Source: Musgrave out, Downing to be Raiders offensive coordinator

Source: Musgrave out, Downing to be Raiders offensive coordinator

Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s contract was coming to an end. It will expire and not be renewed, a league source told CSN California Tuesday afternoon.

NFL Network first reported the news earlier in the day.

Continuity, however, is still in the cards with a different offensive coordinator. The Raiders will promote quarterbacks coach Todd Downing to that spot, the same league source said.

The offense improved in two seasons under Musgrave and finished as sixth in total yards and rushing yards and seventh in points scored. Derek Carr also played well in his second season in Musgrave’s system.

John Middlekauff first reported the news on Downing.

Downing is a considered an up-and-comer in the league and a bright offensive mind. The Raiders wanted to keep him in house. Downing has a close relationship with starting quarterback Derek Carr and is well respected in the locker room, which should allow for an easy transition to a new play caller.

According to, the Raiders blocked Downing from interviewing for other jobs in order to keep him around.

Del Rio was openly critical of Musgrave’s play-calling at times this season. He questioned why lead back Latavius Murray only had five carries in the regular-season finale against Denver. He also wondered aloud why the Raiders didn’t play “big boy ball” in a pivotal loss to Kansas City and talked about over-ruling a play call in that same game.

The Raiders offense didn’t play well after losing Carr to injury, as one would expect, especially using rookie Connor Cook in the playoffs against Houston. After that loss, Del Rio was asked about a possible halftime switch to Matt McGloin. He said he asked, and said coaches wanted to stay with Cook.

This is the second time Del Rio and Musgrave have parted ways. Musgrave was fired after two seasons as Jacksonville offensive coordinator (2003-04) when Del Rio was Jaguars head coach. 

There was other Raiders coaching news on Tuesday.

The Raiders plan to keep defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. in his current position, a league source told CSN California.

The NFL Network reported Tuesday morning that Norton will be retained.

The Raiders defense struggled preventing yards allowed at times, but improved as the season went along.

That unit, which needs upgrades at several spots including defensive tackle and interior linebacker, also had 30 takeaways this season and was solid on third down.

Norton is popular among the players, and has a strong backer in edge rusher and vocal leader Bruce Irvin.

Irvin voiced support for Norton on Twitter.

“The system has been proven. (It) works! I know that firsthand. Everyone must buy in!”

Overall, the Raiders finished the season ranked No. 26 in total yards allowed and 20th in points allowed.

Head coach Jack Del Rio also has a strong influence on this defensive scheme.

Also, the Sporting News reported that Raiders defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson has been fired. Robertson was Raiders secondary coach under Dennis Allen, and was retained in 2015 at Charles Woodson’s behest.

Del Rio singled out the secondary as a major reason why the Raiders allowed too many explosive plays.

Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders


Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden had a hand in drafting Josh Johnson a decade ago. The agile quarterback and Oakland native was a Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick in 2008, Gruden’s last year as Buccaneers coach.

The pair will reunite in Johnson’s hometown. The well-traveled quarterback signed with the Raiders on Monday, the team announced.

Johnson will compete with Connor Cook to backup starter Derek Carr, and brings a veteran’s influence to the position group. It likely spells the end of EJ Manuel’s short tenure in silver and black. The strong-armed former first-round pick, who started one game last season, remains a free agent after a year with the Raiders.

This move should make Marshawn Lynch happy. He and Johnson are extremely close and together run the Family First Foundation, a charitable organization that does significant work for East Bay kids. Johnson and Lynch also played football together at Oakland Tech High.

Johnson has played 10 NFL teams prior to this Raiders stop, but hasn’t played in a regular-season game for some time.

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'


Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden needed specific tools to run his running game. He wanted blocking tight ends and a bruising fullback, relics of a bygone offensive era.

“If Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback,” Gruden said at the combine. … You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”

Gruden said he wanted to import some old-school elements to help run with brute force.

Enter free-agent fullback Kyle Smith and tight end Derek Carrier. Welcome back, Lee Smith.

Then, on Sunday, Raiders made another vital move in this old school effort. They cut Marshawn Lynch a $1 million check.

The Oakland native’s roster bonus came due and the Raiders had no problem paying it, the clearest sign Lynch will be the Raiders feature back in 2018.

He’ll have a great chance to thrive in that role. The Raiders have a hulking, expensive offensive line (that still needs a right tackle). They have new ancillary blocking elements, and the centerpiece remains in place.

That last part was expected in recent weeks. The coaching staff, offensive line coach Tom Cable especially, wanted Lynch back. NFL Network confirmed those facts, stating Lynch will be around in 2018.

That was the case, even with Doug Martin’s addition. The former Tampa Bay back is expected to be a backup bruiser, someone who might put DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard’s job in jeopardy.

The Raiders can cut Lynch without a cap hit. Lynch is scheduled to make $6 million in salary and bonuses, with another $2 million available in incentives. The Raiders should hope to pay those; it would mean Lynch is running well.

The Raiders have given him a great opportunity to do so. They have solid blocking and a coach in Cable who helped him succeed during dominant days in Seattle.

Lynch proved he’s still got it in 2017’s second half, with 70 percent of his 891 rushing yards in the final eight games. He struggled early on, and upset some fans by helping the opposition during a scuffle with Kansas City. That mitigated a PR bump the Raiders looked for when signing a popular Oakland native just months after committing to Las Vegas long-term.

Jack Del Rio and staff grew tired of what they perceived as leeway given to Lynch unavailable to others, and probably wouldn’t have kept him on if still gainfully employed.

Gruden seems committed to Lynch this season, though nothing is ever 100 percent with an enigmatic rusher who doesn’t make private thoughts public.

His elusive, rough-and-tumble rushing style fits well with what Gruden wants, though he demands commitment to the team and sport. Sports Illustrated relayed a story of Gruden saying he needed a “full-time Lynch.”

If he gets that, the Raiders run game should thrive.