Raiders

How might Gruden's influence impact high-priced Raiders veterans?

How might Gruden's influence impact high-priced Raiders veterans?

There’s no guaranteed money, no dead money against the NFL salary cap should the Raiders chose to part ways with Michael Crabtree, David Amerson, Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin, Marshawn Lynch and several other high-priced played under contract for 2018.

The Raiders have been smart with their contract structure in recent years, working out frontloaded deals with early roster bonuses that become pay-as-you-go deals down the line.

That creates team flexibility, and makes it easier to ditch underperformers without stress.

Watching every snap this season, covering general manager Reggie McKenzie the past five years and head coach Jack Del Rio the last three, provided insight into which incumbents were on the way out.

Jon Gruden changes all that. The presumptive head coach following Del Rio’s ouster will have his own thoughts on guys who stay and go. They might be the only ones that matter.

It remains uncertain how much power Gruden will wield – we’ll dive more into that question in a future post – though it could be significant enough that the organizational structure will change. He might have final say over McKenzie, or at least be on equal footing in terms of signings, draft picks and roster decisions.

One guarantee: Gruden’s influence will be felt on personnel and the Raiders and the future coach could have different views on certain players.

And those players might want to send Gruden a homecoming gift after a formal announcement.

Here are some players who might be on the chopping block:

WR Michael Crabtree ($7 million base salary): The veteran receiver barely played down the stretch of the season’s final two games. It wasn’t injury related. Del Rio used the phrase “missed opportunities” before the season finale – and cited a phantom hamstring injury -- for why the receiver corps’ elder statesman was phased out.

Odds seemed solid Crabtree played his last game as a Raider, though Gruden could change all that. Crabtree had a strong start to the year but faded down the stretch, and his drop volume belied his reputation for solid hands.

RB Marshawn Lynch ($4 million base salary; $1.75 million in roster bonuses): There are two influences on whether Lynch returns. The man himself didn’t miss football during his year in retirement, and could easily step away again. There are some questions about whether Lynch and Gruden would mesh. The physical runner proved he can still produce at age 31, but there were questions about his influence on the locker room and him seemingly to have his own set of rules under Del Rio. That might not play under Gruden’s roof.

CB Sean Smith ($8.25 million base salary): This seemed like an easy decision near midseason. Smith had fallen out of favor and lost his starting spot. Injury handed it back, and Smith played far better under late-season play caller John Pagano. He was matched up with bigger receivers – Smith has always been vulnerable to speed – and finished the season strong. His salary is high given his limitations, and there’s a legal issue to handle. Smith will be tried on felony assault and batter charters this winter, with the possibility of jail time in his future. That might make him an easy cut, either way.

CB David Amerson ($5.5 million base salary): Amerson missed nine straight games with a foot injury and dealt with shoulder and concussions in the season’s first half. He was productive in his first two seasons as a Raiders, but fell off some last year even when healthy. He’s young and has quality ball skills. He could be kept and start opposite Gareon Conley, even if the Raiders continue to add cornerbacks.

Other free cuts who should be safe in 2017: LG Kelechi Osemele, LB Bruce Irvin, C Rodney Hudson, TE Jared Cook

Reggie McKenzie unconcerned with Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper contract situations

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USATSI

Reggie McKenzie unconcerned with Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper contract situations

ALAMEDA – Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie didn't offer much, if any, insight Friday during a pre-draft press conference the NFL forces GMs to host. Execs comply begrudingly, unwilling to part with information so close to the NFL draft. It's hard to blame McKenzie for staying tight lipped. There's no sense in giving hints before a draft where knowledge is king.

He didn't make news on Friday, but tons will come next week. The NFL draft starts near week's end, so 11 new selections will enter the fray, with some undrafted players. 

The Raiders have a mini-camp scheduled just before the draft. The three-day session is voluntary, but stands as the first time head coach Jon Gruden can run a Raiders practice during this offseason program.

Khalil Mack isn’t expected to show. The elite edge rusher has stayed away from the Raiders offseason program while his representation works out a long-term contract with the Silver and Black.

There’s no timetable to get it done, and a pact isn’t terribly close despite reports of positive negotiations and an understanding from both sides Mack isn’t going to be cheap.

Reggie McKenzie hasn’t heard from Mack recently, which is not cause for concern.

“I have not,” McKenzie said in a Friday press conference. “We’ve just been focusing on the draft and the coaching staff and focusing on these players that are here and getting ready for the mini-camp next week.”

A deal is expected in time, and the Raiders have budgeted to pay Mack top dollar. He’s expected to set the market for defensive players, though Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, taken three picks later in the 2014 NFL draft, is also expecting a massive sum this offseason.

Mack might want Donald to sign first and then have his deal top it. Donald might want the same thing. It may behoove the teams to allow the other to set a market which could offer some savings.

McKenzie said he isn’t worried about what the Rams do with Donald.

“We look at Khalil as his own situation,” McKenzie said. “We’re not looking at anybody else. We’re just focusing on our guy.”

The Raiders will also be focused, in time, on Amari Cooper’s future with the club. The receiver’s entering the final year of his rookie contract, though the Raiders have a fifth-year team option available to keep Cooper through 2019.

McKenzie wouldn’t commit to exercising it Friday -- he's fully expected to -- though NFL teams must do so by May 3. That would increase Cooper’s salary to the average of the top 10 players at his position when the option is exercised. That would put him in line to make $13.9 million in 2019, though the sum is guaranteed for injury only but becomes fully guaranteed on the first day of the 2019 league year.“Going into the draft now, that’s what we’re focused on, but we’ve been in contact with his agent,” McKenzie said. “I don’t want to put anything out there before…I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, so to speak. But we like Amari.”

McKenzie on Aldon Smith

The Raiders cut ties with edge rusher Aldon Smith early last month, when he was involved in a domestic violence incident that has since resulted in criminal charges. Smith is now involved with an in-custody rehab program after violating conditions of his bail.

McKenzie lamented not seeing Smith turn things around and the inability to support him after he was banished from the league as a repeat offender of the NFL substance abuse policy.

“It’s hard,” McKenzie said. “Aldon really tried and we tried, but once you get into the program and you have to send him away, there’s only so much we can do as far as getting our hands on him. Pray for the best for Aldon.”

Raiders 2018 schedule released: Analysis and predictions

Raiders 2018 schedule released: Analysis and predictions

WEEK 1
Monday, Sept. 10 vs. Los Angeles Rams, 7:20 p.m.

Jon Gruden goes head-to-head against protégé Sean McVay in primetime, in the season opener and on a Monday Night Football telecast Gruden was on for nine seasons. That's must-see TV. 

Prediction: L.

WEEK 2
Sunday, Sept. 16, at Denver, 1:25 p.m.

The Broncos might be the AFC West’s worst team. The Raiders have to make hay a mile up, a chore made easier with an early-season game. They avoid snow this year. 

Prediction: W.

WEEK 3
Sunday, Sept. 23, at Miami, 10:00 a.m.

The Raiders beat the Dolphins in Florida last year. It’s hard to say Miami’s much better than they were a year ago. This road win’s attainable, even in the first of four morning kickoffs.

Prediction: W.

WEEK 4
Sunday, Sept. 30, vs. Cleveland, 1:05 p.m.

The Browns should be better, but that remains a game you’ve got to win. Hue Jackson’s return to Oakland adds intrigue to these proceedings.

Prediction: W.

WEEK 5
Sunday, Oct. 7, at L.A. Chargers, 1:05 p.m.

The Raiders will have a huge home-field advantage in Carson, as they do each time they play the Chargers in Southern California. That should help against a formidable opponent that has had trouble staying healthy in recent years.

Prediction: L.

WEEK 6
Sunday, Oct. 14, vs. Seattle (at London’s Tottenham Stadium), 10:00 a.m.
The Raiders won’t make their combine their London trip with an East Coast game to make things easier from a travel perspective. Gruden doesn’t want to be away from home that long. How the Raiders handle a long flight to the United Kingdom will go a long way in determining a victor.

Prediction: W.

WEEK 7
BYE

WEEK 8
Sunday, Oct. 28, vs. Indianapolis, 1:05 p.m.

The Colts still stink, even if Andrew Luck is back healthy and throwing for this one. These are games (especially at home) the Raiders have to win.

Prediction: W.

WEEK 9
Thursday, Nov. 1, at 49ers, 5:20 p.m.
A Thursday night game offers plenty of time to get primed in the parking lot. It also guarantees a traffic mess heading into Levi’s Stadium. What could possibly go wrong? This should be a good matchup on the field, with two young quarterbacks leading the charge.

Prediction: L.

WEEK 10
Sunday, Nov. 11, vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1:05 p.m.

The Raiders have lost two of their last three home games to the Chargers. They have to handle business at home, even against a talented squad led by Philip Rivers and Joey Bosa.

Prediction: W.

WEEK 11
Sunday, Nov. 18, at Arizona, 1:05 p.m.

The Cardinals are mired in a rebuilding mode, well behind the Raiders at this stage.

Prediction: W.

WEEK 12
Sunday, Nov. 25, at Baltimore, 10:00 a.m.

Michael Crabtree will be supremely motivated for this one, after the Raiders essentially exchanged him for Jordy Nelson. He’s pretty dangerous in those situations.

Prediction: L.

WEEK 13
Sunday, Dec. 2, vs. Kansas City, 1:05 p.m.

The Chiefs will be a great litmus test, to see if the Raiders can handle big-play threats better than they have in recent seasons.

Prediction: L.

WEEK 14
Sunday, Dec. 9, vs. Pittsburgh, 5:20 p.m.

The Raiders defense better be ready to go against Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and the Steelers scoring machine in the Oakland Coliseum slate’s best matchup. To make matters better, this one's in primetime, on Sunday night. 

Prediction: L.

WEEK 15
Sunday, Dec. 16, at Cincinnati, 10:00 a.m.

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will go up against the team he helped run recently. Guenther should be an expert on stopping Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense. That will help the Raiders here. 

Prediction: W.

WEEK 16
Monday, Dec. 24, vs. Denver, 5:15 p.m.

Marquette King’s coming back to Oakland. He’s looking forward to this one. So is Bruce Irvin. All this plays out on Monday Night Football, the Raiders' fourth primetime game and third at Oakland Coliseum. 

Prediction: W.

WEEK 17
Sunday, Dec. 30,at Kansas City, 10:00 a.m.

Arrowhead Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Raiders in recent seasons. Jack Del Rio could never figure how to play well there. Can Jon Gruden buck that trend?

Prediction: L.