Michael Crabtree

Does Gruden see Lynch, Crabtree on Raiders in 2018?

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USATSI

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.

Which Raiders might not survive 2018 offseason?

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AP/USATSI

Which Raiders might not survive 2018 offseason?

UPDATE: The Raiders released cornerback David Amerson, the team announced, a few hours after this story was published. Information was inserted below to reflect that fact.

The Super Bowl ended the 2017 season Sunday night. The 2018 offseason officially began Monday morning.

These next few months will be interesting for Raiders fans, with new head coach Jon Gruden adding unpredictability to this stretch. He has massive influence in all roster decisions, maybe the final say, even with general manager Reggie McKenzie in the building. McKenzie will handle the draft – his scouting department as been working on this class of aspiring pros for months – but Gruden and coaching staff will get involved.

Fresh faces will be added in free agency, with roster turnover aimed at finding players who fit new Raiders schemes. Don’t forget that Khalil Mack will get a king’s ransom, an act that factors into everything that happens this offseason. All that will come in time.

We might see some housecleaning first. NFL teams can start shedding players right away, Monday afternoon if they’re so inclined. Most of those transactions often come later, as we head through the spring. One came Monday afternoon, when cornerback David Amerson was released. 

The transaction saved $6 million in salary-cap space, and didn't include a dime of dead money. The Raiders have several others who can go without penalty, a benefit of their preferred contract structure, offering up-front roster bonuses on pacts that become pay-as-you-go deals later in life.

That gives Gruden roster flexibility this offseason. They have $13.7 million in cap space, per overthecap.com, but are able to clear significant room with a few swift cuts.

Let’s take a look as some possible cap-saving roster cuts, with a quick comment on each:

-- Michael Crabtree ($7.7 million cap number): Fans have already debated this prospect this offseason. Crabtree has been clutch, and effective during his three-year Raiders tenure. He’s also 30, and seemed at odds with his team late last year. That was primarily with the coaching staff, but it wasn’t a good sign he seemed lethargic in some games. The new staff won’t love that. Could they keep Crabtree, or add $7 million to a deal for a younger, productive pass catcher entering his prime?

-- Marshawn Lynch ($6 million cap number): Here’s another debated topic. Will Lynch retire, get cut or stick around at age 31? Much of that will depend on an offseason meeting with Gruden, and what the veteran wants to do after that. He was the Raiders’ best skill player in 2016’s second half.

-- Sean Smith ($8.5 million cap number): This one seems like a slam-dunk. Smith really improved down the stretch with proper use, but he’s fighting with felony counts of assault and battery and doesn’t fit every scheme.

-- Bruce Irvin ($8.25 million cap number): Good edge rushers are hard to find. Irvin counts among those, especially if he’s focused on going forward. That’s not bad freight for someone with 15 sacks and 10 forced fumbles over the past two season.

-- Kelechi Osemele ($10.5 million cap number): One of the NFL’s best interior linemen. He’s going nowhere.

-- Rodney Hudson ($8.4 million cap number): See above. Raiders love Rodney.

-- Jared Cook ($5.3 million cap number): Was frustrated by how last year turned out, but also lead the Raiders in receiving yards and could’ve had a few more. Gruden could draw up some interesting plays for the receiving tight end.

-- Cordarrelle Patterson ($3.25 million cap number): Kickoff returners have been mitigated some these days, but that’s pretty cheap for special-teams explosiveness and an effective gadget player.

-- Seth Roberts ($4.45 million cap number): Roberts is the only player on this list who would come with a cap hit. It’s $2 million, a reasonable shot if the Raiders find an upgrade in the slot. They could well look for one, maybe in the draft.

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