The Raiders invested heavily in unrestricted free agency, so much so that they had to restructure Rodney Hudson to get right within the salary cap. It might not be the only adjustment required after all the Raiders did importing veteran talent, considering they need $9.4 million to sign their draft picks as currently slotted.
Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock should shift eyes from the open market to the NFL draft feeling confident in the additions made, with little doubt the Raiders are discernably better than they were last month.
That was made clear in last week’s Raiders Insider Podcasts, which focused on the state of the roster that is improved but still needs some help. They have to stick the landing in the draft to complete a productive offseason, a fact we’ll address in forthcoming installments, with pressing needs at receiver and cornerback remaining.
This offseason pivot point creates an ideal time for a Raiders mailbag, one looking back at what they’ve done and ahead at what they could do in the draft to fortify a roster that is significantly better than it was a few weeks ago.
Let’s get to your questions, which come via Facebook and Twitter, and have been lightly edited for context and grammar:
Question: Raiders had high hopes for Isaiah Johnson last year. What are his chances of starting opposite Mullen Island this year or do they draft a cornerback with one of two first-round picks? – Ryan Roscioli on Facebook
You’re right. The Raiders are high on Johnson, a converted receiver with the length and speed required to function well in the defensive system. I think odds are good he could be a factor moving forward, but his presence doesn’t eliminate a pressing need at cornerback.
If they were sure Johnson was going to be the guy, they wouldn’t have gone hard after Byron Jones and Chris Harris Jr. or kicked the tires on a Darius Slay trade. They wouldn’t have courted Eli Apple.
They did all those things, and there’s a strong belief cornerback is a high priority in the NFL draft. Johnson has an opportunity to grab a prominent defensive position, but he’s going to have to beat out some competition to get it. He has the talent required to do so, but a starting spot is far from given at this stage.
It seems likely the Raiders add a cornerback at No. 12 or 19 overall and let that person work for the starting gig, though Johnson won't take that lying down. He has been working hard this offseason and should contend to a prominent role on the 2020 Raiders defense.
Q: We’ve had a lot of talk about the top 10 WRs. Who is your sleeper WR not being mentioned much? – Bryce Abbas on Facebook
When it comes to picks outside the upper echelon, I defer to Josh Schrock, Raiders reporter and NBC Sports Bay Area’s resident draftnik. He gave me these names to watch: USC’s Michael Pittman, Ohio State’s K.J. Hill, Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool and Texas’ Devin Duvernay. Those guys should be available later and could fortify the receiver corps.
Don’t forget that Nelson Agholor’s working on a one-year deal and Tyrell Williams’ deal is pay-as-you-go. They need some long-term solutions at receiver. Getting a few isn’t a bad idea.
Q: If 2 of the top 3 receivers are available at 12 and 19 could the Raiders draft two prime time receivers? – Mike Perez on Facebook
Anything’s possible but I wouldn’t consider that probable. The Raiders have too many other needs to take two first-round receivers. If they want more than one receiver in the draft, the second could come in the later rounds as Mayock tries to mine talent from a deep receiver draft class.
Q: Jon Gruden's Offense demands a receiver to be able to play all three positions. Which one do you think fits that mold? – Joseph McNeal on Facebook
That’s a great question. Gruden does prefer his receivers know all three spots, though they generally focus on one during games. Hunter Renfrow normally mans the slot. Tyrell Williams is more of an X receiver. Jerry Jeudy can move around and perform well from anywhere, so I think he could be a solid fit for what the Raiders do.
I’m still more of a CeeDee Lamb guy for his YAC ability and the fact the Raiders need someone threatening working on the outside.
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Q: Do you think the Raiders will draft a big back like Gruden had with Tyrone Wheatley or Zack Crockett in the later rounds this year? – James George on Facebook
I do think they add a running back in the draft, with the third round an opportunity to land a physical complementary back. AJ Dillon, anyone?
They need someone to take some of the load off Josh Jacobs, especially with Jalen Richard working primarily as a third-down back and DeAndre Washington still on the free-agent market.
Q: Do you think the Raiders will make the playoffs this year? Or do you believe it'll take 2 or 3 more years? – Jerry Arrendondo Sr. on Facebook
More the former than they latter. The Raiders are now on the back end of a major roster rebuild and are significantly better than the team that finished 7-9 last year. If Derek Carr performs and they avoid catastrophic injury issues, the Raiders should be in the hunt for the three wild-card spots available with the expanded postseason.
If Mayock and Gruden hit another home run in the NFL draft, there’s no reason to think they can’t be one of the seven best teams in the AFC.
Q: What is the reason that you think the Eli Apple deal fell through? – Steve Guzman on Facebook
As I understand it, Apple’s inability to get a physical was the primary issue. I’m not sure if he missed a deadline to get one or the process was dragging unnecessarily, but the team wanted to finalize the deal and that wasn’t possible without a physical. It was not a financial decision.
While Apple didn’t completely quench the Raiders’ thirst for a cornerback, he was going to be the frontrunner to start opposition Trayvon Mullen. They should add one in the NFL draft and let him compete with Johnson for the starting gig.
I do think the Raiders came out better for Thursday’s events, when the Apple deal dissolved and Damarious Randall came aboard.
[RELATED: Raiders have upgraded defense, but still need to improve]
Q: Has Marcus Mariota met with Jon Gruden yet? – Brian Taylor on Facebook
The two have met -- there was a whole Gruden QB camp episode centered around one interaction -- but not since the signing. That isn’t allowed during a dead period where the travel is restricted, and NFL facilities officially down shut down due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
I included this question to discuss a broader point about where we in relation to a standard NFL offseason. This spring and summer will be anything but normal, with offseason programs and OTAs postponed indefinitely. There’s a real possibility they don’t get conducted at all, a real setback for incoming players and Mariota especially as he tries to learn a new offensive scheme.
There’s a possibility that video conference meetings can be conducted, but that’s nothing like a typical offseason program. It’s a setback from a football perspective, but also rational considering the state of the pandemic.
Players have been told to work out on their own and sit tight waiting for further instructions, though it’s hard to imagine getting back to normal anytime soon.
Q: Do you think Damarious Randall or Erik Harris starts at free safety? – R8RNICK87 on Twitter
While Randall has versatility to play anywhere in the defensive backfield, he was a damn good free safety in Cleveland and I believe the plan is to play him at free safety in the Raiders’ scheme.
Harris will be a qualified backup, someone who will also have to battle Jeff Heath for a favorable spot on the depth chart with Randall in the mix and Johnathan Abram back healthy.