Raiders

Le'Veon Bell to Raiders? Oddsmakers like Jon Gruden and Co.'s chances

leveon_bell_vs_the_raiders.jpg
USATSI

Le'Veon Bell to Raiders? Oddsmakers like Jon Gruden and Co.'s chances

Le’Veon Bell isn’t returning to the Pittsburgh Steelers this year. The running back didn't sign the franchise tag contract tender provided this offseason, and extending his contract holdout beyond Tuesday afternoon means he'll become an unrestricted free agent next offseason.

According to an online sportsbook, the odds are great that he could become a Raider at that point.

The sports gambling website OddsShark, which takes its information from betonline.ag, an offshore sports gambling site that also houses an online casino, believes the Raiders have high odds of landing Bell this offseason. The Silver and Black have +500 odds to land Bell, according to the gambling website, second only to the New York Jets. The Jets have +300 odds to sign Bell this offseason.

This information isn't based on a report from any other publication covering the NFL, and there is no insight reported from any source about where Bell might sign.

Despite calls to betonline.ag by NBC Sports Bay Area, it remains uncertain how these odds were obtained.

The concept of Bell to the Raiders or the Jets was popularized Tuesday by the Twitter account @br_betting, which promoted odds of the Raiders being second in line to land the talented running back, who has missed the entire 2018 season while holding out for a long-term contract despite being given a franchise tag contract tender worth $14.544 million.

According to NFL rules, Bell had to report to the Steelers by Tuesday afternoon and sign the tag, or sit out the entire season. He chose to do the latter, but Bell will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Bell easily is one of the best professional running backs, with the tools to be considered a complete package. The Raiders are expected to have $83 million in salary-cap space entering that season, though that total will decrease after they sign players to reserves-futures contracts and earmark more money for the NFL draft pool.

[RELATED: Raiders in the driver's seat for No. 1 overall draft pick]

The Raiders chose to trade Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper over paying them in the near future, but they have plenty of money to spend should they try to go after a big-ticket player such as Bell.

It’s uncertain at this time whether the Raiders have any interest in Bell. Contacting him or his agent at this point, according to NFL rules, would be considered tampering.

Bell could be a perfect fit for Raiders coach Jon Gruden’s offensive scheme, though, considering his ability to catch passes out of the backfield and running with patience behind an offensive line.

Bell has gained at least 1,200 rushing yards in three of the last four seasons, and he has averaged 4.3 yards per carry over his six-year career. He had 1,291 rushing yards, 655 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns in 2017.

Jon Gruden knows Raiders need big upgrades in NFL free agency, draft

Jon Gruden knows Raiders need big upgrades in NFL free agency, draft

The Raiders are well behind in their own division, a fact coach Jon Gruden freely admits. The Kansas City Chiefs have the reigning MVP in quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and he’s just 23. Philip Rivers is a lot older, but still has the Los Angeles Chargers going strong.

The Silver and Black needs significant upgrades to compete with the AFC West’s top teams, and has plenty of opportunities to improve this offseason.

The NFL draft will play a huge role in that effort, though it seems clear Gruden knows this rebuild will take some time.

“Fortunately, we have some draft choices. We have four picks in the top 35 and we have a couple first-round picks next year,” Gruden said on a podcast with JT The Brick released Friday on the team website. “We’re in transition. We’re moving to Las Vegas a year from now. We have a lot of issues that we have to address on this football team. Not only taking a look at how our quarterback can play better and possibly adding a receiver, another back, a lineman and a tight end, how do we get after (Patrick Mahomes) and Philip Rivers and (new Denver Broncos quarterback) Joe Flacco?

"We have to improve our defense at all three levels, on the defensive line, in the linebacking corps and in the secondary. That’s a tall order for us.”

The Raiders will put draft prospects under the microscope during next week’s NFL Scouting Combine, where they’ll see standardized individual drills and medical tests. Oakland's brain trust will also meet with dozens of prospective Raiders.

Some highly touted ones are coming to Alameda this spring, with the Raiders owning the Nos. 4, 24, 27 and 35 overall draft picks.

The Raiders could use them all in that exact order, or make them trade bait for moves around the draft board or to acquire veteran talent. Gruden did plenty of both last year. He landed receiver Martavis Bryant for a 2018 third-round pick, and moved all over the board last year to secure more picks or guys they wanted.

“I think there’s a lot of potential for trades,” Gruden said. “That’s one of the things I’m really excited about (general manager) Mike Mayock and what he brings to the table. He has great resources around the NFL. He’s been in every building. He’s on the first-name basis with many because everybody knows Mike. I think he’s going to be on the phones quite a bit not only with (the Nos. 24 and 27 picks) but, who knows? We may move up from the No. 4 overall pick or we may move back from it. We’ll see how it all unfolds.”

The Raiders will be a wild card during this draft, given Gruden’s penchant for movement and this being Mayock’s first time running an NFL draft room (though Gruden will ultimately have the final say).

The pair has a dual focus right now, with a keen eye on draft prospects this week through April and another on prospective free agents.

“That’s what we’ve been doing the last 10 days,” Gruden said. “We’ve been doing nothing but studying free agents, guys whose contracts are up. Obviously, we’re not looking to add players at the end of their career. We’re looking for blossoming young players. Those guys usually don’t get to free agency, so the pickings are slim for everybody but there are a couple diamonds in the rough.

"We’ll see where the market goes, but you don’t want to spend all the money you have on a few free agents. You want to try to keep some of that money available in case a trade might develop during the draft.”

[RELATED: Quinnen Williams confident, stress-free ahead of NFL Scouting Combine]

Let the Antonio Brown speculation grow from that. The Pittsburgh Steelers will make the talented, yet mercurial receiver available in trades this offseason, though they’ve made it clear the price to get him will be high. The Steelers have played hardball with star players before, creating a possibility they could prove stubborn on compensation.

Gruden has praised Brown in the past, though he praises plenty of players, and the Raiders are considered by many as a possible landing spot. They have the salary-cap space and draft capital to acquire Brown. Though adding a soon-to-be 31 year old doesn’t fit a standard rebuilding plan, Gruden might go for a game-changing offensive weapon.

With Gruden running the show, it’s tough to rule anything out at this stage.

2019 NFL Draft: Quinnen Williams confident, stress-free before combine

2019 NFL Draft: Quinnen Williams confident, stress-free before combine

Editor’s note: NBC Sports Bay Area will dive deep into top defensive NFL draft prospects the 49ers could select at No. 2 overall or the Raiders might take at No. 4. This is the first in a series of stories about former Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams leading up to the draft.

NEWBURY PARK – Quinnen Williams has a Twitter app on his iPhone and isn’t afraid to use it. Same goes for Instagram these days.

The hulking former Alabama defensive lineman doesn’t post much on social media but scans his mentions enough to hear the buzz surrounding his path to the NFL draft.

It’s tough to criticize someone so likeable off the field and so dominant in the trenches. It’s hard to find fault in a prized talent and consensus top-5 pick, but Williams detractors exist in dark corners of social media.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban calls the chatter “rat poison” that’ll hurt you if you let it. Williams considers it a guilty pleasure. The 21-year old Birmingham native hears the good and bad, but nothing sticks.

Spend time around Williams and you’ll see why: this kid’s confidence is unwavering. So is his drive to improve, no matter what you say.

“I see it. I listen to it, because I get tagged so much on social media,” Williams said this week in an exclusive sit-down with NBC Sports Bay Area at Kobe Bryant’s athletic training academy. “I enjoy it sometimes, but I know it doesn’t mean anything. It’s like watching a movie. You know most things in a movie aren’t real, but you enjoy watching it anyway.

"That’s how I look at the mock drafts and all the media talk. Nothing that’s said is going to stop me from working hard.”

People are telling Williams how good he is these days, how high he’ll get drafted – most believe he won’t make it to the Raiders at No. 4 -- and how great he’ll be at the next level, yet his ego remains firmly in check.

“I know I’m a huge draft prospect and this and that, but if I let that go to my head and not train and not focus, other guys working harder are going to pass me by,” Williams said. “…You can’t let winning or status give you a big head. That’s how you get beat.”

Williams knows full well how he got here, by working hard the Alabama way. He isn’t about to let up now, just because he’s enjoying life in the L.A. area training for next week’s NFL Scouting Combine.

Sure, he’s been to Malibu and dipped a toe in the Pacific. He has made an NFL Network appearance and met some famous folks out West, but hasn’t sacrificed a minute’s work for something fun.

Williams is out here grinding in paradise, and believes he’s better for the experience. He has been working with skill players lately, trying to match their combine stats and times. If he can keep up with them athletically, Williams should be heads above his position group.

He played last year’s breakout season at 295 pounds – he gained weight fast after switching from defensive end to tackle -- and was considered slippery over scary. He’s trying to become an agile, yet imposing force on the defensive line.

“Right now, I feel like I’m a way better player now than I was coming into this process,” Williams said. “I lost a lot of body fat. I’m toned up, stronger and quicker because I’m leaner. I’m focused on body mass, and getting that Aaron Donald body.”

He was famously called a 300-pound bar of soap last year. That might not fit anymore.

“I’m a 302-pound ball of muscle now.”

A more technically proficient one at that. Williams isn’t just studying to pass combine tests. He's shoring up soft spots he identified through self scouting.

“I already know what my weaknesses are,” Wiliams said. “I don’t need other people to tell me that. I know the NFL scouts and coaches can see them and point them out, and I’m doing all I can to make those weaknesses strong. I don’t get into the negativity out there. That’s not me.”

Williams and other top NFL draft prospects are looking to show progress at next week’s combine, a weeklong job interview with individual athletic tests, medical examinations and one NFL team meeting after another.

[RELATED: Quinnen Williams reveals what he'll buy with first NFL paycheck]

It’s a grueling stretch for draft prospects, but Williams isn’t worried about any part of it. He’s living stress-free and easy these days, soaking up every moment of this pre-draft process with complete faith the hard work put in will help him realize a dream come draft day.

“I love it. I love all of this,” Williams said. “I’m really confident in what I do. I love football. It’s my life, and has been since I was 4 years old. It’s all I know. Working with Coach Saban and … all these D-line gurus, it made me fall more in love with the game.

"Now I’m getting a chance to go to the NFL, a place I’ve been dreaming about since I was 5, 6 years old. I get to meet people I’ve looked up to and eventually play against them. I honestly can’t wait.”