Raiders

Jordy Nelson, Tahir Whitehead headline Raiders virtually locked in for 2019

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Jordy Nelson, Tahir Whitehead headline Raiders virtually locked in for 2019

ALAMEDA – The Raiders decided to pay out some bonuses well before they came due. Jordy Nelson, Tahir Whitehead, Lee Smith and Kyle Wilber got big, fat checks this week, more than three months ahead of their due date, ESPN first reported, to help spread cap hits over this year and the next.

Financial dealings like this aren’t of great importance on the surface. What they mean, however, goes beyond dollars and cents.

It virtually locks the aforementioned players onto the 2019 roster, unlike they were before. Each guy could’ve been cut before his roster bonus came due without dead money attached. Their salaries were not guaranteed.

“Normally when you hand out a bonus for next year’s season,” coach Jon Gruden said Friday, “there’s a pretty good chance those guys are coming back.”

[RELATED: Gareon Conley, Maurice Hurst questionable vs. Chiefs in Week 17]

Nelson and Whitehead are the big fish in the group. The former was given a $3.6 million bonus, while the latter was given $3.35 million.

Nelson’s return was somewhat of a question mark given his salary and a marked production drop after midseason, but the veteran wide receiver and quarterback Derek Carr have found great sync in recent weeks. He has 54 catches for 661 yards this season, and has been a great leader on the sideline and in the meeting room.

“If you watched Jordy play carefully the last four weeks when he’s been healthy, you see what he’s capable of doing,” Gruden said. “I think as we continue to improve this football team around some of the core guys that are here, I think you can even see better and better days ahead. So yeah, he’ll be back.”

[RELATED: Why Raiders should add ballhawk safety in offseason]

Nelson will be a constant in a position that will turn over around him this offseason, when a talent influx is expected through free agency and the NFL draft.

Whitehead has been a mentor and great example for a linebacker group where everyone else taking steady defensive snaps has less that two full seasons of NFL experience.

The younger players look up to him and, after a start devoid of big plays, Whitehead has come on strong in recent weeks. He signed a three-year, $18 million deal with nothing guaranteed beyond 2018, but paying the roster bonus early shows commitment to him. Whitehead appreciates that, and the opportunity to see this rebuilding project reach better days.

“It’s great knowing they have faith in me to lead this position group and hold the reins while we take things to the next level,” Whitehead said. “I take pride in leading the group, and I make sure to act in such a manner that I do the right things and that I don’t betray that trust with the coaches and organization. I want to lead by example with everything I do around here.”

Why Raiders should add running back to help Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard

Why Raiders should add running back to help Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard

Josh Jacobs is a feature back in every sense. The Raiders star rusher can do most everything well and is capable of playing all three downs. He can carry a significant workload, as he did during an exemplary 2019 campaign where he finished second in AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year voting, and frankly should have won.

He had 242 carries for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games, proving to be a tough and elusive runner who gains significant yards after contact.

Jalen Richard’s an excellent complement as a third-down back who can pass protect well and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield.

While those two can cover every offensive scenario, the Raiders should still work to add another running back.

That was clear at the end of last year when Jacobs was shut down with a shoulder injury he played through for weeks. DeAndre Washington filled in as the primary ball carrier and fared well but was allowed to hit the open market, where he remains today.

The Raiders could and should look to upgrade that position and not just by finding a backup. They need someone with a different style, maybe a big and bruising back to accent what the Raiders do offensively.

They tried to do that last season, when they worked out every veteran running back under the sun but didn’t sign anyone until Rod Smith came aboard late.

The sixth-year journeyman re-signed with the Raiders on a low-cost contract.

The NFL draft will have quality options available later in the draft, where the Raiders have three third-round picks and one each in the fourth and fifth.

It might take a third-round pick to land Boston College’s A.J. Dillion, a 247-pound bruiser who can run downhill and pick up short yardage by moving the pile. Draft analysts say he’s good at reading blocks and following his assignment, something important in Jon Gruden’s offense.

Vanderbilt’s Ke'Shawn Vaughn is an option who might be available later. He isn’t quite as big but has the toughness required to get hard yards and could absorb some blows to keep Jacobs healthy and fresh.

This isn’t a full-on draft breakdown, so we won’t go down the list of every scheme fit available for selection. There aren’t many free agent dollars left, so it’s hard to see another runner coming in.

The Raiders can survive with the depth chart they’ve got, especially with fullback Alec Ingold able to carry the ball effectively when called upon. But the NFL is trending toward two back benefits, even when there’s an obvious alpha like Jacobs.

Gruden has historically preferred feeding multiple backs, as he did in his previous Raiders stint with Tyrone Wheatley and Napoleon Kauffman, and later with Wheatley and Charlie Garner.

[RELATED: Raiders reportedly meet virtually with Herbert]

Gruden has also ridden one back pretty hard, as he did with Cadillac Williams while with Tampa Bay.

The Raiders are more than capable of rolling with the crew they have but could use to make the backfield a little better before the 2020 season begins by filling a relatively low-ranking need.

NFL rumors: Raiders meeting with Oregon QB Justin Herbert before draft

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USATSI

NFL rumors: Raiders meeting with Oregon QB Justin Herbert before draft

The Raiders are meeting with former Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert on an official top-30 visit. Well, the term “visit” might be a stretch considering nobody is allowed inside NFL facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pre-draft meetings still are happening, but those face-to-face interactions now are done over FaceTime or Zoom or Skype or whatever video conferencing platform you prefer.

NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Monday that Herbert will be meeting with the Raiders in this way, as the Silver and Black try to refine their options in the NFL draft.

Each team gets 30 meetings during the pre-draft process, though they’re often used on players from lower rounds or with character questions they need to examine further.

This meeting is sure to raise some eyebrows considering Herbert’s position and eventual draft status, but this should be viewed as an exploratory exercise of the Raiders doing due diligence.

[RELATED: How Raiders' NFL free-agency signings could impact returning players]

Herbert should be taken in the NFL draft’s top 10, well before the Raiders draft at Nos. 12 and 19. The Raiders have the capital to trade up in the draft if they choose, but it would be costly to move up high enough to get beyond the quarterback starved Miami Dolphins at No. 5 and the Los Angeles Chargers at No. 6.

They also have a quality quarterback room with Derek Carr as the starter and Marcus Mariota as the backup. There are far more pressing needs at receiver, cornerback and safety and maybe defensive line that could use talent available in the first round.

It’s possible the Raiders draft a quarterback later in the draft, but it seems unlikely in the first round.

Let’s also recall that the Raiders met with top quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins before last year’s draft and didn’t take either guy.

While the Raiders don’t have an immediate need at quarterback, general manager Mike Mayock always says the team will consider upgrades at every position. Head coach Jon Gruden loves meeting with quarterbacks and learning how they think.

Herbert is ranked high among the NFL draft’s best options at quarterback, typically third behind Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa. He has ideal size for a quarterback at 6-foot-6 and 236 pounds, with great arm strength and field vision. He can throw on the move and is confident throwing the ball downfield and making smart decisions going with shorter and intermediate options.

NBC Sports Bay Area’s latest mock draft has Herbert going No. 5 to the Dolphins.

NFL Network also reported that Herbert has a video conference scheduled with the Bolts.