was technically optional. Surgery wasn’t required to lead a sedentary life, one without athletics or the strenuous football training that brought his condition to light in the first place.

Carrie passed out during a preseason workout his freshman year at Antioch Deer Valley High – he was set to transfer to Concord De La Salle a few days later -- and doctors eventually discovered that his coronary artery was incorrectly positioned between his lungs. The diagnosis created a crossroads, especially for someone so athletically inclined.

Carrie had some input on what happened next, but his parents were ultimately charged with the decision.

“I would say that weighed heavy on my parents because, ultimately, I was the one who had to battle every day and live with their choice,” Carrie said. “The only thing I can remember is that I wanted to play football. It was my dream, and I wanted to achieve that dream. I was willing to battle and go through tough times in order to play football. They knew, as far as I was concerned, I wanted the surgery and a chance to keep playing.”

The Carries gave consent to repair this one-in-a-million defect, and Dr. Hanley’s work kept NFL dreams alive. The surgeon, then working at Oakland’s Benioff Children’s Hospital, had performed Carrie’s procedure a dozen times before then. He has done roughly 100 since using the same innovative technique that has now become common.

The procedure took just over an hour. Carrie was in the hospital nearly a month and his recovery lasted well over a year. He didn’t play prep football until his senior season, as doctors remained cautious about him playing a contact sport. He also had to make up for lost class time, taking evening courses at a junior college trying to catch up and become attractive in college football’s recruiting process.

Carrie eventually found sure footing, dominated his senior year at De La Salle in football and track. He earned a scholarship to Ohio University and, despite other football-related injury setbacks, was a Raiders seventh-round pick in 2014. Carrie has played for productive seasons for his hometown club and becomes an unrestricted free agent in March.

Hanley followed Carrie’s career from a distance. He has long used Carrie an example when speaking with surgical candidates, proof that heart conditions shouldn’t deflate big dreams. Carrie was an abstract for a dozen years. Seeing him in person proved a powerful moment.

“It’s extraordinarily rewarding,” Hanley said shortly after the reunion. “It’s one thing to get a letter or news someone has graduated from high school or even from kindergarten, but to be here in person and see what they’ve accomplished is really quite something. There are no words for it.”

Carrie’s forever thankful to doctors and support staff who helped him recover, and repays that kindness by inspiring younger kids to dream big and be proud of their arduous journey.

Looking back, Carrie wouldn’t alter his path. The scar Carrie used to loathe is now a badge of honor, a link to his past and the plight of so many others battling for their lives.

“I see it and it motivates me every day to fight and be an example,” Carrie said, “a (testament) to others that are battling these types of conditions.”

Photo courtesy: SandWaveMedia