Amari Cooper, Seth Roberts remain mainstays in Raiders revolving WR room


Amari Cooper, Seth Roberts remain mainstays in Raiders revolving WR room

ALAMEDA – The Raiders used two NFL Draft-day trades trying to fortify their receiver corps.

Jon Gruden traded a third-round pick to Pittsburgh on the amateur selection’s first day to acquire dynamic, yet troubled deep threat Martavis Bryant. He executed another deal moments after the draft ended, shipping second-round disappointment Jihad Ward to Dallas for Ryan Switzer.

Bryant gave Gruden ideal speed and size. Switzer gave them elusiveness, and prowess from the slot. Adding them to a group that included Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson and speedster/return specialist Dwayne Harris seemed to form a well-rounded group with varied skill sets.

Gruden had a man for every job. If only the additions worked out.

Switzer started strong but fell off the pace midway through training camp, and ended up traded (again!) to the Steelers on Aug. 27 for a sixth-round pick.

Bryant didn’t last much longer. He got cut Sept. 1, and is reportedly in danger of being suspended (again!) as a repeat offender of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Gruden says Bryant got cut for different reasons, because the Clemson product struggled to learn the offense, missed practices and had his job taken by Keon Hatcher.

Cooper and Nelson were locked into the starting lineup. And, despite trying out several at the No. 3 spot and in the slot, Seth Roberts kept his job.

Roberts was the team’s primary slot receiver the past two seasons, known both for clutch play and far, far too many drops. This constitutes somewhat of a surprise after Roberts spent the preseason either banged up or working with lower units. 

“He’s our starting ‘F’ receiver,” Gruden said. “He’s always making plays in practice, and someone we can depend on.”

He’ll be the first option off the bench in two-receiver sets. Hatcher, Harris (primarily a return specialist) and Brandon LaFell round out the crew. LaFell came aboard Monday, and his arrival cost returner Johnny Holton his job.

LaFell is a ninth-year veteran who spent the last two years with the Bengals. He has done a bit of everything in his career, though he has some catching up to do learning Gruden’s offense.

“He has played multiple roles and played well when he’s played. Physical guy,” Gruden said. “We think he can come in and get ready quickly to make a contribution. He’s got size we like, he’s an excellent blocker, high-effort player, detailed, professional wide out. He’s going to give us some versatility and depth, which we need.”

Hatcher will play special teams, and be a reserve at every spot. He earned a spot following a solid camp and an explosive preseason finale where he scored three touchdowns. He’s a smooth route runner with reliable hands and a penchant for dramatic catches.

While the receiver depth chart’s back end has been in near constant flux, the top two haven’t changed.

Cooper will be the passing game’s primary weapon, a dynamic player who can do most everything well. Well known as an excellent route runner, Cooper has focused on high-pointing the ball well and seeing the ball into his hands.

He’s a bit bigger and strong, hoping to sustain typically physical play against him and stay healthy a full season. He will move around some, playing more in the slot that he did last year. A two-way go could help a precise route runner get free.

“’Coop has it all,” Hatcher said. “He does everything well, and I think he’s good enough to take over the league.”

Everyone benefits from Nelson’s presence. Cooper especially has grown from his guidance, especially the detail oriented work that has made Nelson Aaron Rodgers’ go-to guy for nearly a decade in Green Bay.

“Jordy’s a bit like me in that he doesn’t talk too much but when he does, it’s always something very important,” Cooper said. “My ears perk up whenever he says something in the meeting room.

“He’s always trying to give advice and discussing things they did in Green Bay. They were really explosive on offense. Everytime he talks, I listen. It always makes sense, and I’m always adjusting to things he tells me because I know it’s something good.”

The preseason group looked good on paper, but didn’t pan out. Gruden likes specific receiver types, and he hand picked a crew to work with Carr. Monday’s game against a talented Rams secondary will be a solid litmus test for how well the receiver corps works, whether Nelson can find old form, Cooper can be a dominant presence under Gruden and whether Roberts can finally find consistently and the other contribute when called upon.

Why reported Darius Slay trade from Lions makes sense for Raiders

Why reported Darius Slay trade from Lions makes sense for Raiders

The Raiders were on the verge of the playoffs this past season, but their passing game took yet another step back. Besides the emergence of rookie Trayvon Mullen, the Silver and Black have plenty of question marks at cornerback as they move to Las Vegas. 

There could be help available, though. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Monday that the Detroit Lions have talked to multiple teams regarding a trade for their Pro Bowl cornerback, Darius Slay. 

Between need, their slew of draft picks and available cap space, the Raiders could be a perfect fit for a trade with the Lions. Let's start with how Slay would fit in the defense. 

Mullen is expected to man one side of the defensive backfield at cornerback, while the other side is a bit of a mystery. Daryl Worley is a free agent this offseason, but Nevin Lawson, Nick Nelson, Keisean Nixon and Isaiah Johnson all are options. None are Slay, though. Not even close. 

Slay, 29, made his third straight Pro Bowl this last season. He also was a First Team All-Pro in 2017 when he led the NFL with eight interceptions and 26 passes defensed. Since 2014, Slay has recorded at least two interceptions and 13 passes defensed every season. 

Per advanced analytics site Pro Football Focus, Slay has been the fifth-best cornerback in the game since 2014. 

The Raiders also have the draft picks to get a deal done. They own two first-round picks -- Nos. 12 and 19 -- this April, as well as three in the third round, one in the fourth and one in the seventh. They have plenty of leverage to make a move. 

Las Vegas also lands right in the middle of current available salary-cap space going into next season. According to Spotrac, the Raiders have slightly over $51.5 million in salary-cap space. Slay, who has a $13.4 million cap hit in 2020, wants a new contract as he's set to hit free agency after this upcoming season. 

[RELATED: Ex-Raider Nnamdi Asomugha talks about his life on Broadway]

He likely would cost more than a few extra pennies, but it's clear Slay still can be a solid corner in a division where everyone is chasing QB Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. 

The Raiders could target a cornerback early in the draft. That's not out of the question at all. If the Lions are taking calls on Slay like Schefter reported, Raiders general manager Mike Mayock would be wise to listen. 

How ex-Raiders star Nnamdi Asomugha transitioned from NFL to Broadway


How ex-Raiders star Nnamdi Asomugha transitioned from NFL to Broadway

Nnamdi Asomugha finds himself under a new set of bright lights. The former Raiders star cornerback, who ended his 11-year NFL career with the 49ers, now finds himself on Broadway

"I started the decade at the Pro Bowl, and I ended the decade on Broadway," Asomugha said in a recent interview with CBS' Dana Jacobson, which aired Friday. "I was like, 'This was really surreal.' This is not a dream that I ever had. And now, this is so clearly what I should be doing." 

Asomugha, now 38 years old, first dabbled in the entertainment business while still playing in the NFL. Towards the end of his career, he started working as a part-time NFL analyst when Jacobson worked at ESPN. He also did a commercial for Dick's Sporting Goods in 2009, and the director gave him words of encouragement regarding his acting skills. 

The three-time Pro Bowler said he started thinking about his post-playing career long before he was done playing football. He saw early on just how quickly your career can end. 

"You better start thinking about that long before you finish your career," Asomugha said. "I mean, I started noticing really my first year in the NFL that you can go down with an injury, your career can be over. You can get cut within moments. And then what are you gonna do?" 

The Cal product soon turned his focus to acting and producing. He said he "was a rookie again" and took acting classes.

Asomugha now has a long list of credits when looking at his IMDB page. The former football star was the executive producer for Netflix's "Beasts of No Nation" in 2015, and he starred in Amazon's "Crown Heights" in 2017.

But it was the Broadway stage where Asomugha found his true calling. He felt the same kind of rush he did on the football field when he made his Broadway debut in the award-winning "A Soldier's Play" earlier in February.

"They announce you, everyone's cheering," Asomugha recalled. "I kind of ran on to the stage and began our work. And I remember at that moment just being like, 'This is where I'm supposed to be.' ... That's football, isn't it? It's live. You don't get a second take, you better get it right.

"I developed that muscle so much, I'm at my best when I'm in the fire."

[RELATED: Why Raiders signing Brady could make sense for both sides]

Asomugha finished his football career after playing three games for the 49ers in 2013. He then retired as a Raider in December of that same year. And though he has found his new calling, he admits he misses the game that first brought him so much joy.

"That was a great time," Asomugha said. "Football is definitely my first love. Now finding this world in entertainment through acting and producing -- I didn't think I would love something as much as I did, but I'm so grateful now that I do."