Amari Cooper must stabilize see-saw Raiders season


Amari Cooper must stabilize see-saw Raiders season

ALAMEDA – Amari Cooper spoke to the press after Sunday’s loss to the L.A. Chargers and was asked about frustrations involved with an offense that scores in bunches one week and can’t do much the next.

“The game is about consistency,” the Raiders receiver said. “If you’re not consistent enough, you’re not going to win enough.”

The same sentiment can be applied to Cooper’s individual game. He’ll struggle one game and blow up the next, on a see saw that hasn’t stopped pivoting all season.

He had one nine-yard catch in the opener, then 10 receptions for 116 yards in Week 2. A pair of catches for 17 yards the next week in Miami, then eight for 128 and a touchdown against the Browns. At this point, the encore was predictable. He had a 10-yard catch on his only target while getting blown out by the Bolts.

Again, one target. Cooper doesn’t show frustration much, but he seemed as bothered as he gets by the lack of opportunities.

“Especially in a loss,” Cooper said, “because you feel like you can do more to help the team win.”

The Alabama product has never been one to demand the ball or pout when he doesn’t get it. That didn’t happened in L.A. either, but he was communicating with decision makers that he was creating separation.

“I talk to Derek (Carr) a lot. I talk to Coach (Jon) Gruden a lot on the sideline,” Cooper said. “But again, everybody gets open.”

It has been tough to pin Cooper’s inconsistent production down. Sometimes coverage dictates the ball go elsewhere. Other times Jared Cook or Jordy Nelson or even Martavis Bryant will have a favorable matchup and the ball goes their way.

Several have said that a lack of targets shouldn’t suggest his number isn’t getting called. Cooper remains a priority while game-planning, even if the stats don’t show it.

“Certainly we like him as a wide receiver and every week we will install plays to take advantage of those matchups with him,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said before Wednesday’s practice. “We feel really confident in the guys that are surrounding him as well. Each week it’s going to change, not to say that he’s not going to be targeted, because we’re always going to have a certain amount of targets for those top-3 guys and he’s one of those guys.”

The Raiders got him the ball early in games and early in route during his two strong performances, allowing him to find rhythm and gain yards after the catch. His 4.6 average yards after the catch is down compared to earlier seasons. He was up to 6.3 last year and hasn’t been below 5.3.

Dips in production occur for even the truly elite receivers. Rarely, if ever, do those guys end up so low down the stat sheet. He has recorded less than 20 yards three times in five games. His drops haven’t been an issue, with Pro Football Focus credited one to him thus far. A pair of ill-timed miscommunications with Carr – one on a deep shot in Miami that was intercepted, the other where an unexpected route was run came on a late 4th down against Cleveland – haven’t helped matters.

Carr also has a wealth of options, and tries to capitalize on Nelson’s red-zone reliability, Bryant’s speed and Cook’s size against smaller defenders.

When Cooper got matched up with top corner Casey Hayward, Carr went in other directions more often.

“There were definitely situations depending on where he was lined up that they would do certain things. I could think of three different ways of coverage that they were doing that. Sometimes it is like that,” Carr said. “Not only that, they put their best cover guy on him. Coverage dictates a lot of things. I think Martavis Bryant got close to 100 yards. Just depends on how they want to play certain things. It is not like I don’t want to throw it to him, he was just covered.”

Raiders have plenty of NFL flexibility, especially after NFL increases 2019 cap


Raiders have plenty of NFL flexibility, especially after NFL increases 2019 cap

ALAMEDA – The NFL salary cap will take another jump next season. That has been common for several years, as league profits keep increasing. It has gone up at least $10 million for six consecutive seasons, and a 40 percent increase since the 2014 season.

An NFL announced Tuesday that the 2019 salary cap will fit within the range of $187 million to $191.1 million.

And, no, this isn’t a story about how the Raiders definitely could’ve afforded both Derek Carr and Khalil Mack while fielding a competitive team.

It can act, however, as a friendly reminder to avoid sticker shock. Percentage of an ever-increasing salary cap is a far more important number that total dollars. Every team can afford to max out the cap. How a team spends that money on free agents and cheaper draft picks goes a long way in determining winners and losers.

The Raiders must spend wisely in the 2019 offseason and beyond, because they’ll have a ton of salary cap space. NFL salary site estimates that the Raiders will have $81 million in total space based on an estimated $190 million cap.

They should have $72 million in what OTC calls “effective cap space,” a number created after a top 51 is set. The Raiders currently have 34 players under contract for 2019, and only eight players carry at least $1 million in dead money if they were cut.

That means the Raiders can part ways with many they don’t want after 2018 without penalty, allowing their cap space to grow and offer freedom for Jon Gruden to spend the way he wants in free agency.

That flexibility is vital to rebuilding the roster his way, especially when combined with so many high NFL draft picks. Right now, they would four selections in the top 33. While only one is high in that total, having first-rounders from the Mack and Amari Cooper trades and their own second-round pick.

All that money, all that roster flexibility and all those picks means Gruden can change this roster fast and try to expedite the rebuild with players he wants and likes.

Raiders' new executive could be a long search, says owner Mark Davis

Raiders' new executive could be a long search, says owner Mark Davis

The Raiders are early in the process of replacing Reggie McKenzie. The general manager was let go on Sunday night and the Raiders announced Monday that they would begin a search for a new personnel executive.

Head coach Jon Gruden has final say on personnel decisions, which is why the Raiders aren’t searching for a true GM. That may complicate things some, because teams generally let executives out of deals for a promotion. Not necessarily for a lateral move.

Owner Mark Davis will be heavily involved in this search, and hinted that it could take some time. Key word: may. 

[RELATED: Mark Davis cites 'tough' decision in firing Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie]

“One of the issues we have right now is when you’re dealing with player personnel and the general managers, they’re on a different schedule than the football team is,” Davis said, via Pro Football Talk. “The general manager sees an end basically in April or May after they’ve drafted the players and after they’ve gotten through the first series of free agency.

"So, right now, there are a lot of people that are on other teams that may be suitable for the Raiders, but we can’t talk to them, and we won’t be able to talk to them until May or so. So right now we’re limited to talking to people who are not on other teams or in the college ranks or something of that nature. That’s the interesting part of this.”

A thorough search could take months if they’re targeting someone already employed by another team. There are options outside the game right now as well.

Gruden mentioned that director of college scouting Shaun Herock will play a big role moving forward as an interim GM, but could be involved as a primary figure during a draft where the Raiders have three draft picks.

If the offseason goes well, he could be a candidate to be Gruden’s top personnel man permanently.