Raiders

Raiders have salary-cap flexibility heading into pivotal NFL offseason

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AP

Raiders have salary-cap flexibility heading into pivotal NFL offseason

The Raiders got plenty of draft capital in return for trading Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, but that wasn’t the main benefit of those deals.

Mack was worthy of a market-resetting contract for NFL defensive players either before last season or the next, and he got it after being sent to the Chicago Bears last September. Cooper will get serious cash from the Dallas Cowboys as soon as this offseason, following his third Pro Bowl campaign in four seasons.

The Raiders initially planned to pay both guys in addition to an expensive offensive line, and high-priced quarterback Derek Carr.

Those Cooper and Mack deals are no off the books and the Raiders, thanks to some poor drafts, don’t have a big-money extension coming up for a long, long time. They don’t have any long-term commitments beyond Carr, and their recent top draft picks are still on rookie deals.

That has given the Raiders tremendous salary-cap flexibility heading into a pivotal offseason meant to springboard coach Jon Gruden’s second Raiders stint.

The Raiders have roughly $71 million in salary-cap space in 2019, according to OverTheCap.com. That ranks fifth in the NFL, and would allow the Raiders to pursue most anyone in free agency.

The Raiders can clear even more space should they chose. They could save $10.2 million by cutting elite left guard Kelechi Osemele, and another $4.6 million by parting with receiver Seth Roberts. They could save $5.475 million by axing Donald Penn, coming off a season largely spent on injured reserve, and $5 million more by cutting backup quarterback AJ McCarron before the NFL league year begins.

Paying roster bonuses to Jordy Nelson, Tahir Whitehead, Lee Smith and Kyle Wilber essentially locks those guys to the roster.

There was never a danger of Carr being cut, but his $19.9 million base salary next season is now fully guaranteed.

New general manager Mike Mayock has stated his “buyer beware” approach to free agency, and Gruden, who ultimately has final say, has a soft spot for established veterans.

They signed a ton of unrestricted free agents to short-term deals. They might follow a different path this year.

Truly, the Raiders can do most anything they want.

“We’ve got some money this year, and we’ve had at least three meetings already about free agency,” Mayock said in a sitdown with reporters a few weeks ago at the Senior Bowl. “We’re stacking that board right now, as we speak. Between Jon and I and our pro scouting staff, that’s as important a board to stack as our draft board. We have some money and we would love to come out of it with a couple of starters. We have an awful lot of holes and we’re not going to fill them all. The more you can do in free agency, the more surgical you can be in the draft.”

Let’s take a look at player the Raiders have on the books, and their soon-to-be free agents. The figures are the 2019 salary-cap numbers for the Raiders’ highest-paid players, via OverTheCap.com:

Quarterback

Derek Carr $22.50 million
AJ McCarron $5.0 million
Nathan Peterman $645,000

Running back

Keith Smith $1.5 million
DeAndre Washington $787,299

Wide receiver

Jordy Nelson $5.368 million
Seth Roberts $4.650 million
Keon Hatcher $570,000

Tight end

Lee Smith $2.616 million
Derek Carrier $1.7 million
Darren Waller $720,000

Offensive line

Kelechi Osemele $10.2 million
Rodney Hudson $10.17 million
Donald Penn $7.225 million
Gabe Jackson $7.0 million
Kolton Miller $3.061 million
Brandon Parker $930,758
David Sharpe $645,000
Denver Krikland $645,000
Cameron Hunt $570,000

[RELATED: Tucson, Birmingham reportedly parterning to host Raiders in 2019]

Defensive line

Justin Ellis $4.75 million
PJ Hall $1.069 million
Eddie Vanderdoes $869,303
Arden Key $830,844
Maurice Hurst $649,761

Linebacker

Tahir Whitehead $4.291 million
Kyle Wilber $1.5 million
Marquel Lee $708,426
Nicholas Morrow $647,500
James Cowser $645,000

Defensive back

Karl Joseph $3.781 million
Gareon Conley $2.854 million
Nick Nelson $744,669
Makinton Dorleant $570,000
Montrel Meander $570,000

Specialists

Andrew DePaola $905,000
Drew Kaser $720,000
Johnny Townsend $624,389

All others under contract but not listed have cap figures of 2019 for $570,000 or less.

[RELATED: Raiders hire new strength and conditioning coach]

Free agents

CB Rashaan Melvin (UFA)
TE Jared Cook (UFA)
RB Marshawn Lynch (UFA)
S Marcus Gilchrist (UFA)
DT Johnathan Hankins (UFA)
WR Martavis Bryant (UFA)
DT Clinton McDonald (UFA)
WR Brandon LaFell (UFA)
S Reggie Nelson (UFA)
RB Doug Martin (UFA)
CB Leon Hall (UFA)
DE Frostee Rucker (UFA)
DT Ahtyba Rubin (UFA)
K Mike Nugent (UFA)
Dwayne Harris (UFA)
DE Kony Ealy (UFA)
Bene Benwikiere (UFA)
G Denzell Good (UFA)
OL Chaz Green (UFA)
DE Jacquies Smith (UFA)
OT T.J. Clemmings (UFA)
G Jon Feliciano (UFA)
S Erik Harris (RFA)
DE Shilique Calhoun (RFA)
CB Daryl Worley (RFA)
CB Dexter McDonald (RFA)
RB Jalen Richard (RFA)
S Tevin Mitchell (ERFA)
K Daniel Carlson (ERFA)
WR Marcell Ateman (ERFA)
LS Trent Sieg (ERFA)
LB Jason Cabinda (ERFA)
OT Justin Murray (ERFA)

Raiders GM Mike Mayock heaps praise upon 49ers' 'culture of toughness'

Raiders GM Mike Mayock heaps praise upon 49ers' 'culture of toughness'

The Raiders have left the Bay Area, but it's not necessarily because they couldn't stand their neighbors.

Las Vegas general manager Mike Mayock made that much clear Tuesday when heaping praise on the 49ers' leadership from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

"I give John [Lynch] and Kyle [Shanahan] a ton of credit," Mayock said. "I don’t think it happened overnight. Their quarterback got hurt, which artificially set their record back for a year. But what they’ve been building over several years is a group of talented defensive lineman, a culture -- and everybody laughs about that word. I don’t. Building a culture is way harder than people pretend it is. It’s easy to say and hard to do. That’s why I give them so much credit. They’ve built a culture of toughness. They run the freakin’ ball. They believe in getting after the quarterback. I love what they’ve done, and I give them a ton of credit. But it didn’t happen overnight."

On the way to Super Bowl LIV, San Francisco had the second-most productive rushing offense in the NFL, and only four teams finished with more sacks than the 49ers (48) during the regular season. Nine of those sacks came from Nick Bosa, whom San Francisco selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The 49ers were only in that draft slot, however, as a result of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tearing his ACL in Week 3 of 2018 before missing the rest of the season.

With Garoppolo fully healthy and Bosa in tow, San Francisco went from the second-worst record in the league to the Super Bowl runner-up. Mayock surely is hoping for a similar turnaround, and frankly, the Raiders have a shorter distance to go. 

Quarterback Derek Carr has only missed two regular-season games since moving under center for the 2014 season and is coming off the most productive season of his career in terms of total yardage and yards per attempt. That had plenty to do with the Raiders finishing 7-9, and while they consequently won't be picking anywhere near the No. 2 overall selection, they do own two first-round picks -- Nos. 12 and 19 overall -- in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft. It will be difficult to find a prospect with a similar impact as Bosa's, but that surely won't stop Mayock from trying.

[RELATED: NFL mock draft: Updated 49ers, Raiders pick projections]

The Raiders have participated in only one playoff game over the last 17 seasons, but with the NFL reportedly considering expanding the postseason field, they have a chance to end that drought in their first season in Sin City. They have many of the necessary pieces for a 49ers-like surge. The question is: Do they have the culture?

NFL Draft 2020: How Miami's Trevon Hill can help Raiders' pass rush

NFL Draft 2020: How Miami's Trevon Hill can help Raiders' pass rush

The Raiders need help on 11 positions on the defense, that much is clear.

Yes, 2019 rookie standouts Trayvon Mullen, Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell will play large roles in 2020. But improvement is needed across the board on defense, from the defensive line to the safeties. 

The Raiders once again will be looking for pass-rush help this offseason, whether it be in free agency or the draft. With three third-round draft picks and a fourth-round pick, the Raiders should look to address their pass rush on Day 2 of the draft, with guys like Bradlee Anae, Julian Okawara and Curtis Weaver possibly being available. 

But there's an under-the-radar player for general manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden to keep their eyes on: Trevon Hill.

Hill, 6-foot-3, 233 pounds started his career at Virginia Tech playing under legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster before transferring to Miami for his final season. The 22-year-old has innate pass-rushing ability, showing good burst off the edge, solid tilt, bend and powerful hands. He possesses the quick twitch needed to rush at the NFL level and has the athleticism to drop back into coverage. 

"They'll be getting a guy who is dynamic," Hill told NBC Sports Bay Area during the week of Super Bowl LIV in Miami about what his pitch to GMs would be. "He's coming in willing to work hard, willing to take somebody's plate -- another grown man's plate -- and just you're going to get somebody who is dominant, man. Ready to work. Tenacious, savage, somebody that is going to go get it. I'm a high-motor guy, man."

Modern NFL teams always need guys who can pressure the quarterback, and Hill's potential should excite several teams, including the Raiders. 

Look at his get off on this play. 

Hill will need to work on setting the edge at the NFL level and improve his strength to be a true factor. His high motor and uncanny ability to get to the quarterback, despite what some see as athletic limitations, might remind the Raiders and their fans of Crosby. Many expected Crosby to be a project and situational pass rusher coming out of Eastern Michigan, but he exploded onto the scene due to his nose for the quarterback. 

During his college career, Hill notched 29.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks during his time with the Hurricanes and Hokies. His time under Foster and Miami coach Manny Diaz allowed him to be a sponge and soak up different defensive philosophies. 

Hill spends time studying NFL stars all over the defensive line and tries to model his game after what Kansas City Chiefs edge rusher Frank Clark brings to the table. 

"He just got that dog mentality," Hill said of Clark. "I think we have similar body type -- he might be a little bit heavier -- but height, same, quickness, same and he got that dog mentality and he backs it up."

[RELATED: Is QB Fromm an option for Raiders later in draft?]

As the Raiders proved last year, draft-class depth is just as important as top-end talent. Crosby and tight end Foster Moreau were fourth-round picks. Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow had his name called in the fifth round. Those three were major contributors to the Raiders' surprising 7-9 season. 

On a team looking for more people who can get to the quarterback, Hill is someone the Raiders should look at to improve their weary pass rush.