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.

Raiders discussions with Oakland Coliseum progressing, could resolve soon


Raiders discussions with Oakland Coliseum progressing, could resolve soon

The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority board met on Friday morning, and executive director Scott McKibben provided a closed-session update on talks to host the Raiders during the 2019 NFL season.

No Raiders officials were present, but it was still a small and productive step towards keeping the Silver and Black in Oakland for one more year. The board liked the direction of talks between McKibben and Raiders brass.

“I updated the board on where I’ve been with the Raiders management and ownership,” McKibben said on Friday afternoon. “It’s fair to say that the talks are progressing.”

Talks will continue soon, with a resolution expected in the relatively near future.

“We’ll talk against next week,” McKibben said. “Again, this will come to a conclusion one way or another in the next week or so. It’s fair to say that discussions have been meaningful and productive and, after the update with our board, things are progressing.”

Continued progress will have the Raiders remaining at the Oakland Coliseum for another season, the last before formally moving to Las Vegas in 2020. The Raiders have remained in the East Bay since being approved for relocation prior to the 2017 season.

They preferred to remain in Oakland until the Vegas move – they had a 2017 lease at Oakland Coliseum, with a team option for ’18 – but halted negotiations for 2019 after the city of Oakland sued the Raiders and the NFL for antitrust violations and breach of contract.

The Raiders and the Coliseum Authority were working on a $7.5 million deal for 2019, but the team walked away after the lawsuit was filed.

[RELATED: Raiders have lots of flexibility ahead of pivotal offseason]

The Silver and Black explored several options, including some outside the market, but their preference was to continue playing in the Bay Area. The 49ers halted work on a deal to play at Oracle Park by refusing to waive their territorial rights, leaving Levi’s Stadium – owner Mark Davis doesn’t like the venue – and a return to Oakland Coliseum as the only viable local options.

Talks with McKibben ramped up a bit last week, and the foundation of previous extension talks has made a return to the table easier.

There’s plenty of work left to be done on a 2019 deal, but a resolution is closer following productive and meaningful talks to this stage.

Raiders, 49ers less affected by Jaylon Ferguson's NFL Scouting Combine ban


Raiders, 49ers less affected by Jaylon Ferguson's NFL Scouting Combine ban

The Raiders and 49ers have already spent significant time with Jaylon Ferguson during the pre-NFL-draft process.

The Senior Bowl provided both teams an opportunity to evaluate him up close during an intense practice week and the college all-star game itself. The Louisiana Tech edge rusher worked with the 49ers-led South squad, which spent part of one day with North coaches from the Raiders.

“(The Senior Bowl) is a great opportunity because both teams coaching here are looking for pass rushers,” Ferguson said early in the Senior Bowl week. “I feel like I’m one of the top pass rushers in this class, and I get my chance to show that I’m coachable and that I can rush the passer.”

Ferguson’s right. The Raiders and 49ers need help off the edge, and the NCAA’s all-time sack leader can certainly rush the passer. Ferguson also had a chance to showcase that quality, his work ethic and character working with the Bay Area teams at the Senior Bowl, something that will prove harder to do with others after getting his NFL Scouting Combine invite revoked.

Ferguson was disinvited after a background check turned up a simple battery conviction that disqualified him from combine participation, per NFL rules. According to NFL Network, the league told clubs that players wouldn’t be invited if they had prior convictions involving violence.

Ferguson's incident was not news to those working with him at the Senior Bowl.

Missing the combine is a major blow to Ferguson, a smaller-school talent hoping to show he has the tools to compete with top competition. He also planned to use the combine to show he has grown from past mistakes.

The NFL’s decision was unpopular around the league and with Ferguson’s agency, STL Sports Group, which issued this statement Thursday morning:

“We disagree with the NFL’s position with regards to Jaylon Ferguson. Jaylon is a great person who made a mistake 4 years ago before he started playing college football. He was involved in a scuffle that resulted in him being charged with misdemeanor simple battery. He received a deferred judgment and $189.00 fine, A Proper punishment for a fight between two teenagers. Since that day Jaylon has been a fine and upstanding student-athlete that personifies the things we are trying to teach our young people today. The past four years at Louisiana Tech Jaylon has been a team leader who has led on and off the field clearly learning from the lessons of his past. As opposed to penalizing and vilifying the future players of the league, we would hope the league would allow Jaylon and other similarly situated players the opportunity to prove to potential employers that they are remorseful, and have learned from their mistakes, accepted responsibility, want to be good role models and are better people now for it. No person is perfect, and people are entitled to second chances and opportunities and one would hope the NFL as an open-minded Industry Leader, Diverse League and Business would want to see the best in their players, educate them and help them mature, learn and be better people.”

[RELATED: Flacco trade could impact Raiders, 49ers in NFL draft]

Ferguson will still have opportunities to speak with teams during private facility visits and show physical skill at Louisiana Tech’s pro day.

That will be important after missing combine drills, so he can prove similar to a role model the Raiders drafted and the 49ers tried to acquire via trade.

“I model my game after Khalil Mack,” Ferguson said at the Senior Bowl. “He’s an aggressive guy who can transfer speed to power and is a big, strong man. That’s my game right there.”