Raiders mailbag: How will Derek Carr react to Marcus Mariota addition?

Raiders mailbag: How will Derek Carr react to Marcus Mariota addition?

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.

[RELATED: Raiders still have work to do to shore up secondary]

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.”

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders in solid salary-cap standing heading into event

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders in solid salary-cap standing heading into event

Damarious Randall’s deal with the Raiders went across the NFL transaction wire on Tuesday. The defensive back was the last veteran free-agent addition to get processed by the league and the players union, meaning all of the Silver and Black’s new players are now official.

That gives us a crystal-clear look at the Raiders salary cap situation and where they stand heading into the NFL draft.

The Raiders have $8.128 million in salary-cap space, according to a daily public report issued Thursday morning by the NFL Players Association. That’s a smidge under the roughly $9.4 million estimates required to sign their NFL draft class as currently slotted, but certainly not a big deal that won’t have to be addressed until picks start signing in May and June.

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There are plenty of corrections to be made through cutting expendable players -- they still have four veteran quarterbacks on the roster -- or a minor restructure to get under the financial threshold.

The draft could also take care of the issue, especially if the Raiders trade down or end up with few selections than they currently own.

The Raiders were able to add 12 veterans in unrestricted free agents and retained eight through extensions or various contract tenders.

Restructuring Rodney Hudson’s contract was key to adding this many new folks, as they shuffled his money around to spread out what would’ve been a significant 2020 salary cap hit.

[RELATED: Raiders' 2020 offseason scorecard: Trades, signings, NFL draft picks]

The Raiders would be in a different space had the Eli Apple deal gone through. He was set to sign a one-year deal worth $6 million before the pact fell apart. Randall came aboard after that on a one-year contract worth up to $3.25 million, but it comes with a $1.5 million base salary and a $2.1 million cap hit.

That swap was a win for the on-field product and salary-cap standing, though it intensifies the need to find a cornerback in the NFL draft.

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders could strike gold with Day 2 cornerback gems

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders could strike gold with Day 2 cornerback gems

The Raiders struck gold in the 2019 NFL Draft by finding Trayvon Mullen, a potential lockdown corner in the second round.

You can pencil Mullen as the starting cornerback on one side of the field for the foreseeable future. The Raiders tried to address the cornerback position in free agency, but they missed out on Byron Jones and Chris Harris Jr. After their deal with Eli Apple fell apart, cornerback became a pressing need to be addressed in the NFL draft.

The 2020 cornerback class has one surefire star in Ohio State's Jeff Okudah and two-to-five other likely NFL starters that should go in the first 40 picks. That's pretty much the range for elite cornerbacks. Over the last four years, Richard Sherman (fifth-round), A.J. Bouye (undrafted) and Malcolm Butler (undrafted) were the only three All-Pro cornerbacks who weren't drafted in the first two rounds. The other 13 all were taken at the top of the draft.

That doesn't mean it's impossible to find talent at cornerback later in the draft, it just means it's a little less likely. The Raiders should be able to address their cornerback need in Round 1, but there are a few later-round guys who they should target if the draft goes a different way.

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Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn

Igbinoghene arrived on The Plains as a talented receiver recruit and turned into one of the draft's most intriguing cornerback prospects.

A relatively new corner, Igbinoghene has the athleticism and physicality to play at the NFL but he will need to get more comfortable with his coverage instincts. He's an explosive athlete with a high NFL ceiling, but there's no telling how long it will take him to reach it. Over 878 coverage snaps at Auburn, Igbinoghene allowed only three touchdowns. Not bad for a converted wide receiver.

Here's the athleticism:

And improving coverage skills.

Bryce Hall, Virginia

Hall returned for his senior season at Viriginia, but an ankle injury limited him to just six games, hurting his draft stock.

The 6-foot-1 defensive back is long and explosive with tremendous ball skills. He struggled at times in man coverage at Virginia and many analysts beleive he might be best suited for a zone-heavy scheme. While he comes with question marks, Hall has is an intelligent player, high character locker room presence and has the ability to make game-changing plays on the field.

He projects as an NFL starter as long as the fit is right.

Damon Arnette, Ohio State

If you're looking for a starter in press coverage, Damon Arnette is your man.

Overshadowed by his teammate Okudah, the 6-foot cornerback has great quickness, is sticky in man coverage, has the anticipation to play zone and brings exceptional ball skills and body control to the table. He had the lowest passer rating allowed in single man coverage in the NCAA last year.

The Raiders kicked the tires on a Darius Slay trade, but it fell through. Arnette has drawn comparisons to Slay and should be able to start in the NFL on Day 1.

Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State

One of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, Dantzler has the height, length, competitiveness and versatility to be a solid NFL cornerback. While some scouts worry about his narrow frame, the tape shows a corner with great coverage skills in man, press and zone.

Dantzler's anticipation and instincts have some analysts believing he'd be a better zone-scheme fit in the NFL. His production across 22 starts at Mississippi State shows a corner who has the tools to fit into any scheme if given the time.

The 6-foot-2 corner also played LSU's Ja'Marr Chase -- the Biletnikoff Award winner and likely top-10 2021 pick -- the best of any corner. While Chase torched Clemson's A.J. Terrell, a likely top 40 pick, in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Dantzler only allowed two catches for 13 yards when targeted by LSU.

However, Dantlzer's 4.64 40 time and 30.5-inch arms will raise a lot of questions about his staying power in the NFL.

[RELATED: Why trading up to draft Okudah is perfect move for Raiders

Troy Pride Jr., Notre Dame

Potentially one of the most underrated prospects in the draft, Notre Dame's Troy Pride Jr. played well at the Senior Bowl and could be one of the steals of the 2020 NFL Draft.

The 5-foot-11 corner has the requisite quickness, speed and change of direction to thrive in man coverage. While he thrives in man, Pride also has the instincts to play zone and has played in a press-scheme as well, making him not scheme dependent.

Hurting Pride are his less than exceptional ball skills and lack of production in run support. While he might not be a Day 1 starter, Pride does have the skills and potential to be a starter in Year 2 or Year 3.