The Raiders offseason workout program is underway and the NFL draft is less than two weeks away, meaning the Silver and Black are coming together as a team that will weather the 2018 season.
There are holes left to fill with amateur selections. Salary cap space must get cleared to pay these new draft picks. Khalil Mack’s contract extension must get worked out. Lingering injury issues remains
Questions abound remain heading into this spring. Let’s answer a few in a pre-draft mailbag.
Q: What do you think a Khalil Mack extension will cost the Raiders? How will it work with the cap? (Brad Schmidt, on Facebook)
A: The Raiders remain confident they’ll reach an long-term pact with edge rusher Khalil Mack this offseason. They know it won’t be cheap. Von Miller’s $114 million deal should be viewed as a baseline for Mack’s deal, which should set a market for defensive players. He’s worth that amount, and the Raiders understand his value.
A new deal could be in the ballpark of $120 million over six years. NFL Network’s Steve Wyche reported a deal could include $65 million in guaranteed money, a fair total that may get exceed. Time will tell on that front.
The Raiders have future cap space available for Mack. They’re up against it this year, but don’t forget Mack’s fifth-year option accounts for $13.86 million of that total. Most, if not all of his new money could come next year, or Mack’s 2018 cap number could decrease with a massive signing bonus – that cap hit would be split over the life of the deal -- and a lower base salary. The Raiders have options in that regard.
Also, there’s little stress about Mack missing early offseason workouts. He’ll be in shape when he reports. Make no mistake about that. There’s plenty of time to get a deal done this offseason, though the Raiders hope it’s done before training camp.
Q: Will Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu make a big impact this year? (Michael Abelar, on Facebook)
A: The Raiders expect big things from Gareon Conley. Pencil him into the starting lineup right now despite the fact he isn’t fully cleared for offseason workouts. He’s still recovering from shin surgery, and the Raiders are playing it safe with his rehab. After missing most of last season with this shin issue, the Raiders aren’t taking any chances this spring. That’s not a big deal.
They expect him to be a major contributor in 2018. You should, too. Last year’s No. 24 overall pick has great talent and zero injury history before this shin issue. Fans were troubled by an NFLN report that he wasn’t fully ready last week. Don’t forget he had surgery late last year after trying to rehab his way back into the mix.
Melifonwu, last year’s second-round pick, also missed most of the season with hip and knee issues. His 2018 role is less certain. He’s going to have to earn one. Marcus Gilchrist is expected to start at safety, and comes with the versatility to play deep, closer to the line or in the slot.
Q: Will the Reuben Foster situation effect what the Raiders might do with the 10th pick? (@YouKnowMico, on Twitter)
A: Interesting question, and a valid one considering the Raiders and 49ers share similar needs and the Santa Clarans have a higher draft priority at No. 9. I’ve said several times losing that hokey draft-order-determining coin toss at the combine could have ramifications on the Raiders draft options, and that could be the case if inside linebacker’s the top choice.
Foster’s uncertain employment status – he has been charged with felony domestic violence, among other things -- makes inside linebacker a real option for 49ers GM John Lynch at No. 9, and the Raiders would be bummed if Tremaine Edmunds were taken off the board.
That’s what happened in my mock draft with 49ers insider Matt Maiocco, which took before Foster’s legal woes intensified. The 49ers could take a cornerback or safety or edge rusher the Raiders covet as well, thanks to several similar draft needs. There will be plenty of good options at No. 10, especially if a quarterback run commences above the Raiders pick, so GM Reggie McKenzie won’t lose too much sleep over what the 49ers do.
Q: Do you foresee the Raiders cutting Jared Cook? (Richard Sablan, on Twitter)
A: The veteran tight end’s name has been brought up as a salary-cap casualty this offseason, and for good reason. He’s owed $5 million in non-guaranteed base salary, can be cut without a cap hit.
It’s possible he gets cut to make room for others, but I’d consider it unlikely at this stage. The Raiders cut Clive Walford instead, leaving but one receiving tight end on the roster. That could change, obviously, if the Raiders go tight end in the NFL draft.
Gruden called Cook “a great receiving tight end” at the NFL owners meetings. He isn’t wrong. Cook led the Raiders with 688 receiving yards on 54 catches, and could be an asset in the middle of the field, with speed to play slot receiver if asked.
Q: Do you think Tahir Whitehead fits best on the strong side or weak side? (David Lawrence Ransom, on Facebook)
A: I’ll let the Pro Football Focus people answer that one. Whitehead has experience playing all three linebacker spots, though Gruden said they’ll try him on the outside first. He has graded out best on the weak side, and has extensive experience playing there. That should be his original spot in this defense and a starting linebacker corps that remains in flux around him.
Q: Will (Navorro) Bowman be back with us? (Anthony Ramirez, on Facebook)
A: That’s still uncertain, though the Raiders don’t have much salary cap space remaining and have a draft class to pay. As I’ve said before, the Raiders wanted to lock Bowman up before free agency began March 14 but the sides couldn’t meet on money. Then the Raiders started spending on others. The Raiders would like Bowman back, but the price has to match. Bowman might be waiting for an offseason injury to create higher demand for his services, though he hasn’t said anything publicly since January.
He would pair well with Tahir Whitehead, though there’s no telling if he will. Bottom line: The Raiders need help at middle linebacker, whether it’s Bowman or a draft pick.
Q: Do you think Oakland takes a tackle high in the draft? Or is the starting right tackle already on the roster? (Gilbert Escamilla, on Facebook)
A: It’s possible the Raiders go with an offensive tackle in the early rounds. They need help at right tackle and a long-term solution on the left. That position gets expensive in free agency, so a draft pick could keep costs lower while paying other offensive linemen premium dollars.
The Raiders could trade down and grab one in the first round or take one in the second worthy of a starting spot. That would be a luxury, but it doesn’t count as a pressing need.
The Raiders could role with Donald Penn on the left and Breno Giacomini on the right, though Vadal Alexander and others will challenge the latter this offseason.