Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock took some big swings on the free-agent market. The Raiders’ power duo missed on some, absolutely crushed others. They spent significant cap space to shore up needs, so much they’ll have to trim or restructure some contracts by the time they start signing NFL draft picks.
New Raiders additions and re-signings have slowed to a trickle, though some previously reported deals have started coming across the NFL transaction wire. Don’t expect formal announcements or electronic press conferences any time soon, as the Raiders will likely wait until everything’s officially official.
Let’s take advantage of this little lull and answer some of your questions in a Raiders mailbag that we’ll make more of a regular thing moving forward. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions on Facebook and Twitter. The questions have been edited some for context and grammar.
Now let’s get to them:
Question: Would you say that Derek Carr is going come out hungrier than ever and knowing …[Marcus] Mariota could be on his tail if he doesn't perform adequately? – David Gonzales on Facebook
Answer: Derek Carr has never worked a third NFL season with the same offensive play-caller. That will change in 2020. Carr is the presumed starting quarterback when the Raiders start playing in Las Vegas, even with Mariota now in the fray. I can’t say Carr’s motivation will be any higher with Mariota in the mix because he’s always hungry, he always works hard and has always been committed to leading the Raiders the right way.
There’s definitely an edge to him now, sharpened by consecutive offseasons hearing about the Raiders’ interest in other quarterbacks. It happened again in 2020, with the Raiders keeping a close eye on Tom Brady in free agency. He has also become a lightning rod for criticism, with a vocal subset of Raiders fans wishing the Silver and Black would find a new signal-caller. I also think getting booed the last two home games in Oakland had an impact, and he seems defiant and ready to prove people wrong in Las Vegas.
Let’s not forget that a pissed off Carr plays pretty well.
I don’t think Mariota makes the quarterback room uncomfortable but it warms his set a smidge. Mariota is deferential to Carr and the pair get along well. The two will be collaborative and certainly competitive, creating an environment Gruden wants at every position.
It should rachet up practice intensity over previous years, when Mike Glennon, E.J. Manuel, Connor Cook and a late-arriving A.J. McCarron were never a threat to Carr. Mariota can be, even if there’s no real quarterback controversy here.
Mariota’s presence will ramp up anti-Carr rhetoric, as someone detractors will call for every time Carr has a bad day at the office.
I don’t expect many of them in 2020. I think Carr will have a huge year, especially if Mike Mayock drafts the right receiver(s) next month. His supporting cast is solid and if Carr doesn’t perform, Gruden could make a call to the bullpen. That will create a different dynamic in 2020 to be sure, but I think Carr will thrive.
Q: Do you think they trade down to get a second-round pick and then take [Henry] Ruggs? – Steven Price on Twitter
A: A trade down or up into the second round wouldn’t surprise me one bit. There’s great value in that round, where the Raiders don’t currently have a selection after including it in the Khalil Mack trade. They could well get one, especially if their top options are gone before they select at No. 19.
In regard to Ruggs, I don’t think he lasts too long. Receivers may go in a flurry, and some team will fall in love with Ruggs’ super speed and swipe him early. The Raiders may even do that at 12. Another may do it shortly after.
Q: Hey Scott, what are your thoughts on the kicking game? Think they bring in competition? Didn’t have a lot of faith last year and seemed to have gotten worse down stretch. Cost us valuable points. – Duey Mac on Twitter
A: Good question. The Raiders did not add a veteran kicker but they should sign an undrafted free agent who is more than a camp leg. Daniel Carlson set the team’s single-season record for field goal percentage in 2018, but dropped more than 20 percentage points in 2019. He wasn’t good enough and, although special teams coach Rich Bisaccia is a big fan, Carlson should have to earn his job.
That happened at punter last year, and A.J. Cole proved a significant upgrade over 2018 draft pick Johnny Townsend.
Q: Is the COVID-19 going to affect the completion of Allegiant Stadium? – Lorenzo Taylor on Facebook
A: This was asked a few times. The short answer is no. Despite someone working on the stadium construction site testing positive for COVID-19, work has continued on the Raiders' new home. Construction is considered an essential business in Nevada during the coronavirus pandemic. The worker who tested positive is self-quarantining and hasn’t been on-site for a week. For more, read our report on the matter here.
Q: Is Lamarcus Joyner slotted to play opposite of Johnathan Abram at safety? If not, why didn’t we attack that position in FA? -- Chris Pherson on Facebook
A: Moving Joyner from slot cornerback to free safety, where he has played damn good football in the past, is a topic broached several times in the past by Raiders beat reporters, including me. The answer’s always the same. The Raiders prefer him in the slot. At this point, that’s where they’re expected to keep him in 2020.
The Raiders tried to land Jimmie Ward in free agency, who would’ve been a near-perfect complement to Abram. Didn’t get him. That happens sometimes on the open market. The team could address it in the NFL draft, possibly high. Jeff Heath has significant starting experience and Erik Harris remains in the mix. Both guys are capable and can play all three downs. The Raiders need to find a long-term solution there and should still be on the hunt for one outside the current roster.
Q: There are five tight ends for right now, how many do we keep on the Roster? – Jason Mares on Facebook
A: Four, max. The Raiders played most of last season with three. That’s a common number unless a fourth tight end is a special teams maven. Derek Carrier could fall into that category.
Darren Waller is a lock. The Raiders just gave Jason Witten $3.5 million guaranteed, so he’ll be around. Foster Moreau has a spot if healthy after suffering a knee injury late last season. Is Carrier the odd man out, or the fourth guy? Not sure yet. I do think recent free-agent signing Nick O’Leary will have a tough time making the 53-man roster if the other guys stay healthy.
Q: Assuming we go WR at #12 and Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb are both on the board still, who do you think is the better pick? – Steve Guzman on Facebook
A: My friend, colleague and NBC Sports Bay Area reporter Josh Schrock is our resident draft analyst and has done some deep dives into the NFL draft’s receiver class. He and Dalton Johnson also do a mock draft you should check out each week. I’ll let him answer this one.
From Josh: “I like Lamb better. I think Jeudy is the most polished receiver in the class, but Lamb is more explosive after the catch. He’s a tenacious competitor and I think he’ll be more of a dynamic downfield threat at the NFL level. His hands are a little better. Jeudy tends to drop some easy ones when he loses focus. It’s like choosing between pizza and chicken wings, but I’d go Lamb for the upside and ability to be that No. 1 outside receiver. I think Jeudy will eventually settle into the slot in the NFL.”
Q: If Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah falls past No. 5, do you see the Raiders thing to package some combination of their “threes” in order to move up? -- Robert Stiefvater Jr on Facebook
A: That would be too expensive to go up high enough to get him. And it’s certainly possible he’s gone to Detroit at No. 3 if the Lions can’t find a trade partner. He’s a plug-and-play cornerback but could well be the second non-quarterback taken after Chase Young.
Q: Odds we go WR and 12 and 19? More and more I look at it. Think we take WR at 12 and trade back at 19 to get more picks. – Michael Pape on Facebook
A: Can't see the Raiders going receiver twice in the first round. Your suggestion of a trade down is certainly possible, though it takes two to tango. I think the Raiders should take a first-round receiver. I also think Mike Mayock is going to closely follow his NFL draft board. The Raiders roster is set up to do exactly that after free agency.
In terms of needs, the Raiders could use a wideout and a plug-and-play defensive back in the first round. That might not be how things play out. The Raiders need good players everywhere and Mayock’s top priority should be finding the best one. This is a multi-year rebuild. Can’t address every position in what shot. Building a roster for sustained success takes time and lots of quality draft picks.
Q: Who’s the team you see tanking this year for Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes 2021? Perhaps Chargers, Broncos, Panthers, Falcons?? – Kevin Nesbitt on Facebook
A: Don’t sleep on the Jaguars. They’re tearing that roster to the studs.
Q: What’s Gabe Jackson worth and why not restructure despite signing D. Goode? Gabe is solid. – Kevin Nesbitt on Facebook
A: Gabe Jackson is an excellent right guard who has gotten hurt the past two seasons. A torn pectoral muscle hurt him in 2018 and he wasn’t quite right after missing the first half of 2019 with a torn MCL.
He’s worth a hefty sum when healthy, though the Raiders believed guards Kelechi Osemele and Jackson took up too much of a salary-cap percentage for their position. Elite guards make bank, but Jackson could be a cut or trade candidate considering his $9.35 million salary is not guaranteed, he can be released without a cap hit. Denzelle Good is capable of starting at right guard and the Raiders might need to free up some cap space.
The Raiders are better with Jackson playing with Trent Brown on the right flank. Keeping him is ideal. Time will tell is that happens.
Q: How’s Fallon Smith? Has she had her baby yet? – Felix Corral on Facebook
A: Fallon’s doing great and is based near the University of Missouri, where her husband Nicodemus is the strength coach for the school’s men’s basketball team. Instead of me filling you in, I’ll let Fallon do it herself.
From Fallon: “Thanks for checking in. I’m doing great, missing Scott and the gang, but life in Missouri is good. I can’t believe I just typed that. It’s nothing like the Bay but we own a house on a golf course (could never afford that in CA), hubby has a great job coaching at Mizzou, and I’m working in marketing while also doing my Raiders podcast with James Jones.
“And, nope, my son hasn’t made his arrival yet. The new edition to Raider Nation will make his world debut at the end of May, I cannot wait.”