Raiders have tough choices ahead with players headed for NFL free agency

Raiders have tough choices ahead with players headed for NFL free agency

The Raiders will have a busy offseason with significant roster turnover. That’s the Jon Gruden way, after all, especially while reconstructing this roster after a major teardown in 2018.

We’ve discussed the team’s biggest offseason needs, the possibility of some high-profile cuts and some early ideas on free-agent targets.

The Raiders have to make decisions on their own players with expiring contracts.

They’ve already retained one this week, signing interior lineman Denzelle Good to a one-year contract.

Many others, however, won’t be heading to Vegas. The Raiders have 19 players headed for unrestricted free agency in March, and obviously won’t keep them all. Some will be allowed to walk out the front door. Others will sign contracts the Silver and Black weren’t willing to match. A few should remain with the Raiders.

Open-market value obviously weighs heavily on these decisions, but we can still take an early look at soon-to-be free agents with the highest profiles and whether the Raiders should chase hard or simply let them leave:

CB Daryl Worley: Coaches like Worley’s toughness and versatility and appreciated his willingness to move around the secondary in an attempt to shore up weak spots. Worley is a serviceable outside cornerback, but the Silver and Black should look for a better long-term solution. The Raiders could still re-sign him as a bridge cornerback while developing Isaiah Johnson, though Worley might not like that. He’s looking for the biggest financial commitment, which likely will be found somewhere else.
My take: Consider keeping him on a shorter-term deal, but don’t get into a bidding war. Under those circumstances, I bet he bounces. 

S Karl Joseph: The Raiders could’ve locked Joseph up for 2020 but declined his fifth-year option. That will put him on the market this spring in a weird place. Joseph played some of his best football last year, providing a steady, physical presence in the back while working with Erik Harris. He’s also coming off a foot injury that ended his season early and required surgery. That might depress his market value, though he’s expected to make a full recovery. Joseph would pair well with Johnathan Abram in the back and might not be overly expensive. The Raiders also could move Lamarcus Joyner to safety or acquire another one. Erik Harris already is under contract as excellent depth, negating the need to bring Joseph back.
My take: Re-sign him, focus draft assets on other positions. (P.S. I’m not sure the Raiders agree)

LB Vontaze Burfict: The Raiders defended Burfict at every turn after he was suspended for the final 12 games of the 2019 season after an illegal hit against Indianapolis that got him ejected. A major suspension, maybe even an outright ban, is possible if he makes a similar mistake. I still think the Raiders re-sign Burfict despite those facts. Paul Guenther loves him as a friend and field general but obviously will have a quality Plan B in the middle.
My take: I believe Burfict comes back.

RB Jalen Richard: The third-down back saw fewer carries than he is accustomed used to but is a quality receiver and an excellent pass protector. He’s a tougher runner inside than you’d think and is a big play waiting to happen. Josh Jacobs might be the featured back, but Richard’s an important part of that position group.
My take: Re-sign him right away.

KR/PR Dwayne Harris: Jon Gruden loves Harris, but the lightning-quick special teams standout hurt the Raiders more than he helped in 2019. He was unavailable most of the year and will be 33 next season. The Raiders need to find a new return man.
My take: Let him walk.

[RELATED: Five key offseason questions Raiders brass must answer]

DE Benson Mayowa: The veteran was a situational pass rusher who had a bunch of sacks early and faded late. His career-high seven sacks should provide a solid payday, and he’s going to whichever team is the highest bidder. That team won’t be the Raiders.
My take: Mayowa’s on the move.

LB Will Compton: The veteran was pondering retirement before the Raiders came calling during the season but proved he can still play. Compton’s a sure tackler, a smart player, and a great locker-room presence. He could help on special teams and provide a veteran Plan B for Burfict, mentoring a linebacking group that should feature some highly-touted additions.
My take: Bring him back another year.

DL Dion Jordan: Gruden and Guenther called Jordan a Las Vegas Raider several times last season. They found a diamond in the rough, with Jordan on the right path and in great shape following a 10-game suspension to start the season. The Raiders liked his interior pass-rush ability and need it again next year. I believe the Raiders want him back and that Jordan wants to return, but another team might throw a bigger compensation package at him. He takes it if that happens.
My take: Re-sign him before free agency hits. His value might inflate on the open market.

RB DeAndre Washington: Washington was a true feature back during the season’s last two games, with Jacobs nursing a sore shoulder. He knows those opportunities won’t exist with the Raiders unless Jacobs is hurt. That’s why -- while he says he’s open to a return -- he’ll look for a better opportunity somewhere else. That should be fine with the Raiders, who should fill his roster spot with a bigger back.
My take: Washington finds another landing spot.

CB Nevin Lawson: The veteran played better over the last few games and provided quality depth and injury protection all season. He isn’t vital to future plans and could be allowed to walk away so Johnson, Keisean Nixon and maybe another draft pick could be in a better position to play.
My take: Let him go.

LB Kyle Wilber: He doesn’t play much defense but has been a core special teams player who's well-liked by coordinator Rich Bisaccia. The Raiders have developed young players to lead in the kicking game, meaning they don’t need Wilber as bad as they have before.
My take: Let Wilber walk.

QB Mike Glennon: The Raiders will want to get younger at backup quarterback. That spot could go to Nathan Peterman if Derek Carr is around. Or, if the Raiders make a quarterback switch, it could be a draft pick learning under a free-agent pickup.
My take: Mike’s on to another team no matter how it shakes out.

Raiders' Darren Waller honors Frank Smith for unlocking true potential

Raiders' Darren Waller honors Frank Smith for unlocking true potential

Darren Waller used to hate football. With a passion.

That fact contrasts with the joy exuded while playing now as an elite NFL tight end. He loved every minute of a breakout Raiders season where he had 90 catches for 1,145 yards, but he's most proud of being consistent and, for the first time in forever, being someone you can count on.

Waller has been clean and sober more than two years now. That change has brought happiness back to his life and the game he once despised.

“I hated football from high school up until I got suspended [in 2017],” Waller said. “The sport was just a means to impress people and seem cool and cover up all these voids. I thought that, if I was successful, I could be happy. It wasn’t doing the trick, so there was a huge void in me I thought I could fill with drugs and alcohol.

“It took me having a near-death experience to question the things I was doing in my life. I stepped away from the game for a bit. If it was God’s plan for me to come back to the game, it’s now clear that it was. I came back with a new perspective and started enjoying it. I was open to coaches and have relationships with these people.”

The near-death experience came from a bad batch of pills two months after his yearlong suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy while with the Baltimore Ravens, when he sat in his car fighting to stay awake while thinking he might not make it out alive. Waller went to rehab shortly after that, a life choice he considers the foundation of all the good that has come since.

Waller’s personal life improved quickly, but his career didn’t really take off until the Raiders signed him off the Ravens practice squad late in 2018 and he started working with tight ends coach Frank Smith.

Smith challenged Waller to be great, a goal achieved in a shockingly short span. Waller’s now considered among the NFL’s elite tight ends and has become a role model for so many struggling with addiction by telling his story to anyone who will listen.

Waller believes that Smith unlocked true potential by caring about the person over the player, helping him in recovery and on the football field. That’s why Waller honored Smith at this year’s Coaching Corps’ Game Changer Awards, where athletes from different Bay Area professional sports teams honor coaches special in their lives.

Waller honored Smith at a Thursday ceremony in San Francisco, which will be broadcast Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Bay Area.

“I never had a relationship with a coach like I do with Frank,” Waller said. “I honestly text him more than I text my friends. We laugh every day at practice, but I seriously respect him as a teacher and a coach and an authority figure you can talk to as a friend. Nothing’s off limits. We can be real and honest with each other about everything. That’s so important to me, having him in my life.”

Smith values his relationship with Waller, which has grown over their two years working together.

“He’s an extremely intelligent person who is athletic,” Smith said. “But, if you don’t love football and give it everything you’ve got, you won’t progress. He’d be the first to tell you he wouldn’t sacrifice for the game. We weren’t seeing the best version of him. We were seeing a clouded version of himself blurred by his substance abuse. Then football was taken away, and he learned what he wanted to do.

"Now we’re seeing the full commitment, the full potential be realized.”

Smith admits that coaching Waller is different. His commitment to recovery mandates more involvement in Waller’s personal life, making sure his support system is in place. Smith took on that responsibility without hesitation, balancing his personal and professional duties while remaining an authority figure. He recognized Waller as a special case right away, that he was working with someone who could be great.

“He was humble. He was hungry to learn and hungry to work,” Smith said. “With his story, you can see every day how he cherishes life and embraces every obstacle. He never makes an excuse for anything, even with things that somebody else does. He’s the type of person who really has an effect on you, especially if you let him show you his transformative process.”

[RELATED: Carr 'looking forward' to being Raiders' QB in Vegas opener]

Waller let Smith in right away. He’s an open book about his struggles with drugs and alcohol and could tell that his position coach would help him in all aspects and stoke his passion for the game he thought he’d lost forever.

“Frank helped so much with my transition to the Raiders,” Waller said. “He has a friend that was in recovery like I am, who worked the 12-step program and went to rehab. He was able to understand me by understanding his friend. We learned a lot from each other, and he was able to welcome me in without putting too much pressure on me. But he wasn’t allowing me to be someone just happy to be there. He had me set goals, something I never did before that.

"He really opened my eyes to the fact that I could be great. I never really thought I could be great. I was too worried about all the pressure and the negative things. I never saw the game in a positive light. He helped me see that football can be so much fun if you’re not worried about things outside of what you can control.”

“Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards” presented by Levi’s airs Tuesday, January 28 at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area

NFL rumors: Chargers have 'moved on' from longtime QB Philip Rivers

NFL rumors: Chargers have 'moved on' from longtime QB Philip Rivers

For 14 seasons, the Raiders and Philip Rivers have been rivals. Rivers' first NFL start fittingly came against the Raiders in 2006, his third professional season. 

That rivalry might be done, though. The Athletic's Jay Glazer said Monday on FS1's "The Herd with Colin Cowherd" that the Los Angeles Chargers have "moved on" from Rivers. 

Rivers, 38, will become a free agent this upcoming offseason. The 16-year veteran has spent his entire career for the Chargers, but it's unknown if he will continue playing in 2020. He already has moved his large family to Florida this offseason. 

The gunslinger was the No. 4 pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. He has an 18-9 career record against the Raiders with 47 touchdown passes -- his most against any opponent -- and 22 interceptions.

[RELATED: Carr 'looking forward' to being Raiders' QB in Vegas opener]

If the Chargers do move on from Rivers, they could try to grab a QB early in the 2020 draft. The Bolts own the No. 6 pick, and our own Josh Schrock has them taking Oregon's Justin Herbert in the first round. 

As the Raiders move to Las Vegas, it could be the end of an era with their Philip Rivers rivalry.