Lamarcus Joyner

Trent Brown was lone home run in Raiders offseason full of splash moves

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Trent Brown was lone home run in Raiders offseason full of splash moves

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders entered last offseason in need of massive upgrades all across their roster.

Coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock hit the ground running, dolling out big contracts to wide receiver Tyrell Williams (four years, $44 million), defensive back Lamarcus Joyner (four years, $42 million) and right tackle Trent Brown (four years, $66 million). Brown's contract made him the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history, a gamble for someone who has dealt with questions surrounding his work ethic and love of the game dating back to his time with the San Francisco 49ers.

Gruden and Mayock had to take some swings in free agency if the Raiders had any hope of accelerating their rebuild.

Not every move worked out according to plan.

The Silver and Black swung a trade for Antonio Brown, but he was last seen playing dress up as a rapper in a mental institution after going nuclear prior to Week 1 of the season. Brown's exodus put a lot on Williams' plate, moving him from opportunistic No. 2 wideout to the go-to guy for quarterback Derek Carr.

Carrying the load offensively has been too much to ask of Williams this season. The 27-year-old has caught 38 passes for 569 yards and six touchdowns through 12 games while battling a brutal case of plantar fasciitis.

Those numbers aren't up to par with the lofty contract the Raiders gave Williams, one they can get out of this offseason for no financial penalty. Joyner, likewise, has struggled in Year 1 in Oakland, ranking No. 21 in performance among those who work either primarily or exclusively in the slot. He is giving up one reception per every 7.8 coverage snaps and his 107.1 passer rating ranks sixth worse among the 24 players with at least 201 coverage snaps from the slot.

In a word, yikes.

That's three swings and misses out of four big offseason acquisitions.

That brings us to Trent Brown. The offseason addition that raised the most eyebrows has been a complete and total home run for the Raiders. Brown, who was shut down Wednesday with a pectoral injury, allowed only one sack in 582 snaps played at right tackle and was named to his first Pro Bowl, rewarding Gruden and Mayock's belief that he could anchor a line. 

"Pretty good," Gruden said of Brown's season Wednesday when announcing the tackle was going on IR. "I mean to me he’s the best right tackle in the game. Obviously, he’s a difference-maker. If you watch us play in London. If you watch us play against any of the teams that he played against. He’s a difference-maker in pass protection, he’s a good run player, and obviously, he’s been well respected by his peers in the league."

Keeping Carr upright was a big offseason focus for Gruden and the Raiders after giving up 52 sacks a season ago. When the Raiders' offensive line was fully healthy this season, QB1 rarely was on his back. Big No. 77 had a lot to do with that. 

“He definitely makes a difference on the football games, that’s for sure," Carr said of Brown. "Him and Rodney [Hudson] getting the Pro Bowl, rightfully so, those guys are two of the best at their position. And Trent, that guy is just a monster when it comes to pass game, run game. I mean you literally see him throw grown men 8 to 10 yards off the ball, like it’s crazy what he’s able to do against some really talented people.

"So, when you lose a guy like that obviously it’s next man up, it hurts. But with the year that he had, him going to the Pro Bowl, rightfully deserved.”

The Brown signing was questioned and critiqued. Could the Raiders really get the same out of Brown that Bill Belichick and the Patriots did?

Well, Brown showed up to training camp and said all the right things. He was hungry for more rings and more recognition. Then, he went out and dominated those who lined up against him. He battled through knee and ankle ailments before finally succumbing to the pectoral injury.

He was accused of domestic violence in a civil lawsuit during the middle of the season. He denied the allegations and said he would let the court "clear his name." The issue never was raised again and Brown continued to show up to work every day to keep the grass stains off No. 4's jersey.

By all accounts, he was a good teammate and teacher to fellow offensive linemen Brandon Parker and David Sharpe. Brown was everything Gruden and the Raiders hoped he would be.

[RELATED: Raiders rookie envision building dynasty]

The Raiders' offseason splash spree didn't yield the playoff run they hoped it would. A lot of that has to do with the social-media addict who moonlights as an All-Pro receiver and his break from reality that put the Raiders' offense in an untenable situation to open the season.

That Brown was a dud. A headache that only a lobotomy would be able to cure.

Trent Brown, on the other hand, has been worth every penny.

Why Jon Gruden believes Lamarcus Joyner will pay off soon for Raiders

Why Jon Gruden believes Lamarcus Joyner will pay off soon for Raiders

ALAMEDA – Lamarcus Joyner might be the Raiders' best safety. That was probably true when everyone was healthy this summer and is hard to argue now with so many of them hurt.

The Raiders have locked Joyner in at slot cornerback since the moment he signed a four-year contract worth up to $42 million last spring. That’s Joyner’s preferred position, a spot the longtime Rams defensive back manned until Wade Phillips moved him to safety in 2017.

His return to the slot with the Raiders has gone decently, with some struggles at a level expected from someone at his pay rate. In fairness, Joyner has also dealt with a hamstring injury the second half of this season. He was also been asked to expand his role some during the middle of the year without a steady, thriving linebacker corps.

Joyner’s numbers haven’t been great. He ranks No. 21 in performance from the slot among players who predominantly or, as in Joyner’s case, work there almost exclusively. According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, he allows a reception every 7.8 coverage snaps and has given up 43 receptions for 442 yards and two touchdowns in 58 targets. The 107.1 passer rating ranks sixth worst among the 24 players with at least 201 coverage snaps from the slot this season.

Joyner hasn’t been a top tier player at his position, but head coach Jon Gruden believes he’ll be around to help get the defense going. That makes sense, considering Joyner has an $8 million fully guaranteed roster bonus coming in 2020, with a $4.6 million base salary that becomes fully guaranteed on March 22.

“We’re going to get the bang [for our buck],” Gruden said. “When you lose you safeties and your middle linebacker, it’s a big issue. We didn’t have a lot of proven depth. I’m not going to sit up here and make excuses, but Joyner’s a big part of the solution. So is Trayvon Mullen and our young corners. We were making progress for a while, but I think Joyner’s a big part of the solution even though the stat sheet might not show it right now.”

Joyner is the team’s best slot cornerback and the best safety, but Gruden never veered him away from his focused position this season. He has played just one snap at safety this season, per PFF, and never worked there during the offseason program or training camp. Gruden was asked about moving him to safety after Karl Joseph was lost for the season, but the head coach explained why he has stayed put even with talk of moving Daryl Worley inside despite his relative inexperience playing there.

[RELATED: Raiders put Trent Brown on IR]

“We’ve moved everybody around quite a bit on this team this year, but Lamarcus is a valuable part of our team as the nickel, and I don’t want to break in a new nickel either,” Gruden said. “You know, rob Peter to pay Paul. Once you move your nickel, you’ve got to find a new nickel, and those guys don’t grow on trees either.”

Five Raiders to watch in Week 13: Derek Carr must step up vs. Chiefs

Five Raiders to watch in Week 13: Derek Carr must step up vs. Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There’s no sense sidestepping it. Sunday’s showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs is the biggest game of the Raiders' regular season.

It isn’t do-or-die. It isn’t an actual must-win. But, man, they’ve got to have it.

Want stakes? An upset win here in Kansas City would vault the Raiders into a tie atop the AFC West -- the Chiefs play New England next week -- while remaining a frontrunner for the AFC’s final wild-card spot. A loss would put the Raiders two games back in the division with four to play and on shaky ground in the wild-card race.

Veteran leaders tried to minimize the big-game feel surrounding the 119th clash between Raiders and Chiefs, especially when talking to rookies so vital to this season’s success.

“At the end of the day, every game is big in this league,” slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said earlier this week. “Any given Sunday, any team can win. Outside forces can make some game bigger than what it is. You have to find the right mentality. If you make it bigger than what it is, you can psyche yourself out. You don’t want that to be the case.”

One plus from a Raiders perspective: Most of the young players playing major roles came from juggernaut college programs that play huge games before massive, often hostile crowds.

The Raiders need a complete team effort to beat the Chiefs, from the coaching staff down to bottom levels of the depth chart. Here five players in particular who must show up big to beat a rival when it matters most.

QB Derek Carr

Carr typically doesn’t land in this weekly series because franchise quarterbacks are always vital to an outcome. This one is different.

Even if the Raiders' run game functions well, there will be times that Carr will have to put the team on his back. It’s hard to imagine a Raiders blowout. The Chiefs are too good for that. A real shot at victory should come in a close contest, maybe with a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter.

Carr needs to play smart and efficient football from start to finish and buck trends you’ve been hearing about all week: That he can’t win at Arrowhead Stadium and he doesn’t function well in the cold. It’s going to be chilly on Sunday afternoon, but 20-30 mph gusting winds could play a bigger role in the passing game. Even if that puts a premium on the ground game, Carr will have to beat the elements and make important throws that move the chains and score points. And, even in subpar conditions, he’ll have to be successful pushing the ball downfield.

Carr must be steady, smart and occasionally dynamic in what will be one of his season’s defining moments.

DE Clelin Ferrell

Fellow rookie edge rusher Maxx Crosby has been bringing quarterback pressure and getting home most every week during this season’s second half. This Raiders' pass rush is truly impactful, however, with pressure off of both edges. We’ve seen games where Crosby and Ferrell are collapsing the pocket. There are other times where Ferrell feels invisible in the pass rush.

The Clemson product is a steady run defender and that’s important, but this is a game against an opponent where game-changing plays are required. Ferrell has only had sacks in two games but needs to make it a third. He is also adept knocking passes down at the line of scrimmage, and that could be helpful as well.

This is going to be a game spent largely in the nickel package so Benson Mayowa will play a role on Ferrell’s side as well -- he, too, has to produce -- but the No. 4 overall pick will play a ton. Pairing him with dynamic new interior rusher Dion Jordan could help both players, as Ferrell plays well off of rushing interior linemen. They could make each other better in those instances and make life difficult on one side of a ho-hum Chiefs offensive line. Ferrell has shown up big in college games. It’s time to do so for this high-stakes game in the pros.

RB Josh Jacobs

The Alabama product is just 43 rushing yards away from 1,000. The Raiders would love it if he crosses the threshold in Sunday’s first half. That would mean the run game is going strong, and the Raiders would find an early rhythm never established in last week’s showdown with the Jets' No. 1-ranked run defense. The Chiefs are 30th in that area, giving up 143.1 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. The Raiders' rushing totals have dripped a smidge, but it’s not an overall cause for concern.

Jacobs has proven impactful in almost every game this season, earning hard yards inside while finding space required to gain ground in chunks. The No. 24 overall draft pick should see the ball a ton on Sunday. In fact, the more Jacobs sees the ball, the better the Raiders are doing.

He’s key to a strong start and a positive game script that will allow Gruden to remain committed to the run game. Tennessee and Indianapolis beat the Chiefs earlier this season by running a ton -- the Colts ran 45 times! -- even when they were down. Jacobs is more than capable of following that blueprint and felling this formidable foe with a heavy workload.

CB Lamarcus Joyner

The veteran slot cornerback had a hard time watching last week’s loss to the Jets. It was obviously frustrating to be sidelined a second time with a hamstring strain during a loss, but his misery was intensified by the Jets attacking areas of the field he would normally defend. Nevin Lawson had a tough day at the office, and it was clear then just how much they missed their defensive co-captain.

Joyner’s back and healthy now, just in time to face a formidable Chiefs attack that uses breakneck speed to go deep and work the middle of the field. The Raiders gave up a series of explosive plays to Kansas City in Week 2 that made it one-sided, and Joyner played a significant part in that. He’ll have to do better than he did then and be a rock inside using veteran savvy to mitigate Kansas City’s obvious speed advantage.

The Raiders secondary must work well together to slow the Chiefs, playing top-down coverage while making them earn every inch. Joyner will be vital in that effort and offers an instant upgrade after two games away.

[RELATED: Worley must give Raiders stability with secondary in flux]

WR Zay Jones

The third-year pro plays a ton these days, clearly comfortable with his responsibilities in the Raiders offense since being traded to the Silver and Black from Buffalo. That doesn’t mean he’s targeted much. Jones has just 11 catches for 88 yards on 14 targets in five games as a Raider, a paltry sum that’s a product of trying to build chemistry with Carr during the season while other targets have been working with him since the spring.

His opportunities should increase Sunday, when he’s expected to play more in the slot with Hunter Renfrow out injured. Jones has been playing outside as a Raider but has tons of experience inside in college. He wasn’t terribly efficient with targets in Buffalo but must be if called upon for third-down conversions as Renfrow was regularly.

Jones has all the talent required to be a productive NFL receiver but hasn’t shown it much. This is the time to do so and take coverage away from tight end Darren Waller in the middle of the field.