In Buffalo, EJ Manuel ‘didn’t have what he has now' with Raiders


In Buffalo, EJ Manuel ‘didn’t have what he has now' with Raiders

ALAMEDA – EJ Manuel joined the Buffalo Bills during a downturn. They dwelled in the AFC East five years running, which generally prompts a team to draft a quarterback high.

EJ Manuel was their man, taken No. 16 overall in the 2013 NFL draft. He started 10 games as a rookie and four more his second season before losing the top job. He never got it back during a tumultuous time dealing with two head coaches and competitions with three different quarterbacks. The Bills declined his fifth-year option and let him walk to Oakland as a free agent.

Raiders tight end Lee Smith was in Buffalo during Manuel’s first two NFL seasons. He knew Manuel then and now. He sees a difference, and a far better chance to work with talented weapons.

“EJ didn’t come into the greatest situation years ago in Buffalo,” Smith said. “We were in a building process up there, and we didn’t have Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and Jared Cook. Not to say we were terrible back then, but he didn’t have what he has now.

“He was a 22-year old man with great expectations as a first-round draft pick. It wasn’t the best situation for him, but he always handled things like a pro. He’s a good quarterback and he’s a good man. I’d let him babysit my kids.”

Manuel is, by all accounts, a stand up guy. He also has first-round size and arm talent, with serious heat on the fastball. He signed for the veteran minimum for the chance to reunite with Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing – he was Bills quarterbacks coach in 2014 – and rejuvenate his career.

He was brought in for moments like this. Starting quarterback Derek Carr will miss a game or more after suffering a transverse process fracture in his back Sunday at Denver.

The Raiders learned last year that inexperience kills in those situations. Matt McGloin struggled mightily after Carr broke his fibula and then got hurt, leaving rookie Connor Cook to start and struggle in a playoff game.

Manuel earned the backup job, and the Raiders are glad he’s here. He filled in well Sunday even in a losing effort and, more important than the original result, Manuel didn’t wilt under a heat lamp.

“I don’t think the moment was too big for him,” Del Rio said. “I thought he was accurate, he made good decisions with the exception of putting that one up late on second down (it was intercepted to kill a comeback attempt), just check it down there and keep moving the chains. But overall, I liked the demeanor he played with. I liked the certainty he played with. I liked his accuracy.”

Manuel’s performance and poise inspired confidence as the Raiders start a three-game home stand that starts with Baltimore and the L.A. Chargers. The Raiders are good enough to win those games with a backup – they close that stretch versus Kansas City, a different animal altogether – and Manuel must deliver. He’ll have a week to get used to the first team and must be ready Sunday against the Ravens.

He won’t, however, have to fill Carr’s role as team leader. The Raiders are well equipped to handle that.

“The front office has done a great job of putting a veteran leader in every position group,” Smith said. "All of us have to manage our own rooms and do our jobs. Farm your own land. There’s no need to fix the world as far as football’s concerned.

“Everybody needs to do their job, and we’ll be just fine. Nobody needs to try and be a hero now that Derek’s down. The guy didn’t retire. He’s still here. He’ll still be here to lead us. His presence will still be felt. If he’s not on the field this week, next week, however long he’s gone, we’ll be fine if we do our jobs.”

Does Gruden see Lynch, Crabtree on Raiders in 2018?


Does Gruden see Lynch, Crabtree on Raiders in 2018?

Jon Gruden doesn’t love offseason restrictions on player-coach interaction. They weren’t so strict when Gruden last coached nine years ago, but the new collective bargaining agreement prevents the new Raiders head coach from extended contact with his players at this stage in the NFL’s downtime.

He has, however, run into several Raiders stopping by the team’s Alameda complex.

Count running back Marshawn Lynch and receiver Michael Crabtree among them. Conversations with those talented, yet mercurial players will be key as Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie decide how best to use the salary cap.

Both guys have a long history of NFL production. Both guys are getting up there in age, and have some drawbacks. Both guys can be cut without a salary cap hit.

Gruden had nice things to say about both guys in a Wednesday interview with the Bay Area News Group.

He was asked directly if Lynch will be on the 2018 roster.

“I don’t know,” Gruden said. “I bumped into him. Some of these players that live locally do come to the facility to get a workout, see the trainer. I’ve been downstairs and met several guys. I have talked to Marshawn briefly. We’ll see. We’ll keep everybody posted. Right now, he’s our leading ball carrier. He’s our back, and we’re counting on him. Hopefully we get an opportunity to work together. That’s a man that has a lot of respect in this league as a player and I certainly have respect for him also.”

Lynch started slow but finished strong, and was the team’s best skill player in the season’s second half. He’s contracted to make up to $6 million in 2018.

Crabtree came up later in a discussion of what he likes on the roster.

“I got to bump into Crabtree,” Gruden said. “Hopefully we can get the best out of Crabtree and his career.”

Crabtree is coming off a down year following two stellar seasons in Oakland. He had just 58 catches for 618 yards – he still had eight touchdowns – but his targets and snaps decreased the last two weeks. He seemed at odds with the previous coaching staff, a group that was dismissed at season’s end.

Crabtree is set to make $7 million next season, though none of it is guaranteed.

Gruden meeting reinforces T.J. Carrie's desire to remain with Raiders


Gruden meeting reinforces T.J. Carrie's desire to remain with Raiders

PALO ALTO – Raiders cornerback T.J. Carrie became a father on Super Bowl Sunday. Newborn son Elijah Carrie has been the sole focus these last few weeks, as T.J. learns on the job how to be a dad.

Pardon him if he hasn’t thought much about impending free agency. The 2014 seventh-round pick turned full-time starter has a rookie deal expiring soon, with a raise on the horizon following his best season as a pro.

That’ll come in March. Early February, however, has kept him otherwise engaged.

“I’ve been so busy with my little one, and I haven’t been getting any sleep,” Carrie said Thursday. “Learning how to be a dad has been so engulfing that I haven’t delved into the details of what free agency will mean to me.”

Soul searching wasn’t required to realize his dream scenario. The East Bay native wants to stay in Oakland, with a Raiders team he loved as a kid.

“My intention is to be here,” Carrie said. “I’m a Bay Area guy, a hometown kid. I couldn’t see myself being anywhere else. This is a passion for me. I dreamed about playing for the Raiders for such a long time. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to play there for four years, I want to finish (with the Raiders).”

Carrie wants to work with a new Raiders regime. He visited the team’s Alameda complex on Wednesday and met with new head coach Jon Gruden and defensive assistants. The interaction left Carrie wanting more, furthering his belief that be belongs in Silver and Black.

“Coach Gruden is very energetic,” Carrie said. “He’s a coach that likes to have fun but it a very business oriented guy. There are a lot of things, I imagine, that are going to change, just from the way he has done things. It’s going to be different, but I embrace it. It’ll be very challenging entering into a new regime, but there are a lot of positive factors involved with it.”

The Raiders don’t have many cornerbacks under contract come mid-March. They released David Amerson, and could do the same with Sean Smith later this offseason. Gareon Conley should start at one spot, but everything else is wide-open entering free agency and the draft.

Carrie could find value on the open market after recording 70 tackles and nine passes defensed in 16 starts. He’ll explore his options further next month, before free agency begins in earnest March 14.

“I know March is really when it starts to go down,” Carrie said. “My son will be a little older then, so I can focus more on free agency and make some more decisions.”